Sunday, June 11, 2006

An Afternoon at Cole's

Thanks to everyone who made it to Cole's on Saturday to munch on french dip sandwiches and meet a fellow L.A. blogger or two. Making the trek to help us celebrate our 100th restaurant review were Eating L.A.'s Pat, Blogdowntown's Eric, 5th and Spring's Celia and fiancee Trained Monkey's Jim, Wildbell's Will (and his ultracool mom) and wife, Cinnamon Thoughts' Susan, i5nomads' Sean and Pamela, and Baby Astrid and her parents, Rose and Uwe.

I'd visited Cole's before, but had never actually sat down and properly experienced L.A.'s oldest restaurant. I'm glad I finally did. As Eric and Celia elaborated, the owner of the Pacific Electric building (who converted the one time Red Car terminus into lofts, natch) has bought Cole's as well.

Don't worry -- Cole's isn't in danger of closing. But it is in danger of getting a makeover. Some might say it's overdue. But when a place is tattered as long as Cole's has been, it also becomes a question of messing with an institution's character. But bottom line, no one knows what the new owner has in mind for Cole's, so we'll have to wait and see. But you best get down there before August, to take it all in before something changes.

Celia and Jim

As you see in the review below, I dug the sandwiches, although I may still give a slight edge to Phillipe's. Here's what some of the other attendees had to say about the joint:

I had the Roast Beef Sandwich Plate with a side of Country Potatoes and Macaroni & Cheese. I had already eaten almost everything on my plate before I realized that I hadn't taken a photo. And although Will said his Corned Beef was tough and fatty [Ed. Note: As you see in the review below, Maria got the same thing -- and also complained about the tough fattiness of it.], my Roast Beef was juicy and tender and the au jus very flavorful.

I'm glad I got to experience the "before". It's so full of history and authentic pieces, but also a little rough around the edges from neglect. I didn't realize that Cole's is sub street level which creates a cave like atmosphere that is usually a must for all qualifying dive bars, especially in the back room where there is no natural light coming in. The business at the bar was certainly picking up as we lingered in the dark back room, beyond which is the Game Room. The tables crafted from old signage and the tiffany glass fixtures are surely authentic. I found it's neglected nooks and dark corners enticing and comfortable,rough edges and all.

Will's mom, Will and Susan

One can only hope the plan is to bring Cole’s back to a former glory and not try to re-envision it. Having said that, I can see major room for improvement in terms of the decor. Frankly the place was depressing. It’s loaded up with all this old signage and photographs and beautiful Tiffany lighting fixtures, but it’s all just hanging haphazardly and drab and dark and dingy. Not that I want to see it eliminated, just celebrated.

I wish I could celebrate the food and say it made up for the surroundings, but not quite. While Susan thoroughly enjoyed her roast beef frenchie, mom gave a so-so grade to her roast pork, and I was ultimately disappointed with my corned beefer, needing to take a fork and a knife to the tough stuff. It wasn’t bad, just not all that great.

Ultimately I don’t care who “invented” the french dip sammich. Be it Philippe’s or Cole’s — each who lay claim the distinction of doing it first (although Cole’s seems more adamant about it) — the bottom line is that I’m glad both are still around but between the two I’d opt for Philippe’s… their double-dipped lamb sammy with bleu cheese is my fave. Certainly I’ll visit Cole’s again, not sure if it will be before or after the transformation (though I’m glad I got to see it before).

Pat, with blogtowntown's Eric

I didn't eat, so I'll let Mike handle the reviewing this time. But I had a good Spaten on tap, and I'm glad I finally got a look at Cole's and got updated on some other Downtown news.

Celia from 5th and Spring and Eric from BlogDowntown filled me in on what's going on with the Cole's building: apparently the building's new owner has applied for several liquor licenses and plans a gourmet market as well, but it's not clear what his plans are for Cole's, the oldest restaurant in L.A. (1908!) So if you haven't been there, try a French dip soon in case they decide to clean it up and hipsterize it. Mike thought Cole's French dips, however, couldn't hold a candle to Philippe's, yet Eric preferred Cole's, so ymmv.

SeanYoda and Pamela Meeko

Sean and Pamela:
It's the sort of place one might expect to meet a secret agent or a shady hangout for beer bottle weilding bloggers at last call. =P They take their sandwiches and history seriously here. It is the original French Dipped sandwich.. yes, the original.

SeanYoda & Meeko parked at the meter outside on 6th, and headed down the corner to Cole's which had an unassuming entrance into a dark cavern of a bar & buffet. You order, you pay and then you sit down. SeanYoda ordered the roast beef sandwich plate which came with 2 sides (he chose mashed potatoes/gravy & green beans). Meeko ordered the pastrami w/ 1 side order of macaroni (which looked good, but was a bit overdone and bland).

We were surprised, in that we expected the dip to be a complete dip perhaps like one might expect at Philippe's the other french dipped sandwich place made famous...

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