a knife and fork revolution: Ghetto Gourmet feeds the ‘hungry’ in Los Angeles

Ghetto Gourmet SignI am an avid reader of blogs— I have to be, as a blogger– but also, it’s my passion to find out what’s going on. It used to be I would read bulletin boards and the local free newspapers around where I lived or was visiting to find out what was happening, but now I can do it in my P.J.s. and I like that.

So, last week, when I got an update from one of the myriad of food blogs in L.A. (I wish I could remember which one) and they were talking about a new concept in dining that is sweeping the country; underground restaurants, I knew I was in!

There’s a lot of snobbery and dissing of these roving eateries in the food review world, but I was curious and wanted to see what it was all about, to judge for myself. So I called my friend Anne Block, who is a fabulous tourguide in L.A. and beyond, and owner of Take My Mother Please* custom tours (and who by the way, will be one of my regular guest bloggers on this site) and said, “let’s go!”. She was in, too. She’s like that.

I didn’t know where to start looking, but as it turns out, The Ghetto Gourmet, normally based out of San Francisco, was holding an event every night this week in Los Angeles. We signed up right away at the reasonable cost of $42.00 and made our battle plan for the evening.

What is an underground restaurant? It’s a roving dining experience where chefs, waiters and entertainers come together in different people’s homes and offer a prix fixe [the fancy way of saying fixed price] dinner to hungry and adventurous guests. Often the menu is posted on the internet or in a confirmation email (if you are lucky enough to be privy to the super-secret lists I keep hearing about). They operate in a quasi-legal atmosphere and have been compared to speakeasys of the Prohibition Era and the early verison of raves.

Here’s what I found when googling around:

Bruce Frieseke, head chef at Manzanita [an underground restaurant in Silicon Valley in California], believes the appeal of underground restaurants comes largely from diners’ shifting attitudes toward the entire restaurant scene. “I think this is part of a trend,” he says, “even in traditional restaurants, to make the dining experience more homey.”

This change toward wanting a dining experience to be more comforting and less highly formalized is a welcome one, according to many restaurateurs. Taking a restaurant out of the traditional context and putting it–quite literally–in a homier setting allows people to relax. Providing this type of low-key atmosphere is much easier when running a restaurant out of a basement or a garage, and these illegal dining spots are rapidly gaining cult status.

So…what was it like, I hear you wondering? It was SO MUCH FUN! Anne and I were among the first to arrive, as we wanted to make sure we got comfortable seats. Jeremy Townsend, the host of GG, was there to warmly greet us and, as we would later discover, to memorize the name and occupation of every single guest. (the night we were there, there were over 30 people). We chose a table in the stylish Silver Lake living room and opened our delicious wine.

GG living room

The food was very good, local Chef Anita Bergman offered up a delicious 4 course meal, well described at our tablemate H.C.’s L.A. food blog here. But to me, the most fun part was the way Jeremy worked the crowd. His warm and engaging energy and personality made the night what it was.

Of course, sitting in a strange house with people you don’t know can be quite awkward, but the way it came down, it was as if we were at a party of good friends and so there was little or no social anxiety. (I am sure the 5 bottles of wine at our table helped!). By the dessert course, we were exchanging email addresses, phone numbers and promising to stay in touch. We all left with a sense that we had participated in something that was out of the ordinary.

The cool thing is, Jeremy not only tracks down local chefs, but also local entertainment wherever he hosts his soirees. The other night, we were regaled with the caffeinated song stylings of Mr. Jose Promis and the quite politically incorrect comedy of Ryan Stout. (I did laugh anyway, I admit). Was he funny? Ummmm, not really, but I am one of those people that figures it’s good to laugh when you can. It feels good.

I like what Jeremy does and I really appreciate where he comes from. He is most excited that he can bring crowds of people together all over the country (and soon the world!) and create a magical evening where everyone is involved and everyone goes home happy. That IS a good mission, Jeremy! Thank you, and I will be back again for sure.

see you on the freeway…

jessica

PS Tonight, Anne has invited me to see a funky slideshow offered up by Charles Phoenix at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. I can’t wait! He is known for his retro-snarky (in a loving way) look at America and Americana in the 50’s and 60’s and I am hoping to scoop and interview for you with him!

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bruce // Apr 19, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    If you think Ryan Stout is “politically incorrect,” then, uh, sorry, but you are missing the joke.

    I just saw this guy at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor and he is easily one of the best satirists of our time. But, clearly, he’s over your head.

    Tell me, when you read “A Modest Proposal” do you think the point is to gross you out and encourage you to eat babies?

    You are really dense.

    Good luck in life; you’ll need it.

    Bruce

  • 2 Jennifer Ludlow // Jul 1, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I have seen Ryan Stout perform on several occasions. I have even viewed all of his material on YouTube. You don’t think he was funny? Then you’re d-u-m-b, dumb! You have really missed the boat. And calling his material “politically incorrect” is just a further display that you do not understand high-brow, tongue-in-cheek satire.

    Kill yourself.

    Love,

    Jen

  • 3 Dan Wriggle // Aug 23, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    If you didn’t think Ryan Stout was funny, then you must be one of the idiots that he talks about when he is on stage. I just saw him performing in Appleton, Wisconsin, and he was one of the best comedians I have ever seen. For all you readers who don’t know Ryan, you should look him up on YouTube. He’s great. This writer is stupid.

  • 4 felix // Sep 11, 2010 at 12:19 am

    I just saw Ryan Stout for the first time here in Sydney. He did a performance at the Opera House that was simply brilliant. And I agree with the last comment. Look him up on youtube because he is going to be mega famous. Sad that the restaurant reviewer did not click with him.

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