The portion of Venice Blvd that runs through Mar Vista is festooned with stores selling all kinds of things: organic soaps, thrift store duds, pet store goods, donuts and haircuts. Like most of Los Angeles, if you don’t know what you’re looking for it gets damned confusing. However just east of Centinela on Venice is a tiny shop called Earl’s Gourmet Grub. The sign on the front proclaims something new every day. Today’s mantra is “Earl says, Eat Lunch and Drop Trou.” Now it’s unclear whether you should drop your trousers because you’re so full after eating at Earls or you should drop them to give the Earl some loving after such a good meal. Hard to say. Both are probably a good idea.
Inside the tiny store front the room is divided in two. Half for the kitchen and half for you to stand and make up your mind about what you want to eat. The ceilings are decorated with what looks like fanned balsa wood with geometric shapes carved into the walls, and benches are stacked with vintage sodas and fancy chips. The handsome cooks will smile and try and rush you into a decision. Stand your ground. Take your time. There is a lot to consider. Earl’s makes great sandwiches. (Also, do not worry about finding a spot in the front, the backyard is spacious.)
Earl’s has three burgers: The Earl’s Burger, The Red Fang Bison Burger, and the Cowciutto. Both the Earl’s Burger and the Red Fang Bison Burger contain the same ingredients: homemade bun, half pound patties, lettuce, tomato, red onion, cheddar, and Earl’s sauce. Now, I’m not sure what Earl’s sauce is, but I know this much, it’s pretty damn close to Thousand Island dressing (Is it Thousand Island dressing, Earl? Please let me know.) Now the Earl’s Burger is a fine, respectable burger. It does its job quite well. It’s juicy and tender and flavorful, but it comes nowhere near the bison burger in terms of star power. That Red Fang Burger kept me up and night researching why we don’t have more bison in our diet.
Seriously, why don’t we eat more bison? They are a native species that are absolutely delicious. Are they hard to herd? Are they expensive? Are cows just easier to kill? Do you need more space for bison? Is it because they’re fuzzy? What is it? I will have to do more research on this because the Red Fang Bison Burger was scrumptious. It was hearty and fulfilling and made the rest of the condiments sing. (Fair warning: after a half pound of bison, you will need a nap. Plan accordingly.) Another star on the plate was the mint coleslaw and salad that comes with every sandwich. Usually when a restaurant gives you no choice in the matter, their sides are pretty good. The mint coleslaw was especially crisp and refreshing.
Then we came to the Cowciutto Burger. Oh man. Let me just start out by saying, I wanted to love this burger. I did. This is what happens when a place tries to Frankenstein their menu. I’ll explain. Earl’s has a magnificent sandwich called The Pig and Fig, which has Prosciutto di Parma, Maytag Blue Cheese, fig hash (which as it turns out is code for jam), arugula, and aioli on three season bread. It’s shockingly good. The Cowciutto is the Earl Burger and the Pig and Fig’s unholy lovechild. It’s got the entire Pig and Fig on top of a half pound burger patty, and I wish I could tell you it worked. Unfortunately the salty prosciutto and the seasoned burger’s flavors fight each other in a brutal battle for supremacy. Like beauty queens vying for the judges’ attention, both of them resort to brutal tactics leaving both sides tarnished. It just doesn’t work, but Earl’s definitely gets points for trying. New burgers are always worth creating even if they miss the mark.
PS. After lunch if you need a cup of coffee, stop by at Venice Grind next door. They carry Stumptown coffee and are very kind people.
– Molly Bergen