The Jefferson Park area, near where Jefferson and Crenshaw boulevards meet in midtown Los Angeles, is rich in houses of worship: Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, West Angeles Church of God and Christ, Trinity Baptist Church, Westminster Presbyterian, United Nation of Islam Mosque, to name a few.
But the building that houses the Redeemer Baptist Church on Jefferson Boulevard tells the area's history better than most. Originally it was a Jewish temple--you can still read the words "In pursuit of peace" in Hebrew, at the top of the facade. Then, in 1956 it became the Jodo Shu Japanese Buddhist temple. This old building, with its graceful arched windows painted in faded but still cheerful colors, has captured the spirit of the various residents, past and current, of Jefferson Park since 1920.
The area also has a wealth of restaurants. If you've been hankering for a heaping plate of home-cooked food, there are several places on either Jefferson or Crenshaw to choose from. The food isn't just cooked but deep-fried, slow-cooked, broiled, boiled or baked. It's spiced, rubbed, dipped, rolled or marinated.
If it's a different sort of comfort your spirit seeks, hot links with red beans and rice and a hunk of corn bread might make you feel a little better.
* Harold & Belle's. When you walk in the door of this restaurant, the bar looks like a comfortable place to settle in. You can eat there, too, if you feel like it. The dining room is more formal, with straight-back chairs and linen tablecloths. But you'll soon relax in the crowded room noisy with the din of people enjoying the deliciously fried seafood platter, the soft shell crab po' boy, or the rich, flavorful gumbo. Harold and Belle's is, by Los Angeles standards, a pretty old restaurant, opened in 1969 by Harold and Belle Le Gaux, who arrived in Los Angeles from New Orleans with plenty of Creole recipes. Now it is owned and operated by Harold Jr. and Al Honore. You can find one of those guys in the kitchen, cooking, every day.
Harold & Belle's, 2920 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 735-9918. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
* Stevie's on the Strip. This place is cheerful and so is the kid behind the counter, Khalik Coleman. Somebody asks him if this is Jefferson Park. "I see Jefferson, but I sure don't see a park, do you?" Mary J. Blige is singing about a family affair on the radio and a customer sings along. The place is noisy and crowded and the food is good. You can eat inside, outside on the patio, or get the food to go. The oxtails are succulent, and a really huge helping comes heaped on a bed of rice with two sides. The gumbo is dusky and delicious and swamped with shrimp, crab and beef sausage. The perfectly fried chicken has a crust that is spiced and crispy, the meat moist. The short ribs are rich hunks of tender meat--so good. So are the black-eyed peas and the greens. The fries are huge, home-made potato wedges that are piled high on the plate and the slaw is fresh, tangy and good. They cater parties too.
Stevie's on the Strip, 3403 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 734-6975. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
* The Kobbler King. Brian McMillan is not just another handsome face. This man can bake. He started making cobblers at home when he was still a customer service rep at a bank. "Girls would tell me, 'Your cobbler's not as good as my mama's.' And then they'd give me a tip on how to improve mine. Now my cobbler is real good." The crust is light and flaky and crisp and buttery, the fillings are not too sweet. The syrup is warm and soothing with just the right amount of spice. His cobbler is served in several restaurants around town, but if you come to the source you can order a big pan for a party, or maybe Thanksgiving. Along with peach, apple and berry cobblers he also makes seafood, chicken and vegetable pot pies. Try the peach cobbler and you'll see: the king rules.
The Kobbler King, 3622 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 731-9286. Noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
* Tasty Q Barbecue. You can drive through or walk in. The barbecue sauce is sweet and thick and piquant with red pepper. Leroy Ross owns the place and he's liberal with the sauce. Be careful, when your fingers are covered you just might gnaw them to the bone. Better to have the pork ribs, chicken, links or rib tips. They're all good. Wear your bib and ask for plenty of napkins. Come the holidays, they will also deep fry your whole turkey for $1.50 a pound. Leave it in its wrapper and make sure it is completely thawedd out.
Tasty Q Barbecue, 2959 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 735-8325. 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday; 10:30 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
* Pete's Food Inc. This place is known in the neighborhood as Louisiana Pete's. From the outside it looks as if it might be closed, out of business, but looks are deceiving. This is a thriving sausage-making establishment. The Cambre family came to Los Angeles from the Seventh Ward and Jefferson's Parish in New Orleans. This family has been making Louisiana hot links, beef and chicken sausage in this spot since 1957. The sausage is really fresh and well spiced with just the right tang. Phil Cambre has inherited the position of manager. "There's an old saying," he says. "Two things you don't want to see being made: politics and sausage. But that is not the case with our sausage. This place is spotless." It's true. The place is really clean and the sausage is delicious. Woody's, Phillips and Mom's get their links from Pete's.
Pete's Food Inc., 3701 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 735-7470. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
* Mel's Fish Market. This is a U-Buy, We-Fry place--there's a counter where you pick out your fish and then they'll fry it for you for free. Mel Powell opened it up in 1982; recently his daughters Georgette and Janie took over. They seem to like plants and kids, because Mel's is full of both. It's a comfortable place to eat. The catfish, rolled in cornmeal and then lightly fried, has that slightly musky Southern flavor. The greens are really good, and so is the potato salad. On the weekends Mel's has barbecue--ribs, chicken and tri-tip with a sweet, smoky barbecue sauce.
Mel's Fish Market, 4026 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 735-7220. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.