California Eatin’

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris June 06, 2022 13:00 in Dining Diary

There have been many trips to Los Angeles in these last twelve years. For most of those years, we’ve stayed in my favorite hotel maybe anywhere, the Langham Pasadena. When I need to be close to the family we have always chosen the Garland, a boutique hotel in North Hollywood that was built in the Sixties by the actress Beverly Garland.

The Garland began life exactly 50 years ago this year as a Holiday Inn, and remained so until a few years ago when Ms. Garland’s heirs dropped the hotel chain association and made it “boutique.”

What does that mean? Well, to me it implies youth, fun, and fanciful whims that are individual to a particular property. At The Garland, it means old movies out by the pool and waterbeds for watching them. It means an additional Happy Hour from 10 pm till midnight. And it means a taco stand and grill in the courtyard just because.

These are not reasons to stay at the Garland but they are nice perks for guests, most of whom book there for its proximity to Universal. There is a free shuttle to the theme park as well, usually filled disproportionally with people from the UK.

I have not been to the Garland for some time even pre-Covid. We almost always do it as a matter of convenience because Pasadena is a 30-minute drive.

But this time I was able to appreciate the Garland for what it is, ” an urban oasis”, to quote its marketing pitch. It is in fact exactly that.

Lush gardens are everywhere, with citrus fruit and olive trees, fountains, and outdoor fireplaces filling in more ambiance. A guest remains almost unaware that the hotel is bordered by busy Vineland and even busier Ventura Blvd. nearby. The 101 Freeway borders the other end of this tidy triangle. With all that traffic nearby tranquility is quite an accomplishment. Inside, the kitschy mid-century vibe is everywhere, featuring orange as the signature color.

We arrived in the early evening on Sunday to a spotless room exactly where we requested it. We opened the sliding door to our little patio, and looked down on the busy courtyard.

After we were dropped off by the family from a full day of activity, it was really appealing to sit in the courtyard enjoying the delightful 70-degree perfect weather for which the city is known.

I had to inquire about the grill guy’s activities. Simple: tacos, burgers, hot dogs.

I chose a hot dog because I am sick of the other two. We also ordered a Strawberry Fields drink which amounted to a strawberry daiquiri with a tart hint of lemon. Tom was so overwhelmed by the drink choices he gave up after our waitress came by a few times to get his order.

The hot dog arrived as promised, a fajitas-like version covered in peppers and onions and crema. The hot dog itself was a skinny thing grilled hard with a firm texture and crisp skin. It was extra long and stuck out both ends of the bun.

I really enjoyed this. The menu said it came with kettle chips and I went to the bucket on the grill stand and selected jalapeño. I have never had this experience, but these chips blistered the roof of my mouth rather instantly. The remainder of the evening was spent sucking on ice cubes from the strawberry daiquiri. I had no idea the spice on a chip could do that.

The following morning we had some time before the family came to meet us for breakfast. The kids like visiting my hotels, so it would be a fun and easy start to Memorial Day. We were up before 7 am so we went downstairs to The Front Yard, the hotel’s restaurant that is somewhat of a neighborhood sensation.

The food is good but not brilliant. I remembered the hotel buffet breakfast, which I was absolutely shocked to still see. In California??? This is definitely a buffet that places in California, because pico de gallo and tomatillo sauce were offered beside the eggs. Also chicken sausage. But the bacon was divine. Smoky, salty, thick, and stiff. I have said before that I am a loss leader for a place where a breakfast buffet includes bacon. I never eat bacon except in such circumstances. If it is good bacon, as this certainly was, well…

The breakfast potatoes were roasted but devoid of past interesting add-ons like peppers and onions, so they were boring fingerling nuggets with the skins on. They could have benefited from some more salt, and frankly, a little grease. I also got a chicken sausage link because it looked appealing. Chicken sausage doesn’t offend me usually, but this was not nearly as good as it looked.

And it was California, so I heaped a generous portion of pico and tomatillo sauce on the plate. I did not have the one thing I always get at breakfast in California - sourdough, because I had to toast it myself.

The eggs on this buffet are very complex. A big pile of scrambled eggs into which is mixed onions, peppers, spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes, as well as copious amounts of cheese - enough to create festoons, as Tom likes to say. 

I prefer eggs over easy and asked for some, but they said there are no substitutions.

We chose to eat the fruit as dessert after the kids arrived. Everyone got something different for breakfast Part 2. There was a breakfast burrito on the table, an egg sandwich on a croissant, Nutella-stuffed French Toast, and a lovely powdered sugar-dusted blueberry pancake. All of these were consumed with much approval, with extra raves on the burrito. That was closest to me, and I have to say it was popping with avocado slices, stiff bacon, scrambled eggs, peppers, onions, and cheese. TFY (The Front Yard) breakfast sandwich had turkey, eggs, tomato, Gruyere, and aioli.

I brought out a platter of fruit, and it was all happily consumed under the shade of an olive tree, a fountain soothing us with its calming waters in the background.

We never did make it back to the courtyard in time for the Taco man, but we did continue our drink series. That evening Tom got a Mai Tai and I ordered some chicken nuggets and their famous adobo fries but canceled it minutes later because I was just too full from lunch at the in-law’s, where my house favorites were served and consumed in large quantities. (Jude’s mother-in-law serves a macaroni bake with delicious sauce interspersed with turkey meatballs and lots of cheese. This was served along with the “perfect” broccoli drizzled lightly with lemon. I am nuts about this and she is gracious enough to serve it whenever I am there.) 

The cocktail menu for the poolside courtyard is vast, interesting, and delicious no matter what you get. Even I enjoy these cocktails. Tom’s Mai Tai was Rummy as it should be but citrusy as well. Refreshing.

The following morning we had time before the bus (my son) picked us up after dropping kids at school. We headed again to The Front Yard where Tom ordered an American Breakfast, an unusual order for him, and I got another California favorite, Huevos Rancheros.

Tom’s eggs were perfect, accompanied by the same boring fingerling potatoes and delicious bacon. The bacon portions here are generous, enough for me to steal some from Tom. Which I did.

My Huevos Rancheros was not among my favorites of this regional dish. It was covered maybe too heavily with a feijoada-style black bean almost-soup with chunks of chorizo that seemed added later. It was pretty in its presentation, sitting atop two fried tortillas. This was neither bad nor special. I prefer Huevos Rancheros with just a smattering of black beans.

Our last morning breakfast was again, as always, eaten outside in the delightful chill of a California morning. Tom had the French toast with Nutella on the side. It was buried under banana slices and strawberries. He raved about this, even eating a bit of the Nutella as a dip. He has long been a critic of Nutella and our American fascination with it, though it seems harmless enough. I ate some that morning and liked it rather well. What could be wrong with chocolate and hazelnuts?

I had a pile of bacon and an English muffin, another favorite item I rarely eat except on the road.

My love affair with California is well-documented on the airwaves and in print. Eating outside in a place where it is always so pleasant is part of the appeal of breakfast there. As we return now to al fresco dining where it doesn’t really make sense, I will cherish those meals, less for the food and more for the “feel.”