1918 W. Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles CA (map); 213-484-9800; clearwaterst.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: An undeveloped diner burger that doesn't live up to its good looks.
Want Fries with That? No thanks. A little to greasy even for my high tolerance.
Prices: Classic Burger with side, $9.95
Notes: A lot of the food other than the burger is passable, but the real treat is the hipster people-watching. After 10 p.m. the DJ starts spinning and out they come.
When I first got to Los Angeles, Brite Spot is exactly the kind of place I would have chosen to pass my time: a restored classic diner with an ironic look and name (its official moniker seems to be "Brite Spot Family Restaurants") and a menu that offers modest updates on classics. Besides all that, it has the cool kids—the restaurant is, quite self consciously, a space designed to make hipsters feel hip. The interior mixes classic diner booths and counters with an explosion of curated kitsch. It's the kind of place that afforded me, just by dint of my patronage, a temporary hall pass to a state of being.
Of course, things have changed. More to the point, I have changed. The sweet bird of my youth has long since taken flight: My mod clothing has (mostly) been traded in for mid-century furnishings, and my interest in cool vanquished by a fulsome desire for comfort. But as nothing comforts quite like my favorite food, now when I walk into a place like Brite Spot, wistful memories of a bygone thirst for trend play background to an expansive middle-aged hunger for burgers.
Brite Spot's burger options are relatively straight-forward, but in a nod to its varied clientele, full of patty options. Certainly Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals has stirred the beef (burger) debate anew, but I'm still hard-pressed not to assert my carnivore's answer: It's the factory, not the farming, that's the problem.
I order the beef burger, medium rare with American cheese. It arrives open-faced which, if my years of New York City diner culture taught me anything, can only be referred to as proper diner-style. The patty looks to be in the eight ounce range and is said to be certified Angus. The bun is not anything special, but it's toasted and seems to be the proper commercial choice to make this all it's meant to be: a simple, satisfying, familiar meal. The veggie toppings—lettuce, tomato, pickle, red onion—all look much better than what I expect from the standard diner fare.
Despite all of these great looks, the first bite falls flat. There is that hearty, familiar mouthful that I want from the burger, but something is amiss. The bun is good. Veggies on top, certainly in order. Cheese is nicely melted. But then there's the meat: It lacks any beefy character. It's clearly overcooked, but more than that, it lacks flavor.
The grind is too fine to allow there to be a nice crumble in the meat. There is a noticeable lack of seasoning and no crust to speak of. What this patty really needs is a do-over button, but short of that, a powerful hit of salt would do wonders. I add a little ketchup to the bit of mayo already on the burger, which helps make the experience a little better. The flavors of the condiments serve to mask the gray centerpiece of my burger. Still, the meat undermines the whole experience. It has the wan, timid flavor that might not make me question eating animals generally, but certainly has me wondering why I'm eating this one.
As I finish up my meal, I find that Brite Spot still manages to hold my attention. I've heard mention of the hipster servers here being rude, but my pierced and inked waitress couldn't have been more pleasant. The mix of clientele—young and old, cool and not so very (like me)—make for an interesting lunchtime distraction. I can feel myself longing for the days when I felt connected to this. It's a destination that I could come to and feel a part of something, where I could be reminded simultaneously of youth's simple pleasures and the rebus of adulthood self-expression. There's art on the walls and alternative weeklies stacked in the entry. It feels like my kind of place. At least it used to.
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