Vintage LA Recipes From The Brown Derby, Chasen's And Clifton's For Your Quarantine Cooking Inspiration
Since we're all responsibly cooped up in the dreary present, rediscovering the wonders of beans, yeast and frozen pizzas, let's take a trip into Los Angeles's scrumptious, sauce-heavy past. As you dine in, consider these recipes from some of L.A.'s most fabulous vintage restaurants and nightclubs. Old food never tasted so good, whether you're wearing a silk evening gown or stretchy pants you haven't taken off in two weeks.
Soup From The Source
When Sunset Strip restaurant owner James Edward Baker rebranded himself as the guru Father Yod, he spread his belief in healthy eating and a vegetarian lifestyle. In 1969, he opened vegetarian restaurant The Source, which quickly became a nexus for counter-culture stars and Yod's growing cadre of attractive, ultra-skinny followers. Courtesy of Lesley Bargar Suter, here is one of the eatery's famous, soul-nurturing soups.
RECIPE: Mushroom Barley Soup from The Source
- 2 cups barley
- 1 onion diced
- 1/2 cup celery diced
- 2 pounds sliced mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves crushed garlic
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Lightly sauté celery, onion and mushrooms with olive oil, butter and garlic.
- Add to barley in large soup pot with 12 cups water.
- Cook over medium heat until barley is soft.
- Remove from heat and stir in sour cream.
The Salad Heard Round the World
From its 1926 opening in a hat-shaped building on Wilshire Blvd., The Brown Derby was the go-to spot for Hollywood heavyweights. The restaurant chain quickly expanded to Beverly Hills, Los Feliz and, most famously, Hollywood. Ensconced in one of the Derby's deep brown leather banquettes, movie industry mavens talked on phones brought to their tables while guzzling martinis and chomping on owner Robert Howard Cobb's favorite salad.
In L.A.'s Legendary Restaurants: Celebrating the Famous Places Where Hollywood Ate, Drank, and Played, George Geary prints the original recipe in all its savory glory.
RECIPE: Cobb Salad from The Brown Derby
- 1/2 head iceberg lettuce
- 1/2 bunch watercress
- 1 small bunch chicory
- 1/2 head romaine lettuce
- 2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
- 2 large chicken breasts, skinned, cooked, and diced
- 6 strips applewood smoked bacon, crumbled in pieces
- 1 large avocado, diced
- 3 large eggs, hard-boiled and diced
- 2 tsp. chopped chives
- 6 oz. Roquefort cheese, crumbled
- 1 cup French Dressing
- Finely chop the lettuce, watercress, chicory and romaine.
- Mound on a serving platter.
- Arrange the tomatoes, chicken, bacon, avocado and eggs in rows on top of the salad greens.
- Sprinkle with chives and Roquefort cheese.
- Present the salad then place the ingredients in a salad bowl with the French dressing and toss.
Beans Hit a Homerun
It's the dish that helped propel Dave Chasen from vaudeville comic to owner of a top supper club. On the strength of his custom chili (cooked in director Frank Capra's kitchen), Chasen opened his famed restaurant in Beverly Hills in 1936. It became a destination for movie stars, writers and even J. Edgar Hoover. According to Jaya Saxena's The Book of Lost Recipes, this version of his chili — so delicious Elizabeth Taylor requested it while in the hospital — is one of the best.
RECIPE: Chili Con Carne from Chasen's
- 1/2 lb. dried pinto beans
- 1 can diced tomatoes in juice
- 1 large green bell pepper chopped
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 small onions, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 lbs. beef chuck, coarsely chopped
- 1 lb. pork shoulder, coarsely chopped
- 1/3 cup chili powder
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- Rinse the beans under cold water, picking out the debris.
- Place the beans in a Dutch oven with water to cover over high heat.
- Bring to a boil.
- Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat.
- Cover and let stand 1 hour before draining off the liquid.
- Rinse the beans again and add enough fresh water to cover.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for one hour or until tender.
- Stir in the tomatoes and their juice and let simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, sautee bell peppers in vegetable oil for 5 minutes.
- Add chopped onions and cook until tender, stirring frequently.
- Stir in garlic and parsley then add this whole mixture to the beans.
- Using the same skillet, melt the butter and saute�? beef and pork chuck until browned, about 7 minutes.
- Drain and add the meat to the bean mixture along with chili powder, salt, pepper, cumin and a cup (237 ml) of water.
- Bring the chili to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover.
- Let simmer for an hour, then uncover and cook another 30 minutes, or to desired consistency.
- Chili shouldn't be too thick. It should be somewhat liquid but not runny like soup.
- Skim off the excess fat and serve.
Hearty Hungarian Comfort Food
Before Beverly Hills was a land of steakhouses and side eye, it was a wealthy rural outpost. Around 1930, a Hungarian native named Francesca "Mama" Weiss opened a makeshift restaurant in her apartment, cooking Eastern European specialties. With the help of movie star (and murder suspect) Mary Miles Minter, she soon moved Mama Weiss' Hungarian Csarda to a bigger bungalow on rustic Rodeo Drive where she served goulash, apple strudle and other simmering, sour cream-dolloped dishes to stars such as Myrna Loy and Billy Wilder. In 1954, she closed up shop leaving many expats heartbroken and hungry.
RECIPE: Paprika Chicken from Csarda Restaurant
- 2 medium onions
- 2 tablespoons shortening
- 2 1/2 chicken parts
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 pint sour cream
- 1/2 cup water or chicken stock
- Saute onions in shortening.
- Add paprika, salt and pepper, to taste.
- Add chicken pieces and cover pot.
- Let it cook on a moderate flame in its own juice for about 30 minutes or until tender.
- Blend the flour and sour cream and add it to the pot.
- Add 1/2 cup water or chicken stock and cook for a few more minutes.
A Veggie Side Dish that Eats Like a Meal
Fantastical woodland-themed Clifton's Cafeteria started serving heaping plates of comfort food in 1935. Underneath a canopy of phony trees, hungry Angelenos ate in a democratic, joyful atmosphere where customers were encouraged to "Pay What You Wish" and "Dine Free Unless Delighted." In The Book of Lost Recipes , you'll find a recipe for a vegetarian casserole that sounds right out of grandma's kitchen.
RECIPE: Zucchini Monterey Casserole from Clifton's
- 1.3 lbs. zucchini, cubed 1-inch
- 4 eggs, slightly beaten
- 1/2 cup (118 ml) milk
- 1 tsp MSG
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp baking powder
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup green chili peppers, diced
- 3 tbsp pimentos, diced
- 1 lb. jack cheese, grated
- 1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup bread crumbs
- 3 tsp butter
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C).
- Steam the zucchini until slightly tender.
- Combine eggs, milk, MSG, salt, cayenne pepper, baking powder, flour and parsley in a large bowl. Mix to remove lumps.
- Add chili peppers, pimentos and cheese, and stir well.
- Add steamed, drained zucchini and stir gently.
- Oil a 1 1/2quart (1.4 L) casserole dish and dust with half of the bread crumbs.
- Pour in the zucchini mixture and sprinkle the remaining bread crumbs lightly on top.
- Dot with butter.
- Bake for 55 minutes, until top is golden brown.
A Simple Dessert
The massive "tropically-themed" Cocoanut Grove nightclub, located at the legendary Ambassador Hotel, was known for its big bands, big stars and tiny martinis. In between drinking and dancing, it offered a menu of heavy, continental dishes. Betty Goodwin describes one particularly decadent dessert in Hollywood du Jour: Lost Recipes of Legendary Hollywood Haunts.
RECIPE: California Figs Romanoff from The Cocoanut Grove
- One dozen ripe figs, cut in quarters
- Curacao, to taste
- 1 quart vanilla ice cream, very soft
- 1 pint whipped cream
- Dash nutmeg
- Place figs in a serving bowl.
- Add a slight flavoring of curacao to taste.
- In another bowl, thoroughly mix vanilla ice cream with well sweetened whipped cream.
- Pour over figs.
- Sprinkle with nutmeg and refrigerate.
- Strawberries can be substituted but omit nutmeg.
A Tropical DessertFor the ladies who lunched, the Bauhaus-style tearoom at Bullock's Wilshire Department Store was the ideal place for a rest after a busy afternoon of shopping. Overseen by the perfectionist Ms. Larsen, it served finger sandwiches and pecan rolls to the likes of Norma Shearer and Carole Lombard. Its coconut cream pie is featured in Hollywood du Jour: Lost Recipes of Legendary Hollywood Haunts.
RECIPE: Coconut Cream Pie from Bullock's Tearoom
- 3 cups half and half
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon Coco Lopez canned cream of coconut (or coconut syrup)
- 1 cup flour
- 1/3 cup shortening
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 cold water
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Coconut flakes
- To make filling, cook half-and-half and sugar in double boiler for two hours.
- In mixing bowl, beat together egg yolks, corn starch and butter.
- Add the vanilla, almond extract and coconut syrup to the mixture and set aside.
- When the half-and-half has come to boil, add yolk mixture, folding gently.
- Set aside to cool for about one hour.
- To make crust, mix ingredients together in a bowl.
- Roll out in a circle.
- Shape into a pie tin.
- Bake at 250 degrees for 20 minutes on top shelf of oven.
- Let cool.
- To make topping, whip together cream, sugar and vanilla extract.
- Fill pie crust with filling, then cover with topping.
- Sprinkle with coconut flakes.
A Healthy DessertAn early practitioner of raw, vegan eating, Vera Richter owned a series of groundbreaking Los Angeles restaurants, including the Eutropheon Dining Rooms, starting in 1917. Today, many of her recipes seem bland but in Vintage Vegan, the health food pioneer describes an oatmeal cookie that sounds delicious, especially if you love raw cookie dough.
RECIPE: Vegan Oatmeal Cookies from Vera Richter
- Equal parts flaked cashew nuts and oatmeal (made by grinding up rolled oats)
- A sprinkling of seedless raisins
- Flavor to taste with pastry spice (editor's note: you can combine cinnamon, ground cloves, cardamom and nutmeg to achieve the same aroma)
- Work in coconut nectar and corn oil to the consistency where it can be rolled out.
- Cut out cookies with your shape of choice and spread out on flat surface for several hours.