'I will eat almost anything after a couple of Scotches, as long as it's dead.' : Notes on the Meat Loaf Era

I am here today to inform you that the haute cuisine at L.A.'s newest in place is meat loaf.

It is a meat loaf of high appeal to be sure, not just a few things your mother used to slap together, but it is meat loaf nonetheless, with spinach and mashed potatoes. I hate spinach.

I had not exactly anticipated dining on whole suckling pig when I swung by a restaurant called 72 Market Street, but I did expect something less plebeian than what they eat on Tuesday nights in Omaha.

I have learned since, however, that this is the era of good old American heartland chow and, as we all know, good old American heartlanders will never win prizes for their gourmet tastes.

"But you like meat loaf," my wife said as I stared down at it, scowling.

"I like monkeys in a zoo," I said, "but I don't eat them."

"No one is asking you to eat a cow."

"Meat loaf is for a Norman Rockwell to paint. At best, it should be consumed in private. One does not go out to eat meat loaf."

"I'll bet Ronald Reagan eats meat loaf all the time."

"Exactly."

72 Market Street is an out-of-the way place in Venice at, of course, 72 Market St.

One of its owners, Julie Stone, describes it as a kind of mom-and-pop restaurant where us ordinary guys can mix with celebrity habitues like Jack Lemmon, Tom Hanks and Madonna.

A critic for Gourmet magazine found it "crackling with energy and glamour" and then passionately wrote: "It has a vitality and raw power I find enormously exciting."

I didn't know meat loaf could do that to a woman.

72 Market Street is an in place, quite obviously, because of its owners. Not Julie Stone, who is pretty and bright but not a celebrity, and not architect Tony Heinsbergen, who also may be pretty and bright, and not chef Leonard Schwartz, the Meat Loaf King.

I'm talking about the other owners: Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli and producer-director Tony Bill. Celebrities go where celebrities are, followed by fans, followed by the scruffy media folk.

They have all discovered the glory of, and the profit in, the kind of traditional American food we left home to avoid. Not just meat loaf, but chicken, catfish and good old American peach cobbler.

Eventually, of course, celebrity interest in Americana will fade because celebrities have short attention spans. In two years, the only recognizable person you'll see chowing down on midland fare will be the guy who does Adee-Do commercials.

Meanwhile, however, it's the place everyone wants to go.

I went not because of Moore or Minnelli but because of Gil Borgos.

Borgos is a celebrated artist along the waterfront, and he is the restaurant's doorman. He wears a tuxedo jacket, shorts and a cowboy hat sometimes, and other times a white linen suit and a wide-brimmed plantation owner's hat.

He kisses hands, opens the door with a flourish and does everything but a Tahitian hula to greet those who slide up in Jags and Targas and 450 SLs.

"You gotta be a character," he explains. "Anybody can open a door."

Al Martinez

He also carries a French dictionary in his pocket, but he doesn't use it, which is probably just as well. The language of Paris just doesn't go with meat loaf and spuds.

I have known Borgos for a few years, and he called me one day to say he had a job, and I should drop by the restaurant to see him.

"Real celebrities come here," he said. "Neil Diamond was here. Or maybe it was Neil Simon. I can never remember."

"One of them writes," I said, "one of them doesn't."

"Come by," he said, "you'll love it."

I still wasn't sure I wanted to bother, but then I read another review, this time in California magazine, that added further impetus.

The critic was so taken by the restaurant that after dinner she went to the beach and "dug my toes into the sand and thought about all those good ingredients and the clean, pure way they were cooked. . . . "

How could I resist such a place?

I had a couple of Scotches before I got to the entree because I will eat almost anything after a couple of Scotches, as long as it's dead.

I say that because in Rome once they served us live clams. To prove they were live, the waiter squeezed lemon juice on them, and they cringed. I don't eat anything that cringes.

Nothing cringed at 72 Market Street. It was jammed with young, beautiful and no doubt famous people who chatted and blinked and gestured in that animated way yuppies have, but I didn't see any celebrities.

Borgos sat down with us later and said he had seen Neil Diamond, or maybe it was Neil Simon, no matter.

The meat loaf was homey and reassuring, by the way, and so were the mashed potatoes, but to hell with the spinach.

We went to the beach afterward and dug our toes in the sand, but my wife said it was too public for anything else in spite of the meat loaf and we should wait until we got home. Next time we'll try pot roast.

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