THE JAWS OF ATTRACTION

As of yesterday, I am officially, and for the first time in my life, unemployed. The Irish bar in Los Angeles which I’ve run for the last three years has closed, and it feels to me, psychically, as though the Universe is perhaps ushering me out of 20 plus years of service in the food and beverage industry unceremoniously, which honestly has me feeling a little like —

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If you got any leads, I’ll be the shish-kabob’d guy sliding out the chewed-up aft of my sloop into the mouth of a giant bloodthirsty homicidal shark.


 

YEAR OF THE BURGER #series — CASSELL’S

The storefrot of Cassell’s Hamburgers in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.CASSELL’S HAMBURGERS 3600 West 6th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90020

So this is the first stop on our list, here, and in my opinion, the list could just stop here. I mean, shit, one grease-drenched, cheese-covered, doublestack meat sammiches from this joint and my Year of the Burger is already off to the artery-clogging start I expected. Admittedly, though, Cassel’s gonna get granted a little bit of a leg-up as such here. I’ll make it no secret that, as self-styled burger connoisseur, I tend to favor simple, diner-style smash steakburgers over the farm-raised gourmet fork-and-knife bourgeurs that have risen up recently to represent the “new era” of burger eatery.

Cassell’s Hamburgers was established in 1948 and now occupies the lower level of the historic Hotel Normandie, where it operates 7am to 11pm daily, and til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. Cassell’s has a storied legacy in Los Angeles — a city that prides itself on hanging onto establishments unchanged for decades — first as a burger stand and then as a restaurant that dwindled in popularity until it finally closed in 2012. It reopened as part of the neighborhood’s revitalization project and is now on prominent display at this busy corner on the topside of K-Town.

Parking in that neighborhood at night, no matter what day of the week, is a bitch. The epitome of what parking in LA is at its worst — pushing already borderline metro area drivers, circling the block again and again and again until, at the teetering brink of insanity, they wedge the car up on a curb and toss the keys in the gutter. Best bet, IMO, whether they have their shit together or not (because when I went, THEY DID NOT) is to leave your car with the valets of the Hotel Normandie. It’s worth the five dollars so that you don’t road rage so hard you split in two and give up on your own life.

Inside, the diner will be bustling, probably, because, though it’s possessed still of some of its old-world charm, has become another typical 21st Century burn-and-turn. Staff are clipped and direct, but its because they’re busy not because they’re dicks. My partner-in-burger, SM, had already grabbed a table by the window by the time I got there, so we settled in and started the night off with a couple beers and an order of fries.

When it comes to the main event, you have your choice between a A) hamburger or B) cheeseburger or C) some vegetarian bullshit, with further options of patty size, as well as a number of add-ons, such as “sauce.” The burger comes presented on metal cafeteria trays, with tomato, lettuce, onion, and pickle as basic trimmings.  I ordered a cheeseburger, DOUBLE, one-third pound, and I ordered it WELL DONE, and you can all say what you will about me, America, I ain’t embarrassed that I like my meat cooked.

For my money, this burger came exactly how I like them. It was smothered in American cheese, which did not eclipse the taste of the burger, the meat of which maintained the perfect greasy zest that makes diner steakburgers so goddamn good. It came on a traditional Parker House hamburger bun, so, y’know, none of this fancy-ass highfalutin’ brioche crap that’s become so indicative of the “$20 BURGER” phenomenon, that it’s just become a fucking bun. I dressed the burger to my liking with regular ketchup and mustard and some of those pickles. I finished all two-thirds of a pound of beef and cheese with LITTLE TO NO GASTROINTESTINAL INCIDENT.

Our server seemed, at first, a little on the bitter side, but once we made it clear that we were working through Eater LA’s list of LA’s Best Burgers, he blossomed like a flower. It turned out that he wasn’t all about the gig, he is all about burgers. He maintains an Instagram page devoted to a cheeseburger-a-day journey.

Follow @chasing_cheeseburgers, although I have to warn you, he’s “pretty into patty melts right now.”

Partner-in-burger, SM, who’s a Los Angeles native, grew up on Apple Pan, which we’re getting to, so he favors that taste and experience in particular. Cassel’s ended up on the fair end of our “out-of-10” burger rating scale, but nothing special. He didn’t particularly care for the fries, which is a cornerstone for a burger experience for him, and which I admit, were, in this case, a little lackluster. He gave Cassell’s 6/10.

In Cassell’s defense, however, when Al Cassell first opened, he didn’t make fries. In fact, he flat out refused to, and he served homemade potato salad instead. In any case, for me, this was a great burger experience. Although I’m increasingly excited that this was the inaugural outing for my Year of the Burger, it’ll be tough to wade through 20 more hamburgers before I can come back to this boss bitch for round two.  — 9/10


 

YEAR OF THE BURGER #series (Ed.)

When it comes to food, in general, I ain’t shy about the fact that I’m all for the porn of it.

That’s right, I said it. Go ahead, you gluttonous human black holes you: objectify your appetite and your excess, and assemble all the many crime scene photographs of your gut-busting should-know-better conquests of shame and decadence as a front line in your Instagram gallery army. I ain’t particular about that shit. 

All hail.

When it comes to food junkie delicacies and my own predilections, however, I am strictly a pizza man. STRICTLY. Like devout. Like orthodox. Like a self-proclaimed, self-identified, self-certified fucking pizza specialist. Can you dig it? I mean, yo, I think it’s cute-n-all that you wanna have debate over what’s better, NYC slice v. Chitown deep dish pie, but, sorry, pleb, I’ve transcended those petty Buzzfeed-style pop discourses when it comes to pizza. When it comes to pizza, I rap about the gift of Naples as a philosophical fucking concept.

But in an attempt to become better versed in the craft of trash food pleasantries, this year I decide to turn the focus of my obsessions on another behemoth of America’s proverbial “cultural fat kid” — THE BURGER.

Therefore, culling from the 2018 edition of Eater LA’s comprehensive 21 Essential Los Angeles Burgers, I — joined by my partner-in-burger, SM — will eat, notate, and rate each burger on this list compiled in the very commuter limbo traffic-laden GoogleMap hellscape where the item itself was invented — nee NECESSITATED — over the course of a post series entitled: YEAR OF THE BURGER.

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Bon appetite, motherfuckers. Stay tuned.


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The storefrot of Cassell’s Hamburgers in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.CASSELL’S HAMBURGERS 3600 West 6th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90020

So this is the first stop on our list, here, and in my opinion, the list could just stop here. I mean, shit, one grease-drenched, cheese-covered, doublestack meat sammiches from this joint and my Year of the Burger is already off to the artery-clogging start I expected. Admittedly, though, Cassel’s gonna get granted a little bit of a leg-up as such here. I’ll make it no secret that, as self-styled burger connoisseur, I tend to favor simple, diner-style smash steakburgers over the farm-raised gourmet fork-and-knife bourgeurs that have risen up recently to represent the “new era” of burger eatery.

Cassell’s Hamburgers was established in 1948 and now occupies the lower level of the historic Hotel Normandie, where it operates 7am to 11pm daily, and til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. Cassell’s has a storied legacy in Los Angeles — a city that prides itself on hanging onto establishments unchanged for decades — first as a burger stand and then as a restaurant that dwindled in popularity until it finally closed in 2012. It reopened as part of the neighborhood’s revitalization project and is now on prominent display at this busy corner on the topside of K-Town.

Parking in that neighborhood at night, no matter what day of the week, is a bitch. The epitome of what parking in LA is at its worst — pushing already borderline metro area drivers, circling the block again and again and again until, at the teetering brink of insanity, they wedge the car up on a curb and toss the keys in the gutter. Best bet, IMO, whether they have their shit together or not (because when I went, THEY DID NOT) is to leave your car with the valets of the Hotel Normandie. It’s worth the five dollars so that you don’t road rage so hard you split in two and give up on your own life.

Inside, the diner will be bustling, probably, because, though it’s possessed still of some of its old-world charm, has become another typical 21st Century burn-and-turn. Staff are clipped and direct, but its because they’re busy not because they’re dicks. My partner-in-burger, SM, had already grabbed a table by the window by the time I got there, so we settled in and started the night off with a couple beers and an order of fries.

When it comes to the main event, you have your choice between a A) hamburger or B) cheeseburger or C) some vegetarian bullshit, with further options of patty size, as well as a number of add-ons, such as “sauce.” The burger comes presented on metal cafeteria trays, with tomato, lettuce, onion, and pickle as basic trimmings.  I ordered a cheeseburger, DOUBLE, one-third pound, and I ordered it WELL DONE, and you can all say what you will about me, America, I ain’t embarrassed that I like my meat cooked.

For my money, this burger came exactly how I like them. It was smothered in American cheese, which did not eclipse the taste of the burger, the meat of which maintained the perfect greasy zest that makes diner steakburgers so goddamn good. It came on a traditional Parker House hamburger bun, so, y’know, none of this fancy-ass highfalutin’ brioche crap that’s become so indicative of the “$20 BURGER” phenomenon, that it’s just become a fucking bun. I dressed the burger to my liking with regular ketchup and mustard and some of those pickles. I finished all two-thirds of a pound of beef and cheese with LITTLE TO NO GASTROINTESTINAL INCIDENT.

Our server seemed, at first, a little on the bitter side, but once we made it clear that we were working through Eater LA’s list of LA’s Best Burgers, he blossomed like a flower. It turned out that he wasn’t all about the gig, he is all about burgers. He maintains an Instagram page devoted to a cheeseburger-a-day journey.

Follow @chasing_cheeseburgers, although I have to warn you, he’s “pretty into patty melts right now.”

Partner-in-burger, SM, who’s a Los Angeles native, grew up on Apple Pan, which we’re getting to, so he favors that taste and experience in particular. Cassel’s ended up on the fair end of our “out-of-10” burger rating scale, but nothing special. He didn’t particularly care for the fries, which is a cornerstone for a burger experience for him, and which I admit, were, in this case, a little lackluster. He gave Cassell’s 6/10.

In Cassell’s defense, however, when Al Cassell first opened, he didn’t make fries. In fact, he flat out refused to, and he served homemade potato salad instead. In any case, for me, this was a great burger experience. Although I’m increasingly excited that this was the inaugural outing for my Year of the Burger, it’ll be tough to wade through 20 more hamburgers before I can come back to this boss bitch for round two.  — 9/10


 

FF0857F5-2B6C-44DD-BAAB-B77741D353C6-47533-00000ACC5243F00FTHE  OINKSTER 2005 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90041

Here we are. Number two on the list. A little the fatter for wear, but, as it happens, have a spot on the east side, near where I live, which, honestly, gives it points on the upfront with a one-two punch of being A) easy to get to, and B) easy to get home from, when, invariably, I’ll have sufficiently stuffed myself with enough red meat and beer to shame myself into hiding from public view. The sammiches available at this joint are easily categorized as “build-a-burgers,” one-half a metric that partner-in-buger, SM, and I have established for scoring. To me, these are the burgers I tend to prefer — diner-style smashburgers worthy of instant onset cardiac arrest.

As a beginning note, now that two burgers are finally up on the leaderboard: when SM and I first decided to go on this foodie adventure, I thought I’d be throwing up 10/10s willy-nilly, like the Katy Perry on American Idol of foodporn review blogs. Truth be told, I’m enamored with burgers, and I possess no real rubric or acumen to write critically about food, so the resolution was that I was probably just going to love ALL THE BEEF. But, sorry not sorry, discerning tastes are forming, burger babies, and this is now where we start to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Or the ground from the sirloin, if you will.

The Oinkster took up occupancy over ten years ago in the former site of a Jim’s Burgers on Eagle Rock’s Colorado Blvd, where it operates Sunday thru Thursday, 11am to 10pm, with an additional hour of operation on Fridays and Saturdays. The retro signage, the A-frame storefront, the proclaimed menu of “slow fast food,” and its significance in the Los Angeles burger festival scene have made it a metropolitan culinary staple.

Right off the tri-tip, this is what I love about the east side: parking is a fucking cinch. Now, SM had a particularly bullshit week, so we were planning on pounding some beers. Since Eagle Rock is close to Los Feliz, as I was saying before, we just hopped a ten minute Lyft ride from my house. If you’re driving, though, the location has a modest parking lot, but unregulated street parking in this hood won’t set you back but a couple trips around the block.

Inside, The Oinkster is counter ordering, so, depending on what time of day you decide to hit it, you’ll probably encounter a line. Use this time to contemplate the gut-buster-of-a-menu, or an array of well-chosen craft brews on draught. The staff is super-friendly, and help make the whole experience a total no-rush. Get your number, find a seat, and prep your lower GI for the oncoming stress test. Since SM and I are on this kick to knock out every burger joint on Eater’s updated 2018 list of LA’s best, ordering a couple of The Oinkster’s famed house specials, The Royale, was unavoidable.

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Thanks a lot, you sadists at © EaterLA

I mean, look at this motherfucking Satan’s cheat day right here. Because The Oinkster specializes in house-cured pastrami — and do a toight sammich of the ilk — the little piggies apparently couldn’t justify a signature burger without their signature meat, so this unholiest of joinings is thusly both burger and pastrami sandwich at once, and, in case you wanted to put off an annual physical for another couple years, IT’S GOT FUCKING CHILI TOO.

My honest hot-take, though? THE ROYALE IS *NOT MY JAM*. Let me say, I really enjoyed the experience of going to The Oinkster. Like I said, it’s a super chill joint in a throwback spot with a dope staff, and the surrounding hood is popping. Also, the tap beer selection is absolutely ace and the fries are great, but this beast-of-a-burger, The Royale, was just too much. The components of it are prepared to all exceptional standards, but, like, so are the components of a Colt .45 but I don’t want to eat that, either. No, this burger is like a Real Housewives marathon. It’s like more than one Domino’s Pizza coupon code on a single order. It’s me trying to fit in with my 7th grade flag football team.

JUST. TOO. MUCH.

My distinct burger fascination notwithstanding, currently holding the majority stokehold in my ambition for 2018, I’ve always loved burgers. Who doesn’t love burgers? Burgers are so wantable, even vegans got scientists up in a lab trying to suss out how to make a burger they can eat. But, man, I just feel bad for The Royale. It’s trying so hard. I just want to say, “Be a burger,” and then hug it and hug it and hug it until we go full Good Will Hunting, and it’s like, I’M OK YOU’RE OK WE’RE OK LET’S EAT.

Partner-in-burger, SM, was also not a fan of The Royale, but, like I said, he’d had a tough week, so maybe his tastebuds were informed by mood. In any case, I think The Royale ends up on the leaner side of both our “out-of-10” rating scales, which is surprising for a dish that serves up with so much fucking meat. He gave it 4/10.

The Oinkster is a perfect local joint, theoretically. And as I further explore the unobtrusive fabulousness that is Eagle Rock, I won’t say I’d never wander back through the A-frame for a beer and to wrestle with one of their famed pastrami sandwiches. But also, like Jules in Pulp Fiction, this brush with death has shaken my countenance, so gimme my wallet and I’ll be on my way.  — 6/10


 

HIGH AF ON HEART-SHAPED HERB #blackpanther

Ok, so.

I just wanna blather some more words concerning Black Panther, because, while the cultural bang of this epic and black-dominated comic book movie ain’t gonna diminish any time soon, we do live trapped in a fucking insane 24 hour news cyclone and so, like, who knows what the fuck insane federal crimes could be unearthed tomorrow that could rob this masterpiece of its headline-grabbing glory.

I mean, did Russia just threaten to bomb Florida?

Also, I want a chance to amend my previous post about it. While it was meant to be a capsule review, as my viewing was fresh, it ended up being another diatribe about my belief in the invalidity of white opinion. While I still endorse that belief, and the belief, by and large, that we whites need to just sit in a corner in a dunce hat for the next few generations or so, at some point I will have to reckon with this mindset exclusively as an apparent self-hating white and explain myself to my fellow white people before just randomly firing off at the mouth about it anymore than I already have. Because my thoughts on Black Panther should not be about me or my feelings about the white race. It’s about the rise of multi-cultural stories and characters in film, and the positioning of minority cultural forces that have battled oppression and been back-seated creatively since time immemorial, and so I really feel truly fucking colonial by upending what should’ve been a celebration of this movie and instead making it a vehicle for my own self-immolation.

Sorry.

I’m just, like, really feeling this movie. Like, really. Even at its barest filmic architecture, it hits me all the way in all the feels. All the #geek feels (#geekfeels). For a moment, imagine that you can consider the movie only as narrative and genre. Allow yourself to have the power of the black panther stripped away — its racial ballast, cultural splendor, and triumph of representation. Let it just be a comic book movie about a Marvel Universe character, and, for me, a self-proclaimed comic book #geek and comic book movie connoisseur, THIS COMIC BOOK MOVIE DOES COMIC BOOK MOVIE BEST.

See, I spent all my youthful years idly wishing for my favorite comics characters to appear in their own movies, but I never could’ve anticipated what horrors have been beset upon us, as a movie-going people. Consider…

THIS —

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And this is just the MCU, motherfuckers, and while, yes, the predicator to the “cinematic universe,” still. Will you look at this shit? I spent my whole life wishing for comic book movies on the reg, but when I take a look at THIS FUCKING ONSLAUGHT … THIS FUCKING BLITZKRIEG … THIS FUCKING TORRENT …

I get nauseous.

THE ANALOGY: dudes, I am like a surfer who lives, breathes, and wants to die, wishing for “the perfect wave.” Then one day, I walk out to the beach as the sun rises over the vast crystalline beauty of the Pacific Ocean, and I see…

THIS —

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Then, for cross-reference, I offer you…

THIS —

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A TSUNAMI OF SUPERHEROES.

So this common complaint I’ve heard from colleagues and critics about Black Panther — its relative disparateness and insulation from the rest of the MCU — don’t really hold no water for me, for a few of reasons. First, this compartmentalized story of a hero fighting for his homeland with his homeland at stake appeals to me on a purely human level. Second, its radical disconnection from the zigzag of the MCU, I think, allowed it to buoy its greater themes. Three, the movement (for lack of a better term) of Marvel movies are consistently burdened by the references, cameos, cut-scenes, post-credit sequences, and Easter Eggs that are, in my humble opinion, non-contributing and meddlesome. The narrative of Black Panther, however, centered around the occupancy of Wakanda’s throne, provided the filmmakers an opportunity to more fully explore the depth of hero, the villain, and the supporting characters, rather than have to funnel its energy into buttressing the trajectory of the MCU.

Then, it just owes its homage to the influence of all the best shit. This is a film about the kingdom, not the king, and what, in the upheaval, will be gained or lost. That shit’s Shakespearean, y’all. There is also, of course, the allusions and parallels between Black Panther and James Bond, which I subsequently get an enormous #geek boner over. When T’Challa arrives back in Wakanda after the mission to extract Nakia, Shuri tours through her lab as they vibe on her new tech, she the Q to T’Challa’s 007. TO SAY NOTHING of that sick-ass scene at the casino in Korea, which is the best James Bond movie sequence we’ve gotten. Period. Finally, on a purely comic fanboy level, T’Challa a motherfucking super-soldier, yo. How the fuck you gonna knock on that.

Now, then. Drink this heart-shaped herb, and once again feel the power of the black panther course through your veins. And merely as suggestion for future thought —

Be reminded that in 2018 we found ourselves as a modern civilization, receding into an era where prejudice, xenophobia, and racial supremacy reminded us of its rampancy.

Be reminded that this film and the social uprising around it have created a reaction that has snowballed into a movement.

Be reminded that Black Panther is the first and only movie of its kind. So far. — A, obvs