Cole's Hits 90

Last week marked the 90th anniversary of a true L.A. institution, Cole's P.E. Buffet. The name refers to the Pacific Electric Railroad, the immense trolley system that linked the Southland before the freeways. Cole's location, 118 E. 6th St., used to be its main terminal.

When the Red Car system was dismantled in the '50s, Cole's lost its commuter trade, but it kept a regular clientele and won a certain cult status in show biz circles. It has served as a set for TV shows ("NYPD Blues") and movies (the New Year's scene in "Forrest Gump"). One reason for its longevity might be an immemorial rivalry with Philippe's (also opened in 1908) over which restaurant really invented the French dip sandwich.

The News From Oxford

The annual Oxford Symposium has always aimed to balance nonacademic food scholarship, which can be flaky but has produced the most interesting research, with the academic sort. However, the subject of this year's symposium, held at St. Antony's College Sept. 5 and 6, was Food and Art, and it tipped the scales alarmingly toward the academic. Along with intriguing (not to say oddball) papers about food, you got others in which food was just a peg for the ordinary sort of literary or art criticism. That probably won't be so much of a problem next year, when the subject will be Dairy Foods.

The real news at Oxford was that symposium co-founder Alan Davidson (author of numerous books, including "North Atlantic Seafood," "Fish" and "Fruit") had at last finished "The Oxford Companion to Food." After this 17-year labor, and over two decades of devoting all his energy to food writing, Davidson is changing gears. His next work will be a book about American screwball comedy movies of the 1930s and '40s.

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