I was stoked about the closing of Wall Street Alley for outdoor dining provided by Mama Roomba, Guthrie's Alley Cat, Jerry’s Pizza and Two Goats & The Goose, as part of the “let’s save dining from the virus” movement.
But one thing I’ve learned from my dining adventures in recent months is that things are always changing. On two separate visits, it wasn’t available, the alley between Eye Street and Chester Avenue wide open as usual. I suspect that when warmer weather returns so will the alley dining, which has been thriving in many Southern California locations.
Our intention was to go to Two Goats & The Goose because we had noticed a social media post in which they were touting some new specialty drinks, including one called a blueberry smash. That sounds great, though this was a weekday night and we reconsidered knowing that we’d be more ready for the workday even without the health benefits attributed to blueberries especially if the fruit was paired with something that led it to be named smash.
We settled instead for a draft beer from Firestone called Parabola that is a stout aged in bourbon barrels. Our waitress wanted to give us a sample, probably knowing how substantial this beer compared to the version of water known as Coors Light, but we declined that and ventured ahead, and it is a gem that won’t demolish the subsequent workday.
The menu is on paper, pretty similar to the last time we wrote about this restaurant last year, though they ask customers to write the choices on the paper as probably an additional health measure. We were seated inside, but the staff had masks on and customers were socially distanced. We felt safe.
All our old favorites are still there such as the grilled salmon salad ($14.95), the Hudson burger ($12.50), the Mean Mr. Mustard hot dog ($10.95) with real brown mustard, bacon and grilled onions. Note, however, that days and hours are cut back significantly at this time.
My companions ordered the spicy chicken tacos ($9.25) and the fish and chips ($9.25), while I ordered the chile verde fries ($13.25). Regular readers of this column will know how much I love the chile verde from this restaurant, dating back to the days when it was a Wednesday special and I was thrilled when it was added to the regular menu.
What’s so great about it? It’s really spicy, on a par with what Red Pepper offers and that’s a high compliment in my book. It has that texture and taste that just suggest a long, slow-cooking process, with the flavors mingling and merging and evolving into something entirely different. There are large, substantial cubes of pork and some stringy strands mixed throughout. The green sauce has a tartness that makes everything come alive in your mouth.
Everyone at the table had to sample it, and the verdict was unanimous. I like it on the fries with just a bit of jack and cheddar cheese melting on top because you can eat it with a fork and the potatoes complement the stew so well. You can also get it in a cup ($4.95), which I recommend for first-timers who may be wary of the spiciness, or in a bowl with rice and corn tortillas ($12.95).
(Speaking of spice, we interrupt this regularly scheduled restaurant review to bring you a salsa tip. My neighbor Lawrence was raving about the fire-roasted sweet and spicy salsa made and sold at the Wood-Dale Markets. He’s right. It’s got to have a bit of pineapple in it, almost reminding me of good Thai food and is not too hot, not as spicy as the verde we wrote about above. Check it out.)
What was kind of interesting is that our waitress warned us that my companion’s tacos would be hot because they had habanero in the sauce, but all three of us thought they were tamer than the chile verde. The menu did describe it as a “Thai chile sauce” with the lettuce, tomato and jack cheese, and what was interesting was that the cubes of chicken breast appeared to have been simply grilled, relying on the sauce to supply the true zest of these three soft tacos.
The fish and chips are notable for the value with four sizable chunks of Icelandic cod and a house-made tartar sauce. It just seems like we pay more for similar quality at competitors.
You must order dessert, one of the “cake in a cups” ($7). This restaurant was a trailblazer in bringing this trend to town. Think of it as a parfait with cake cubes mixed with pudding, whipped cream, miniature peanut butter cups, all sorts of things. One of my companions had never tried this before, and we got the triple chocolate that had those peanut butter cups, chocolate cake and chocolate pudding alternating in various layers. It’s made in house, and it’s fun. The other option that night was a white cake with mixed berries and cream but you can’t beat chocolate.
Even though we weren’t able to dine outdoors or on the back patio, it was a fun evening all around. We will return when the alley is open, and hopefully downtown will bring back the First Fridays as soon as all the vaccines take hold.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @pftittl.