A change of pace this week. Instead of an economically-focused piece, the subject this time will be restaurants. In particular, restaurants that have closed but that are very much missed.
Up front, the list is going to be a mix. Some restaurants high end, some in between, and some of the fast food or dive variety. The only commonality to them is that they were all a joy to dine in before closing.
10. Chasen’s (Los Angeles, CA) – Though its address was West Hollywood, Chasen’s gave off a Beverly Hills vibe that included it being on Beverly Boulevard. The high-end restaurant famously had booths on the left and right side of a seemingly narrow room, and the legend was that the side you were seated on signaled your status or lack thereof as a celebrity, businessman, or politician (the Reagans were known to darken the restaurant’s doors). Very excellent French fries and red meat dishes, plus chili that regulars couldn’t get enough of.
9. The Post House (New York, NY) – On 63rd Street between Park and Madison, the Post House lived up to its location. Located inside the Lowell Hotel, this was the best of all the New York steak places. Misguided contrarians will say Peter Lugar’s, or Sparks, or Strip House, and while all good none could combine food quality with atmosphere in the way that the Post House did. Blackstone
8. Demon Dogs (Chicago, IL) – Located under the Fullerton “L” in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago, Chicago’s best hot dogs were Demon Dogs. Nearby Wiener’s Circle didn’t hold a candle despite what Oprah supposedly once said. Demon Dogs was owned by former Notre Dame (don’t hold it against him) football player Peter Schivarelli, and being inside the restaurant made patrons feel like they were very much in Chicago. Indeed, Schivarelli was close to the band with the same name as the city, and its music was always playing at pretty high volume. The hot dogs came with French fries that yours truly thought merely edible, and not nearly as good as those at another Chicago institution, Portillo’s. Supposedly Demon Dogs closed when DePaul University made Schivarelli an offer he couldn’t refuse for the space.
7. Race Pizza (Philadelphia, PA) – The most famous cheesesteak places in Philly are arguably the restaurants located on Passyunk Avenue, Gino’s and Pat’s. Jim’s also comes up, but the view here is that none of the ones mentioned come close to vivifying the genius of a cheesesteak sandwich. Race Pizza, formerly located at Race and 12th Street near the Philadelphia Convention Center, truly honored the sandwich concept. The cheesesteaks eclipsed the more famous ones in the area, plus the pizza was a must too.
6. Harry’s Bar (Century City, CA) – Located in a shopping mall across Avenue of the Stars from the Century Plaza Hotel, Harry’s met the needs of studio bosses, the agents they negotiated with, along with the capital allocators who managed the money of both. Based on the Harry’s Bar in Florence, the Century City outpost had steak sandwiches on “toast points” that were beyond tasty, matchstick French fries, and a movie industry vibe that arguably beat the atmosphere of the original in Italy.
5. Maid-Rite (Hopkins, MN) – Located in a strip mall of sorts off of a Minneapolis interstate, Maid-Rite was the home of the legendary “loose” burger. These were cheeseburgers that lucky customers ate with a spoon in hand since the ground beef wasn’t shaped into a patty. Call it a “Sloppy Joe” minus onions and other excess, the main thing is that the loose burgers were spectacular.
4. American City Diner (Washington, D.C.) – Owned by Jeffrey Gildenhorn, a D.C. institution in his own right, American City Diner never survived his death in 2017. “ACD” had biscuits and gravy that could measure up to anything found in the south, real mashed potatoes with “yellow” gravy, and remarkable milk shakes served in big silver cups. It was a destination for parents with young kids, late-night diners eager to consume a fourth meal of the day, along with power players at all hours who loved the food along with its Chevy Chase location.
3. Dino’s (Pasadena, CA) – By the 1970s Pasadena’s once-fashionable Colorado Boulevard had gone the way of pawn shops, actual dive bars with truly disreputable people, and X-rated movie theaters. In the ‘80s the Boulevard began to clean up, but the east side of Colorado where Dino’s was located never really went the fancy route. It didn’t matter. Dino’s red sauce meals (minestrone soup as the side, with endlessly good bread) engendered immense loyalty throughout the San Gabriel Valley. The mouths of those lucky enough to have once enjoyed their spaghetti with meat sauce water to this day when the dark with red booths location comes up in conversation.
2. Au Pied de Cochon (Washington, D.C.) – Legend has it that this Wisconsin Avenue NW restaurant in Georgetown was a quiet meeting place for CIA and KGB spies looking to exchange information of the top secret variety. The latter surely was a lure for diners, but the real appeal was excellent breakfast food, otherworldly French fries, and all of it served with French bread befitting the restaurant’s name. Eventually it moved to a part of Georgetown’s M Street that was away from the action, and that meant it no longer served ravenous late-night diners exiting the various bars that were formerly packed. While Au Pied de Cochon’s final closure predated the decline of Georgetown as a nightlife spot more broadly, it’s easy for nostalgists to argue that its closure foretold the end.
1. Bean’s (Austin, TX) – Chicken fried steak is a menu item that most likely associate with Denny’s or IHOP, but reality is that neither do this most tasty of meals justice. To be clear, this isn’t a knock on Denny’s or IHOP as much as it’s a love letter to what would be the proverbial “death row” meal for all manner of Americans, Texans in particular. None did it better than Bean’s, which was on the quieter, more office-oriented end of 6th Street in Austin. Chicken fried steak is surely an acquired taste, but Bean’s chicken fried steak was so spectacular that no acquiring was required. This former California resident was hooked right away during college, only for Bean’s to be replaced by another popular, not nearly as good, but still very much missed flash in the pan dining concept by the name of Sfuzzi’s. Nothing could replace Bean’s, as any long-time Austin resident will tell you. The statistic now is that eight Californians move to Austin each day, and as chicken fried steak is in many ways a signature Texas dish, it’s probably wise for one of the tech gazillionaires to revive a little bit of what Austin used to be as a way of culturing all the new left coast arrivals.