The (belated but ringing) Endorsement, and a (belated but cool) Find
Hello Enthusiasts –
We all have blind spots in life. You know – things we should have done or seen, but for whatever reason, you just haven’t. I’ve never seen Footloose all the way through. I’ve never been to the Getty in Malibu. I just ate at Spago Beverly Hills for the first time this past January. I’ve never read The Tipping Point. You know, stuff like that.
Well, I corrected two of my blind spots recently, and boy were they worth it.
First, The Must. It’s a wine bar on 5th just up from Spring (near Crocker Club) that’s been open since December. I’ve seen the little blue neon sign over the door, I’ve heard it gets packed for ArtWalk, but I’ve just never ducked in – I’m usually on my way to Crocker or the Varnish or the Association when I’m in that neck of the woods. But on Friday, a friend was late meeting me for a drink, so I was killing time, and figured I’d see what it was all about.
I guess I thought it was just a little wine shop. Cute little counter space, a few wines, pretty basic. Wow, was I surprised. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture good enough to post, but the first thing you notice is that it’s bigger than you think – probably 15 or 20 tables scattered around the room in front of a bar with a tremendous number of wine bottles scaling up the wall. I walked in and that “wow, this is, like, a real place.” Sounds stupid, I know, but still – I’m at a wine bar on 5th & Spring … I’m not totally crazy for being surprised.
Second, it’s got a really nice vibe – the kind of vibe you want a wine bar to have. Yes, it’s in the Loft District and yes, it has its quotient of hipsters, but you want your wine bars to have a certain refinement, and the Must does. But not in an offputting way – just a lot of warm woods and soft light.
So, I sit at the bar, and get handed a menu. With food. Like, real food. Although food that, admittedly, the owner calls “white trash food with a twist.” While waiting, I order a very nice syrah (on happy hour special), and some housemade soft beer pretzels. That all goes over very well so when my friend shows, we decide to sit down for some dinner.
It was *really* good – way better than wine bar food has to be. I had “chicken pot pie”, except it was more like a soup, not that thick coagulated stuff that passes for ‘filling’ most of the time, with a nice puff pastry on top. My friend had a really good cheesesteak sandwich, complete with Humboldt Fog goat cheese, and we sampled more of their wines – they have lots by the glass, and lots reasonably priced. And the servers are all really knowledgeable about it.
And then. Dessert. Oh. My. God. The chocolate chip banana bread pudding was incredible. But the Fluffernutter? Let me just go ahead and paste in the description: “Smoked almond & roasted peanut butter, marshmallow fluff and bananas on grilled brioche with dark chocolate ganache.” And it tastes even better than that.
So, to recap: good, reasonably priced wines served to you by people who generally know what they’re talking about. Good, reasonably priced food that’s “comfort” food, but thought through in a creative way. A warm space that invites lingering. Fluffernutter. Perhaps I should have gotten there sooner, but it was sure worth the wait.
Next. It’s rare that a restaurant with any buzz opens in Downtown that I don’t hear about, but I only recently heard about this one – and then I heard about it 3 times in one night.
What? Far as I can tell, it’s pronounced “Verst Kookeh”. And what is it? An “exotic sausage grill” in the Artists District – 3rd & Traction, just across from Zip Fusion Sushi – that opened last November.
But it wasn’t until about a week ago that a friend mentioned it to me for the first time. That same night, another stranger in the same bar brings it up. And then, I find out that a friend of mine may go bartend there. All in the same night. I instantly knew where my next lunch adventure would take me. (and yes, I was late to this one but it’s a sausage place after all – not exactly getting written up by Irene Virbila any time soon).
So, you walk up, and you see this:
Okayyyyy. But hey, I’m adventurous and after all, this is a sausage place. What did I expect? So I venture in, and I see a counter displaying raw sausage, a bunch of exotic sodas I’ve never heard of, a cash register, and about 10 bar stools lining another counter along the wall. All in about 100 square feet. Oddly, there are lots of people in line, but nobody is sitting down on the stools. Hmmm.
Anyway, I peruse the case and I see Rattlesnake and Rabbit Sausage with Jalapeno. OK, I’m not that adventurous. But these guys have gone all out in formulating their sausages. There’s Duck and Bacon Sausage, Mango Jalapeno Chicken Sausage, and Buffalo, Beef, and Pork Sausage with Chipotle.
I settle on the Roasted Red Pepper, Corn, and Chicken Sausage and fries with two dipping sauces (pesto mayo and chipotle ketchup – yum). My lunch compaion got the Green Chillies and Cilantro Sausage. You also get your choice of two toppings, so I got caramelized onions and sweet peppers. I’m looking for what to have to drink, when I notice that they have an amazing number of obscure Belgian and German beers on tap (along with PBR – yes!). Yeah, it’s lunch, but I’ve got my fellow Enthusiasts to report back for, so I get a nice, dark, malty German beer straight from the tap. Perfect for sausage and fries.
So they say “we’ll just bring it out to you.” OK. Where? Then, we notice a long dark hallway to the right of the postage stamp of an ordering area. Surely that just leads to the kitchen or the bathrooms or something, right? No, it leads to this:
It’s hard to tell in this picture, but you have to contrast the picture up above with what you’re seeing here. You come out the end of the long hallway, and you really feel like you’ve burst into this hidden space full of life.
So we sit down, gather up 3 varieties of mustard, get our beers, and enjoy our sausages – delivered in no time. They were delicious – good, flavorful, and not too “sausage-y.” The fries were nice and crunchy and the dipping sauces were excellent. Plus, you feel like you’ve really stumbled into something hidden and kinda cool – reinforced by all the hipster artist types sitting around you. And once my friend (who I can’t disclose yet) is slinging drinks behind that bar you see, it’s going to truly be a destination.
So venture on, Enthusiasts. I know I was late to this party – some of you are probably reading this and thinking that I’m woefully behind. But, like I said, we all have blind spots. What are you doing to correct yours?
Keep your enthusiasm up, and happy travels.
P.S. – If you’re reading this tonight, (Tuesday the 28th), don’t forget it’s Radio Room night at the Edison. Read my post about it below or here (half off for Enthusiasts) and come on by!