Jeff Smith 2 p.m., Dec. 9
When most people think southern California they think sunshine, palm trees, and how close it is to the lawless lands with flowing tequila of Tijuana. Every region of the world carries certain characteristics. When I think Africa I think a land of brown sand, no water, and UNICEF trucks giving out rice. When I think of India, I think of purple fabric, crowded market places, and that crazy island they built that looks like a palm tree from the sky (Google it, you’ll be amazed). When I think of England I think of Big Ben, Fog, and Fish and Chips in an oily newspaper cone.
Granted, all three of these places have much more to offer, those are just the three things that first come to my mind. Almost as important as the culture and the people, is the cuisine that is made by the people within the culture.
Here in southern California, the drunk thing to do is not to stumble through the streets looking for that golden yellow slice of pizza, but wait in line with the mass diverse group of hammered 20-somethings and wait for that delicious off white roll of carne asada burrito. This Mexican delicatessen brings about a variety of feelings and emotions circa 2:30 a.m. Many a time I have seen the white boy from Wisconsin prove his 4 years of high school Spanish was worth it when, with an air of vodka and a confidence of redbull, he says “HOLA!” to the exhausted woman working behind the counter. He takes a long pause that he vocalizes with an “ahhh” (as if he is really trying to translate what he wants to say in Spanish in his head) and follows that up with a smile and, “uno Carnes Asada” and as the exhausted woman behind the counter writes down his order cursing the American education system for not really teaching language, this fine young gentleman says (again with a smile of confidence that looks like he is about to start singing La Bomba if only he had a sombrero and maracas) says “GRACIAS!” and takes its place at the pick up window in hopes that his amazing Spanish skills have scored him a free cab ride with the little lady who was waiting behind him.
By no means do I want to degrade the Mexican menus that have crossed the boarder over the past few decades, but I do want to expose another mix of cultural food cuisine that has absolutely redirected my stumble at 2:30 a.m.
This Italian surprise is sneakily nestled among a variety of waterholes, taco shops, and thrift stores. With the charm of a European sidewalk café mixed with a friendly and relaxed Southern California attitude, this Sicilian establishment not only lures its passerby’s with the smells of dough, mozzarella, and tomatoes, but with the tantalizing presentation of their amazing pies that extend the length of my arm.
Beyond the smells and the sights, this true Tuscan gem has mixed old Italian tradition with new funky ideas. This is evident through their pies like, “The Rancher” where ranch dressing and bacon are added in a circular pattern. (We all love ranch on the side, but to have it already on the slice...genius!). Now, I am a meat eater, however since moving to this very “healthy” part of the country my best friend has decided to become a vegetarian (of course every birthday, bbq, and free dinner tweak that decision…). But, when she can be a veggie consumer, she is. Because of this, the veggie pizza was a must as we ordered. Ten minutes later the friendly tan Californian delivers the variety of massive golden dough Frisbees. As we creepily stare at the enormous pies being placed infront of our eyes, the veggie pizza blew the rest away. This colorful array of reds, greens, and yellows absolutely convinces you that the garden you’re looking at will, hands-down, take care of your veggie intake (per food pyramid…where here in California that seems to be the navigational life compass to everything right in healthy living). As an avid pizza enthusiast I can honeslty say that this is the best pizza I have had on the west coast.
Of course I love warm flour tortillas and fresh salsa just as much as the next wannabe true southern Californian. However, I am never going to be a true southern Californian and my true love for drunken food is and will always be pizza. So, to the general public I say, please go and stumble in line and harass the smiling woman behind the counter, speak your not-so-fluent espaniol, and make friends with the others hooligans thinking they are cool by pronouncing jalapenos with a J. I would much rather throw in my drunk Mexican food binge sombrero for a triangular slice of heaven topped with pineapple and ham…and of course (purely to mix with the cultural motif)…be checked out by the talk dark and handsome Italian stallion at the counter. Thank you Olde City Grill, for bringing me back to my roots and showing me that it is possible to live on the west coast…and eat delicious slices too. VIVA ITALIA!