Discover more from The Bittman Project
Figuring It Out
Finding home in Los Angeles through food
We love Michael’s pieces, from his part-time, plant-based journey to his fear of Instant Pots. We hope you enjoy today’s post as much as we do. And we invite members to tell us about their favorite home-away-from-home dishes in the comments.
I’m back in Los Angeles and I can’t stop eating brisket.
People from Texas can indeed be quite braggadocious about, well, anything, but especially our BBQ. I know other regions say theirs is best, and while I don’t want to start more rifts in an already deeply divided nation, I hope we can all at least agree that if nothing else, when it comes to brisket, it’s very hard to say you can do better than the great state of Texas.
As you might recall, I’m originally from Houston and moved to LA a few months ago — and am still getting my bearings.
That’s why I’m so glad I found LA’s Slab Barbecue — because their owners are from Texas.
After Googling “Is brisket healthy?” and finding a Texas-based study that told me what I wanted to hear, I at least try to play around with how I eat it. I love to put it over a white roasted sweet potato with caramelized onions and melted shredded cheese. When I’m pretending to hate carbs, I mix it with this frozen kale protein mix from Whole Foods — with some hot Nando’s Peri-Peri sauce for a good kick. This is not how I ate brisket back in Texas (some gigantic baked potato with all of the fixings), but this is a new balance of where I’ve been and am trying to go.
It’s nice to be able to find food that reminds you of your father without the childhood trauma attached. I’m only half-kidding, but admittedly, I told a few folks that I came to California to heal and make TV money. However, as I try to explain to people when prompted, TV development can be slow, and while I deeply resent the turn of phrase “geriatric millennial,” I am getting older – and one of the benefits about getting older is accepting what little control you have over most things, such as your lofty professional goals. (Or anything, really.)
Meanwhile, I have chosen to focus on things that I actually can control: Like my happiness and general well-being. I know how obnoxious I sound, but I mean it. Like, we’re all living through a plague. We have to do whatever keeps us going, right?
For me, it’s been doing things that I love, like smoking sativa and dancing in the bathroom mirror every morning for at least 30 minutes. I also dance in traffic and take dance breaks when I’m struggling with writing. I am working out with a trainer, which is very LA of me to share, but let me have it — and work up a big appetite because, in these times of inflation and shortages of chicken wings and tenders, we must live in gratitude — so I make sure I eat. (Note: it’s why I also order a side of smoked wings with that brisket because you never know when it might be off the menu.)
I feel bad for the people who think I can’t eat well in LA when it’s the most consistent thing I’ve done here in this second year of absolute chaos.
Don’t get me wrong: A bitch like me loves a salad, but as I try to stress to my transient friends, this is not the culture-less land of bland food and salads. I have to remember that for a lot of people, it is difficult to shake Los Angeles as an idea as opposed to a city. The southerner in me says bless their hearts while I continue to explore new restaurants.
As ironic as this sentence is about to sound, I learned about LA beyond Hollywood and fancy people through Magic Johnson, whose foundation then had the Taylor Michael Scholarship Program which I entered upon graduating high school. It was a program that brought students to LA from cities like Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and Houston for a week-long conference. There, we got to meet folks like Roc Nation’s chief executive officer, Jay Brown, or Steve Harvey, back when he looked exactly like Mr. Hightower from The Steve Harvey Show. And we also spent time at some of the businesses Magic owned for free food and fellowship.
It wasn’t so much the food we ate at the time: I do remember him owning a TGI Friday’s and in the Ladera Heights area: not exactly fine dining. But Magic also owned a Fatburger, which introduced me to turkey burgers. Back then, I was still struggling with the changes to the original Destiny’s Child lineup so my eating a turkey burger felt even more radical.
What really informed me about food in LA, and ultimately, how the city itself was not that different from Houston, was that Magic took us to different parts of LA: Lots of traffic, pollution, and people from all over the world often bunched together. And also, depending on what part of the metro area you’re in, you might run into a Black cowboy. Yeah, the Houstonian in me could figure this place out.
Through other people in the program, I figured out where to go. It took years for me to make my way back, but the first time I returned after college, I discovered places like Harold and Belle’s. For so many years, I’ve long heard about having so many Creole cousins out in LA; I doubt I’ll ever meet any of them, but at least I know in LA I can always find a crawfish boil that won’t make me cry out of homesickness and lack of flavor. And because I grew up Catholic, thus, privy to various Asian and Latin cuisines at various church bazaars my mom took me to, I can find food I haven’t had since I was made to feel bad about my crushes on Will Smith and Ryan Phillippe.
Tex-Mex is where I’ve had to make the great adjustment, but upon further reflection and years of consideration, I don’t need a flour tortilla. I may even prefer corn now, but please don’t tell a Texan.
I’ve only been back in Los Angeles for six months. Those six months haven’t gone exactly as planned, but that speaks to my point: The world is on fire and we can only chart our course but so far. In the meantime, I just want to eat well and live better than I ever used to. I have faith that things will work out, but I guess if all else fails, I can always move back to the South and write hood lit novels and develop Air Fryer recipes for catfish nuggets to share on YouTube.