I like to give my thoughts on new cookbooks from time to time here at Sippity Sup. And that’s sorta what I plan to do today.
The new cookbook currently in my hands is from Lucy Lean. It’s called Made In America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food. It’s a visually stunning book, introduced by Joseph Bastianich and filled with American recipes from this country’s greatest cooks. A bushel of the best in fact. I quit counting at 50 and there were still loads left to count.
This book is filled with great recipes reinterpreted by great chefs– just as you would expect. But there are stories attached too. Stories about food, sure, but also stories from the lives of your favorite cooks.
The kind of stories you fantasize hearing as you sit around a big communal table at one amazing dinner party.
Which got me thinking. What sort of story would I contribute to a meal such as this? Well, as I was thumbing through the book, I came across an Apple Chess Pie (pg 310) from Evan Kleiman of Los Angeles’ iconic Angeli café. I knew immediately I would be making that pie for you today and sharing my story about Angeli café– a restaurant that holds a special place in my heart.
Now I know I have told this story before. But honestly, if I know anything about dinner party conversation I know it’s not the best time to try out new material. Stick with stories you know. After all, you have a captive audience if you bore them you will be committing a huge social gaffe.
My story starts with love. It ends there too. It’s one of those “there are a million stories in the naked city” stories. This one is my own and it’s personal. So if you’re one of those people that leave me nasty notes whenever I get personal. CLICK away now, ‘cuz you’re really gonna hate this story.
Unbeknownst to that little café on Melrose– Angeli played an important role in my whole-hearted integration and full-blown love affair with this great city.
It was 1988. I was freshly graduated from college when I moved to Los Angeles. I had been living a pretty easy life in spectacularly beautiful Santa Barbara. But I decided no podunk town for me (yeah, that’s the shameful way I talked back then). Nope, I craved action. I wanted to live in the center of things. So I moved to the big city. I was young enough and naive enough not to think about the consequences of transplanting myself to a major metropolitan area. I had very few friends, fewer prospects for employment and absolutely no money at all. But like Mary Tyler Moore I had spunk. But once I got here I learned that, like Lou Grant, L.A. hates spunk!
I won’ t bore you with the details of some of my first dark days because this is a story about Angeli café, and how Angeli café became a central part of my early city life.
Like a lot of people my age, I wanted excitement. I craved glamour. And when you are that young (and that stupid) you usually associate glamour with nightlife.
So once I (finally) landed a full-time job as an assistant to a well-known photographer I turned my sights to my social life. Up until this time I had a fairly ¨repressed” social life– if you know what I mean. AIDS was still looming large and scary. But slowly the gay community was coming back out of its shell. It was an exciting time to be young, gay (and marginally cute) in Los Angeles. Armed with the knowledge of how to protect ourselves, people my age were taking to the bars and clubs of West Hollywood again.
Maybe this is an inappropriate story for a food blog. I know I am going to hear from the contingency that thinks the real reason I write this food blog is to push my social agenda– I don’t know how they saw through my nefarious plot.
But I don’t care because this is an honest story. It’s a story about how young people live when they first move to the big city. It’s a story that honors a place that was very important to me at an important time in my life. Maybe I did not always make the best choices. Maybe I had my share of youthful indiscretions. But I survived. Hell, I thrived.
Because as soon as I could afford it, I got myself a studio apartment on Sycamore Ave, just a few short blocks from the trendiest part of Melrose. I felt like I had finally arrived. I felt like I belonged. I assumed having a cool apartment meant all the other things I craved would just fall into place. A successful career, a handsome boyfriend, and interesting cosmopolitan friends; they just had to be waiting for me right outside the door.
So I hung out on Melrose quite a lot. But success, friendship and my one true love were eluding me. My apartment was expensive for those days and my income. I was constantly worried about money. I got myself a boyfriend who turned out to be anything but my one true love. My great job with the photographer was A LOT of hard work.
I began to feel down. I decided to snap myself out of it with a glamorous nightlife filled with entertainment industry parties and exclusive night clubs– maybe the answer to my dreams lay inside one of these great distractions. I decided I would make myself available to anyone who was interested. Basically, my rule was if someone asked me out I said yes. No matter how unlikely the pairing. I was just getting to know myself. How would I know what I wanted if I didn’t take a bite from all the fruit in the bowl?
A philosophy like this leads to a lot of first dates. But when I say I made myself available to anyone who showed an interest I want you to know I don’t mean “available”. So I had to choose a venue for those 1001 first dates that made sense. It needed to fit my pocketbook, sometimes it’s better to host a first date than accept the hospitality of a first date. Still, this place needed to be cool and hip and current. It needed to have good food; even then I had discerning tastes (no jokes please, it’s not polite).
But most importantly, the setting for these dates needed to be close to my apartment. That way no matter how the date went, I would be close to home. Either an escape or a “retreat”!
By now I am sure you have figured out that I chose Angeli café for my romantic soul searching. I did not go once or twice, or even 10 times during that summer, fall, and winter of 1989. I probably went 100 times. Because sometimes there were second dates. And sometimes Angeli turned out to be a good place to meet friends for dinner. The pizza made it a perfect choice for a group of 8 to celebrate a birthday. Sometimes I just wanted a bowl of Tuesday night pasta all on my own. Angeli became all of this for me.
Maybe time and my great love of Los Angeles has colored my recollections of this period of my life. Maybe I didn’t date quite as much as I think I did. Maybe I was never as lonely as in the telling of this story. Maybe I have romanticized that period of my life all out of proportion. Maybe.
But whatever the reason, I’ll always think wistfully at that time and of that café. Because despite the fact that I have not been an Angeli regular in years, a large part of who I am today was invented out of necessity right there at that spot, in that restaurant on Melrose Ave.
And just in case you are new to this blog. I’ll cut to the chase. Yes, I finally did meet the love of my life and we have been happily living and eating together for more than 20 years. So when Angeli recently celebrated 25 years on Melrose Ave you can bet your butt I was there.
Which is why I made Evan’s pie and why I know it will taste so good that I’ll probably cry.
Please visit the other diners at our virtual dinner party as we sit down together and “dish” about Made In America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food. Available at Amazon
Pinch My Salt
Three Many Cooks
Family Fresh Cooking
Food For The Thoughtless
I Am Baker
Kevin and Amanda
Dishing Up Delights
The Culinary Cellar