Old School Eats: Nickel Diner (LA)
Downtown Los Angeles is a special place--a part of town that still feels authentically gritty and big city-like. Even amongst the gentrification going strong in a few, piecemeal pockets, downtown LA is still pretty much what it was in Beverly Hills Cop 2. Sure, the crime rate and smog levels have dropped since the 80’s, but the landscape remains somewhat untainted.
On a particularly hot summer afternoon, we decided to get brunch at the Nickel Diner, home of the maple bacon donut. Though it’s not necessarily a long standing LA establishment, it is: a) In a historic building in downtown Los Angeles; and b) has become an institution for reliable, low-key food downtown.
We beat the Sunday crowd by arriving before 11 AM and as a party of two waited maybe 10 minutes for a table. It was almost too hot to eat, but I was starving and when the table next to us got their food I knew that this was going to be a gluttonous meal.
The menu was practically entirely comfort food and once I saw the maple bacon donut, I needed one. It arrived on a warm plate and the first bite was exactly what you ever wanted from a donut. The decadence is overwhelming as the sweetness of the maple overshadows the bacon. Though crispy, the bacon is cooked and dried in it’s fat which complicates the generally harmonious partnership of maple and bacon.
I wanted something heartier than just eggs so I decided on the Bacon Lettuce Tomato Avocado Egg sandwich, or the BLTAE. [Why isn’t it just called the BLAT, or the BLATE? It would be so much easier to pronounce]. The crisp bread was covered with a thin layer of aioli, which added a bit of spice to the sandwich. However it also added thin layer of fat as well, which coupled with the bacon, overpowered the avocado and tomato.
We also made a last minute decision and went with the BBQ pulled pork sandwich served with coleslaw on Hawaiian bread. Holy shitballz this was amazing. The pork was moist, tender and flavorful, having all of the integrity and flavor of a pork stewing in it’s own juices for 72 hours, but lacking the fatty, greasy flavor it often carries in some BBQ joints. I would recommend this sandwich to any meat eater and would suggest to order an additional side of coleslaw as the crisp cabbage serves as a perfect counterpoint to the soft and flavorful pig.
We were stuffed, but as soon as the waitress presented the dessert tray to our table neighbors I knew the meal was not over. A few minutes passed and she arrived at our table with an incredibly indulgent selection of homemade treats, curated to pique the interest of any glutton with a sweat tooth. The tray included a chocolate, caramel, marshmallow cake with a thin layer of mashed cornflakes to offset the soft sugar layers, a butterscotch pudding with caramel and sea salt and homemade tapioca pudding. We went with the homemade strawberry pop-tart and the homemade ding dong.
The pop tart was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. The pastry layers were flaky buttery and light, and although the strawberry jam was made in-house with excessive amounts of sugar, there was still a strange familiarity to the usually store-bought, packaged breakfast pastry--that preservative quality. This is the same quality that I’m sure would cause you to blackout and eat two or three pop tarts in one sitting.
The homemade ding-dong was good--delicious chocolate cake layers held together by a white, creamy frosting, which was too dense for my taste. The dense cream made the dessert one of those things that you only need a bite of to get the idea. And some might say the same thing about the restaurant itself: "A modern take on diner classics? You eat there once and you get the idea..." However for me it was so satisfying I would definitely go back.