Where Have All The Community Eating Places Gone? Long Time Passing….

18 06 2006

Lynn’s and my third dating experience, was impromptu. He had just called me to chat, and I impulsively asked if he wanted to hook up—what can I say, when it comes to new relationships, I’m like a puppy: bouncy, excited and always wetting myself. Thank God that he enthusiastically answered “Yeah!,” and we went about the business of deciding on a place to meet. This was the beginning stages of our courtship, so coming over to one another’s houses was not yet an option. We live about 16 miles apart, he on the West end of the San Fernando Valley, and me on the East end, so I recommended The Good Earth in Northridge, which is somewhere in the middle for us both. I hadn’t been to that Good Earth in ages, but it held some warm memories, and I felt excited about introducing him to a particular venue that I held in high esteem.

“It’s right off of Nordhoff and Shirley. Just past Tampa,” I directed.

“Okay, I’ll see you there,” he responded.

I was running late, and was jamming on the freeway, when my cell phone rang. I had since programmed his number into my phonebook, so his name popped up on the view screen.

“Hi, what’s up?” I answered.

“The restaurant is gone.”

“What?! Are you on Nordhoff and Shirley?”

“Yes, I’m in the parking lot, and there’s construction, and nothing else.”

“I’m almost there, so let’s just meet in the parking lot.”

“Okay.”

I got there, and indeed it was, gone… I was devastated to say the least. I had arrived in Los Angeles in 1988 and one of the first places I was introduced to was The Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery. The 10-grain pancakes were to die for, and their tea had a unique sweet/tangy flavor to it, without even adding sugar. But the good food was coupled with good times and good friends, so it not only meant the end of a quality restaurant, but the end of a place where community had flowered. Lunches and dinners with friends from the single’s group at church after Sunday and Wednesday services, sitting for hours sipping tea (the refills never ended and were free!) and sharing about the sermon, our lives, the last movie we’d seen—whatever. It was a place where you could gather, and the management didn’t seem to have that L.A. disease of pushing you out the door as soon as the wait staff dropped the bill.

Dalts Grill is another place that has since bitten the dust, sometime in 2005 (where have I been?). Once again, I discovered this on one of our dates—Easter Saturday, as a matter of fact. We had left the church service and were hankering for a place to eat. Lynn is a lover of American dining—coffee shops, bar and grills or pubs—if the place has good old-fashioned stick-to-your-ribs food that’s consistently prepared, he’s there. So I got all excited and wanted to take him to Dalts. It was a bit more upscale than a coffee shop, but had traditional food and a great old-fashioned bar atmosphere; in fact, it was very similar to the bar featured in Cheers. The prices were reasonable as well, and you could easily feed two people on the cheap.

We drove up Riverside Drive, and were about to turn the corner to the parking structure, when I saw a black tarp where the lighted “DALTS GRILL” sign used to be. My heart sank.

“Forget it hon, it’s closed.”

“What?!” He said a bit churlishly. When Lynn’s blood sugar drops, it’s not a good thing.

“I’m sorry, but it’s closed. Let’s find somewhere else.”

Another one of my favorites just…gone. We ended up at Bob’s Big Boy, which made Lynn happy, as Bob’s was a huge part of his life, and he had lamented the day when they shut down most of the Bob’s in the San Fernando Valley because it was no longer the “in” place to eat. Lynn was born and raised in the Valley, and except for a few years living in San Luis Obispo, he has never lived any place else. Part of what makes him a treasure—how many native Southern Californians do you know that still live here and are proud of it?

Not that he doesn’t also note the massive changes that have occurred in his 45 years of being in L.A., and grieves the loss of places of consistency, quality and substance, that were removed to make room for the hip and commercial. For me, there are certain places that make a community, and when they disappear, it leaves a discernable hole.

Both The Good Earth and Dalts Grill are connected to my 20s and early 30s, the years that best represented community as I understand it, and wished that I had again. I and my friends had special events, birthdays, or just good “hangout” time at these establishments, especially at Dalts. I discovered the restaurant when I first moved to Burbank back in 1990. They were conveniently placed between Disney Studios (where I was temping at the time), and my home on Pass Avenue, so on occasions when I had the money, I would stop there after work and have loaded fries—French fries covered in melted cheddar cheese with bacon bits and green onions, and finish it off with a slice of their famous Malt Cake—I can feel your arteries hardening, but man was it tasty!

My friend Chrissy invited me to go along with a group of people she knew to a production of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood. “Much Ado…” is one of my favorite Shakespeare comedies, and we all had a blast and enjoyed the production immensely. Afterward, we went to Dalts for dinner. Those fabulous quesadillas were the hit for that night, along with discussing the play and our combined love of all things the Bard.

I recall one late night when me, Chrissy and Chio, another nutty friend from my nutty past, were craving a chocolate fix. So where did we go? To Dalts, of course. Not only because of the famously rich malt cake, but unlike other Valley restaurants, they actually stayed open until midnight! We shared one piece of the malt cake, a-la-mode (the piece they gave you was huge, so this was easily done), and were in endorphin heaven for the rest of night/morning! While savoring her bites of the cake, Chio exclaimed, “This is better than sex!”

Dalts was also a reliable place for connecting with my friend Paula Potter, who is the manager of the Rights Clearance department at Disney—they are the ones that say “nay,” or “yay, and pay this much,” to requests to use any film or audio clips licensed to Disney or its related children (Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Miramax, etc.). She’s as busy as all get out, but we somehow managed to meet once a year (sometimes more) for Dalts’ Sunday Brunch. Paula’s one of those people that no matter how long the absence, when you get together again it’s like you never parted. I’ve seen her through her many bridesmaids adventures (but still not a bride—damn it!) and the deaths of her aunt and father, and her mom’s recent illnesses, all over that all-you-can-eat buffet. But no longer. When we do connect again, it will have to be another restaurant, and it just won’t be the same.

So why am I blathering on about this? Yes, there are plenty of other places in L.A. that have good, reasonably-priced food, and yes, the food at these restaurants definitely mattered—would I be going on about 10-grain pancakes and malt cake if it wasn’t fabulous?! But the crux of the matter goes beyond that, to what these places signified—the bonding and community that happened around the good food, that has me complaining about the closures. It feels like another blow to consistent community, because when a place becomes a part of your life, it’s hard to say goodbye—especially when the separation is so sudden and unexpected. It’s as if I’ve lost an old friend, and a part of my past has been obliterated. I’m sure these establishments will be replaced by something that I’ll consider pedestrian, and less than community-oriented: like a Denny’s, or Heaven forbid, a Starbucks. Just what we need, more high-priced, low grade coffee and Wi-Fi so people can hide behind their low-fat lattes and laptops and not have to connect with the real world.

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2 responses

10 07 2006
Kathi

Community is in fact getting harder and harder to find and define. Some folks actually do find community at Starbucks – WIFI and all!I remember that day in the photo: An all-day birthday marathon of which I could only participate in the dinner portion. It was lovely and so, so “Jennifer!” (As it should be!) But what to do for your big 4-Oh? We must make plans!
ILY!

15 07 2006
Jennifer Inez Oliver

Seems like you’re the only one who bothers to read and comment on my blog . Oh well–it’s a start! Big 4-0 will probably be very little this year. At present, no money, and no time to make any plans.




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