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The Great American Food Institution
Also, flying burritos, a perfect lunch and a workshop you won't want to miss.
Of all the reviews I’ve written, this remains one of my favorites. It doesn’t seem radical now, but in 1981 it was rather remarkable that my editors allowed me to publish a serious article about….cafeterias. In those days magazine restaurant critics tended to devote their monthly columns to high-end establishments.
But I have always considered the cafeteria one of the great American institutions. The first might have been the Exchange Buffet in New York City, which opened in 1885 catering exclusively to men. Many more soon followed, and before long cafeterias stretched across the country.
By the time I wrote this article, however, it was already an endangered species that was being pushed out by fast food places producing food on the factory model. I am sad to say the two I wrote about here are now mere memories.
It’s our loss. Each time I’m in Berkeley and I pass the place where, until 2018, a solidly wonderful, all-American restaurant offered real food at fair prices, I can’t help feeling wistful. It lasted sixty years, finally succumbing to climate change and cocaine. (To understand that you’ll have to read this article on Brennan’s.)
The demise of Los Angeles’ Clifton’s Cafeterias makes me even sadder. There’s never been another American business quite like it; the founder was a truly extraordinary man who was raised by missionaries and genuinely believed in the golden rule. He never turned a hungry person away. A political reformer who ran for Mayor of Los Angeles (he came in second), he spent the last years of his life trying to end world hunger.
Want to know more about Clifford Clinton? Read this.
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I’m a little embarrassed to be writing about the great burritos from Burritos La Palma because when you get them by mail they are crazy expensive. But if you don’t live in Los Angeles and you find yourself craving them… well there’s always Goldbelly.
La Palma burritos are dangerously delicious. Jonathan Gold always brought them to parties at my house, and I developed such a craving for them that I began going to the restaurant, buying burritos by the dozen and keeping them in the freezer.
Order them at your peril.
I’m very proud to be part of Beyond Delicious, a remarkable workshop for people concerned about the future of our food system. The 3-day gathering will take place in August at the beautiful Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in the Hudson Valley; if you haven’t seen their amazing water reclamation system, that alone is worth the trip.
Lunch at Nougatine, the casual restaurant at Jean-Georges, used to be the best bargain in the city (it was a $39 prix-fixe meal). Sadly, the deal is gone and the menu is now a la carte.
But the food is superb. This little indulgence above - a heap of herb-strewn caviar on top of a crisp jammy-egg yolk sandwich - is pure pleasure.
The fresh pea soup with parmesan foam is springtime in a bowl.
And the sashimi plate - with a very spicy sauce - actually leads sashimi off in an entirely new direction.