It’s Just a F$*#ing Bagel!

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Having lived in Los Angeles the past five years, I’ve inevitably met a handful of people who’ve relocated to the Golden Coast from back east. And while these people are absolutely lovely individuals and generally wonderful friends, they have some very strong opinions about California as compared to the east coast. Which, I can fully empathize with. I’m not an LA native and I completely share the frustration with Southern California traffic, unrelenting heat and having to hear half of cell phone conversations about the entertainment industry that are invariably shouted at near-foghorn volume. One line of commentary that I have zero amounts of patience for however is the snarky, unwavering zeal for east coast junk food. I’m sorry, but people from New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey are so self-righteous about their precious pizza and bagels and sandwiches it’s hard to believe they ever left them to begin with. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say “This is the only place in LA that has decent pizza” or “This is NOT an Italian sub”, I’d probably have enough cash to keep a condo in Dubai.

Los Angeles seems to have a reputation for being a culinary wasteland, which I don’t personally find to be true. Sure, people here don’t seem to be as receptive to experimental or ultra haute-cuisine, and many people would probably be happy eating tire tread as long as it came with Israeli couscous and was served from a truck by a vaguely ethnic looking kid in their late teens that took payment from a Square card-reader attached to an iPad, but by George I think we have a lot to offer in the national food world. But nevermind “haute-cuisine”, we also happen to have gorgeous looking produce that’s in season virtually all year long. It might not be the absolute best produce in the world, but you can have it whenever you want! And biting into a ripe California avocado (which is how I eat them, I don’t know about you) is just one of the best things in life and let’s just all quietly acknowledge that. And as far as I remember, I’ve never been able to pick a juicy Meyer lemon from a tree while walking the streets of New York but maybe that’s just me.

So, when I hear people go on and on (and on) about how no one in California can make a good bagel because of our water or whatever, I kind of just want to push them over and go get a melon salad or something. Maybe it’s because I’ve never lived outside California, but to me — IT’S JUST A FUCKING BAGEL! I would strongly urge you to get over it. It’s round bread that people eat because it’s heartier than the granola bar at the craft service table. And to be clear, I’ve had New York bagels and New York pizza. This was more or less my reaction —

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I suppose the juggernaut of signature east coast food and beverage institutions would be the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts. And again, am I missing something? Because I’ve had their coffee, I’ve had their donuts, and I’ve probably had more revelatory experiences at the DMV renewing the registration on my Nissan Versa. I suppose they captured the nuance of fried, doughy, frosted fat rings, but I wouldn’t exactly lose sleep if I never saw one again. And yet, when they launched the new LA debut of Dunkin Donuts, there was a hysterical frenzy and a line of 300 people. I guess people were craving the dull, sugary coffee somethin’ fierce!

I get it, nostalgia plays a large part in this. People from the east coast are used to their standardized comfort food that they’ve had since they were kids, which I don’t want to begrudge anybody. But could you please take off the taste-arbiter hat and accept that you’re in a new place now with new stuff to offer? Really, it’s not so bad!

Whole Lotta Trouble

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I don’t know about you, but I am NOT a Whole Foods kind of guy. In fact, as far as I care, those jokers can take their food and stick it right up their wholes! There’s just something about the pretentious atmosphere and the trendy yet clueless staff that really rubs me the wrong way. Not to mention their horribly overpriced, corporate brand of health food that’s killing smaller, independently owned markets’ chance to stay afloat. And of course the highly conservative investments that the company makes aren’t a selling point either. I mean, as much as I LOVE paying $47 for a burlap sack and a peach, I think there are other establishments I can patronize with perhaps some better deals and a better attitude. Plus it’s always nice to avoid the Prius melee in the parking lot. Ahhh, yes, all those liberal minded health-conscious moms in their stilettos and designer jeans getting out of their Priuses that in 10 years will be expelling horrible noxious hybrid-battery chemicals right into our soil. God bless those trail-blazers.

So, I am at a loss as to what to. My favorite spot in the world to buy groceries was a charming little nugget of a market on Hillhurst called the Nature Mart. Anytime I needed some nice organic produce, some interesting pre-prepared snacks, some good supplements or good eco-friendly soaps/cleaners, I could pop over there and avoid that oppressive haze of upper-middle-class haughtiness. Don’t get me wrong, their prices weren’t exactly a STEAL, but I’m sorry, it’s still better than, well, its larger competitor which shall be henceforth be referred to as “IT”. Because, let’s face it, smaller stores can’t get as good of a deal on their stock because of the considerably smaller quantity in which they’re forced to buy it. Regardless, I’m not necessarily discriminating solely on price. Every time I would shop at the NM the staff was warm and friendly and not only knowledgeable but passionate about their product. All the time I would hear “Oh, dude, I didn’t know we had this in stock again! I’m gonna pick up some of this for myself!”. And definitely not too staunch on their prices, either. One day I was buying this fun, wooden toothbrush that I think was $5.99. The cashier remarked “Oh I have one of these! $6??? I only payed $3 for mine so that’s what you’re paying too” and rung me up at a discount. Another time the friendly older woman cashier pretended I had a gym membership and gave me $10 off the probiotics I was buying. Meanwhile over at that IT place I asked an employee if they sold kefir grains and was met with the reponse “Some what? Keifur what?” Apparently he couldn’t hear me through his shaggy blonde, Disney-sitcom hair and purple zip-up hoodie he was wearing. But, thank god he was able to call 9 different tiers of department supervisors to confirm that they in fact did NOT carry that item!

Anyway, the reason I’m at a loss is because the Nature Mart, in a sad and untimely twist of fate, was forced to close its doors a few months back. I’m assuming the colossal juggernaut that is Whole Foods…sorry…IT, was probably a big part of this. There’s something very bleak and unsettling seeing that quaint little market completely dead and picked over just before closing. The older woman working there was on the verge of tears. “We’ve been here since 1974 and it still looks exactly the same as it did the day we opened” she told me. Oh dear…

So what the hell do I do now?? Well, I did have one misadventure of note recently where I attempted to find a new store. After having lunch in North Hollywood with my friend this last weekend, I googled “health food store” in the area to try and find some produce and some granola on my way home. The most promising on the list was a place called A-1 Organics. It wasn’t far, it had solid reviews, so I thought I’d check it out. It was in a little bit of a dodgy area but whatever! I can handle it! I’m real (ish)! So i get there and all I see is an unmarked building with A-1 written on the front. No one else seems to be around, which was kind of unnerving but I proceeded. I noticed that the windows were blacked out and there was a smaller sign tacked to the wall saying “entry in rear” so I head around the back (completely not getting that this place was obviously not a grocery store). I head around back and all I see is a SECURITY GUARD perched on a stool reading a magazine in front of another white, unmarked door. Thinking “this clearly isn’t the place”, I pace around trying to find the REAL entrance to this reputable and high-quality store. After a few minutes I came to the conclusion that this had to be it. I go up to the guard and ask “I’m looking for A-1?”. “This is it” he tells me. I go to the door and he buzzes me in (that’s right, buzzes me in. Still not getting it). I walk in and i see a long hallway followed by another door. However, something was amiss. The room was drenched in green light and there was this funky, lingering smell. Being the blithely clueless individual that I am, I head to the second door but this one was locked. I hear a few unintelligible murmurs from some chill-sounding dudes behind the door, but then a woman from behind me shouts “HEY! EXCUSE ME!”. I turn and walk back to the first door and see a little office attached. “Are you new?” she asks. “I guess so. Am I in the right place? What is this?” I say. She responds with “This is a medical marijuana dispensory”. So I panic and apologize and run out there feeling like a total jackass (which, I mean, if the really lame shoe fits…).

So, then, in a moment of desperation, I visit IT. And while I did see Newman from Seinfeld, it was not the most fruitful experience of all time. So, fellow bloggers and members of society (especially those in the greater Los Angeles area [even more specifically those on the east side]), if you have any tips or recommendations, please share with me your wisdom because, as it turns out, there ain’t a WHOLE lot of options out there!