If you’re going to have breakfast at an LA spot renowned for eye-watering and gut-busting portions, you gotta earn it. That’s what I told myself as I climbed, walked & panted up Runyon Canyon one early Sunday morning.
‘My reward is pancakes…my reward is pancakes…my reward is pancakes.’ This was the mantra I muttered to myself as I clambered over rocks, lunged up steps and tried to avoid any one of a dozen dogs putting me to shame as they bounded gazelle like past me. The only gazelle I resembled at this point was one who could officially be labelled as roadkill. Ironically, if I’d normally put myself through a good, steep hike then all I would want to eat afterwards would be something healthy enough to keep the fitness momentum going, however here, knowing where we headed after, the purpose of this trek, alongside seeing stunning views of the city below, was to burn the calories that would soon be served up to me on a platter dusted with icing sugar…
The Griddle Cafe on Sunset Boulevard is something of a landmark in the cult dining scene of Los Angeles. Ranked somewhat surprisingly to some at #1 on Trip Advisor, it’s the sort of place that a) anyone who lives in LA has been to, b) anyone who comes to LA visits and c) guarantees that anyone who eats there will not need to eat again for several days afterwards. You will wait for at least 30 minutes to be seated and depending on how much you’ve starved yourself in preparation, there will come a point when you’re stood outside on the hot sidewalk feeling heat beat down on you from the cloudless sky above and up at you from the shimmering concrete below when you may wonder if it’s worth it. For me, it was but it was also one of those spots you tick off a list of places to try but don’t necessarily find yourself wanting to come back to again and personally, a lot of that was to do with the portion size.
I need you to try and understand just how enormous these pancakes are because although I was told by those in the know that they were huge, although it was suggested to me that ordering 1 instead of the normal stack of 3 might be a good idea, although I was assured that cutting down on the portion size would in no way leave me in danger of wasting away, I did not listen. For that, I hang my head more than a little in shame.
Allow me to introduce you to ‘Scotch on the Rocks’; 3 coconut, pecan, oat & butterscotch chip filled pancakes topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar. The serving vessel for these saccharine monsters was a large dinner plate. The pancakes practically ooze over the edge, their golden, bubbly perimeters seemingly straining for freedom.
So are they delicious? Yes. Are they worth a visit? Yes. Are they grotesquely over sized? Yes.
Hand on heart, this was the first time in my life I have ever ordered something that I suspected would be big but that I ultimately could not finish and felt pretty strong guilt afterwards as a result. When I say I couldn’t finish them, I mean I just about made it through one.
Out of three. And I think we all agree that I’m a gal who enjoys her food. A gal who’d just hiked a fricking mountain.
Please don’t misunderstand me – the pancakes themselves were utterly delicious. They were light & fluffy in the way that only American pancakes ever can be, the butterscotch chip filling was generous and the added combination of oats, pecans & coconut gave an added crunchy-yet-chewy dimension that was both decadent and satisfying. Service from start to end was super friendly and genuine despite the fact that every member of the predominantly male staff were so busy undertaking so many different jobs they put paid to the notion that men can’t multi-task. The atmosphere was lively and full of happily chatting Sunday brunchers and the menu itself is vast enough to cater for every type of diner.
A piece of advice if I may? When someone tells you to only order 1 pancake, believe them. I honestly cannot imagine anyone being able to eat all three but maybe I’m not the target audience. All I know is the fact that I couldn’t and that I was so glutted on them that I didn’t want to take them home to gorge myself on later left me feeling pretty damn guilty about what a waste it was.
With over 85o million people in the world who don’t have enough to eat everyday, why please do portions have to be so ludicrously big? Because they can be? Because they’re cheap enough to be? Not good enough reasons in my mind. No-one forced me to order what I did and no-one forced me to throw away 2/3 of my meal; I got sucked into the novelty mentality of it all on my own and I also realise that serving smaller portions here doesn’t directly affect a starving baby across the globe but it just feels wrong. Why do the servings have to be so gluttonous in the first place? If 1 pancake would more than adequately feed a hungry person, why do you need to offer 3, most of which the majority of the time will end up in the bin? Even the justification that you’ll take it home to have for a second meal later doesn’t sit that comfortably with me. A friend who took her babysitting charge there for a birthday treat and told staff it was a celebration was presented not with a candle in the pancakes ordered as she’d imagined might be the case but a completely separate and equally enormous serving of additional pancakes…complete with candle.
The fact that I left feeling so stuffed and remorseful means it’s not a place I’ll visit again and that’s a real shame because there was a lot of creativity in the menu and a lot of goodwill from the staff. Great place to visit, great food to share between 2, 3 or even 4, great example of the obsession some Americans seem to have with getting crazily large servings for their dollar.
Onto our second sweet treat venue where the late night ambience was lively and the dessert a much more manageable serving of classic American fare; DIY s’mores at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood. Barney’s has been around since the 1920’s and over the years has welcomed everyone through its doors from golden era stars Jean Harlow & Clark Gable to silver screen legends Jack Nicholson & Dennis Hopper and notorious ’80’s Brat Packers such as Charlie Sheen & Kiefer Sutherland.
Going out for dessert only always seems a bit of a treat to me; an acknowledgement that the sweet stuff at the end of a meal is absolutely important enough to warrant its own trip out. J had been to Barneys on previous LA trips and was somehow under the impression that make-your-own s’mores might interest me…oh that boy knows me so very well. Tucking ourselves into a booth at the back of a packed restaurant allowed a great view of the local crowds enjoying late night beers & football. Every inch of the walls, ceiling and table were covered with sports memorabilia and Hollywood keepsakes. One portion of s’mores was delivered by a smiley welcoming waitress – honestly I don’t think there are any other sort out here – and assembly of a dessert as all-American as apple pie and blue jeans began.
Graham crackers? Check. Plump marshmallows? Check. Hershey’s chocolate? Check. Skewers & naked flames? Check & check. Even I can’t string out the deliciousness of s’mores because their adorableness lies in their simplicity and if you can’t find a beach side bonfire at which to enjoy these, this is undoubtedly the second best option in my opinion.
Bite after quickly-addicted bite delivered honeyed, crunchy cracker which fell into soft, fat mallow followed by squidgy, sweet chocolate. Uncomplicated and stickily, messily, awesome. If you’re American, it’s a taste of your childhood, of camping and firewood and families. If you’re a visitor, it’s a taste of vintage Americana, as un-fussy and glorious as you could wish for.
And so onto the third and final destination of this whistle-stop tour of places that will make your palate happy but might un-nerve your dentist a little – Sweet Rose Creamery in the upmarket & affluent Brentwood. Born out of the love for food that founders Josh Loeb & Zoe Nathan shared as well as the experience they accrued through previous ventures that included farm-to-fork restaurant Rustic Canyon, bakery Huckleberry Cafe & pizzeria Milo & Olive, Sweet Rose is run with co-owner and chef Shiho Yoshikawa, a fellow Tartine alumni and beloved friend.
The ethos is as simple and beautiful as the products dreamed up day after day – small batches of homemade ice-creams & sorbets made using local, sustainable & organic produce that both inspires and delivers on flavour and appearance. Nothing artificial or pre-made finds its way into these frozen desserts and flavours change in line with, and to offer the best of, what’s in season. Yeeaaahhh, I don’ think anyone’s surprised that this place found its way onto my ‘must-try-in-LA’ list fairly early on in the planning stages of this trip…
Located in the Brentwood County Mart, a place every bit as elegant and charming as its name would suggest, candy coloured pom poms dance in the sparkling windows as a delightfully, chubby engraved baby clutching a cone smiles down at you while a monochrome, vintage photo of an equally happy & appealingly scruffy flat-capped boy savours his own.
Cones, cups, sandwiches and sundaes jostle for your attention & selection on the chalkboard menus while gleaming, icy tubs nestle together under the glass topped counter and tiny spoons of samples are given with a smile and a warm explanation of what you’re eating.
As Salted Caramel aficionados, it was a no-brainer that this would be the first flavour picked but the question was out of the other, more unusual flavours on offer, which would make it into our cup? Dairy-free Spicy Thai Chili with Lemon Cucumber and Buttermilk Sherbet with Strawberry Ripple come on down, you are our winners today. Special mention has to go to Parmigiano Reggiano as well though which was an absolutely heavenly blend of strongly scented hard cheese and cool creaminess. Maybe it shouldn’t work but hey, who am I to question when it totally does?
Sat out front on the full but peaceful verandah watching local parents get after school goodies for their uniformed wards and ladies-who-lunch getting post-salad treats, we got down to business. With an extra sprinkling of sea salt on top, the Salted Caramel had the smoothest texture of all three and a rich, luscious flavour that took a moment to fill your mouth but absolutely delighted it when it did.
The Thai Sweet Chili sorbet was intense; refreshing your mouth at first with pure, cool cucumber, a hit of chili swooped down at the end of each spoonful to deliver a heat to the back of your throat and it was a powerful combination as the girl inside had explained when checking we really wanted a whole scoop of this flavour. Thing is, it was so unique a flavour, there was no way we couldn’t give it our full attention and a sample just wasn’t going to cut it. It’s not the flavour you’d always want to eat in the same way that stalwarts-of-the-freezer chocolate, strawberry & vanilla are but at the end of a spicy, Eastern feast of a dinner party, this would be the perfect talking point, palate cleanser.
The Buttermilk Sherbet was the least forceful of the three scoops but it was a nice bridge between the familiar sensuality of the Salted Caramel & the eye-widening novelty of the Thai Sweet Chili. Almost crumbly in texture, it was the lightest & cleanest of the flavours and so delightfully fresh, it was the perfect foil for the tangy, juicy strawberry ribbons that wove throughout.
With three locations throughout LA, I’m pretty sure there’s a Creamery near you and my only advice would be to carefully lay down whatever it is you’re doing, stand, stretch and nonchalantly leave the room. Get your purse & keys. Forget your self-control & the fact that it may only be 9am. Get a scoop, sit outside, soak up the sunshine and delight in the local sweet & savoury flavours of your neighbourhood.