Poetic Breakfast (and Lunch)

by James Boo on February 1, 2009 · 7 comments

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I’ve lived in New York for about nine weeks, and about as many times
I’ve stopped to think of California and what I’ve left behind.
It isn’t that I feel regret. I’d say I’ve had my best weeks yet. And yet-
I will admit: There are certain things that never leave my mind.

It’s not sunshine and sand that I remember when snow begins to fall,
not coastlines and tans in mid-December or weeknights at the mall
(I consider myself lucky to have escaped these things at all).
No; when my toes have vanished and I can barely move my jaw,
it’s not the ever present, artificial warmth that I recall.

It’s a sandwich that occupies the space that fills the void behind my face.
To be perfectly honest, I never thought a sandwich could be so difficult to replace.

Before I continue with this story, I’d like to add a tangent to my tab:
In the kingdom of free associations, sawdust is still up for grabs.
The lucky among us would translate a scent of that unmistakable grit
as a prelude to hunger, a heavy plate, content, conveniently halved.
As for the unlucky… well, I’d wager there’s no poetry to be had.

The end of this aside is that my sandwich comes from a place.

Philippe the Original - Los Angeles, CA Philippe the Original - Los Angeles, CA
Philippe the Original - Los Angeles, CA
A mild observation, I know, but one can’t come from a place without something to show-
and, in this location at Alameda and Ord, there are one hundred years of faces to know.
One hundred years of sawdust and labor, a city to flee, a vacancy to grow.
One hundred years of sprawling arms bent backward across skid row.

After one hundred years, I’m left to wonder when I think about downtown LA:
Is this as cosmopolitan as this city gets? As urban as textbooks will say?
A Sunset drive may be the way to plot a hopeless afternoon,
but Hollywood and Vine won’t be in my thoughts anytime soon.

Corned Beef Hash and Eggs Breakfast With Biscuit - Philippe the Original - Los Angeles, CA
If I’m lucky, I’ll make the breakfast call for eggs over easy and corned beef hash.
Chinatown has left for work. I haven’t hit the lunchtime dash.
Suits and helmets trickle out, and wood grains skid along the floor.
I scoop some salsa on my plate and claim a flour tinged biscuit as my reward.

When the sun begins its next ascent, I can’t help but be overwhelmed
by the sight of Los Angeles filing in for its daily bread.
Clerks and lawyers, would-be John Hoyers, seekers of their quarter hour,
servants, merchants, abrasive speakers of unsigned power,
the honest and the hopeful, all lining up to be fed.

Across the counter, the contemporary is met with an antique sight
from the fabled years when an honest day’s work was a worker’s right.
An army of mothers, wives and daughters assemble plates
with a server’s calm and a vendor’s grace.

Pork Dipped With Pickled Egg - Philippe the Original - Los Angeles, CA Roast Beef Dipped - Philippe the Original - Los Angeles, CA
At the end of this centennial line is the L.A. that I miss.
Roast beef, turkey, pork and lamb are carved and dipped into the drink,
then stuffed into rolls, where the juices and grease have a moment to think.
The insides meld, the outside flakes, and hunger transforms into an abyss.
I find a seat, set down my plate and assume the role of another weak link.

The East River wind snaps to attention and shakes me straight.
The snow begins to drift away, dragged behind the memory’s weight.

I walk up Bedford, seeing not a single trace of a nine cent cup of coffee,
an earthy pickled egg, that blistering mustard, that plain-Jane slice of pie
or the sandwich that’s so difficult to replace.

Philippe the Original
1001 N Alameda St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

deedledeedee February 1, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Fabulous! I feel the same way and I’m still here in LA. I cannot drive the 110 without feeling the tug – and it is rare when I don’t succumb to it. I worship that little jar of mustard and have sent many of them on journeys to friends and family around the country. Do you need me to send you one? Not quite the same but a little sense memory for your next sandwich? Of course, I worship the lamb dip with blue cheese. And the banana cream pie. And the coleslaw. Ohhh, the coleslaw! Well, I guess I know where I’m going to lunch.

James February 2, 2009 at 6:07 am

You just had to say “banana cream pie”… now it’s memories of the Apple Pan that’ll haunt me ;)

Nicole February 2, 2009 at 8:27 pm

mmmm Philippe’s. In the carless days of high school, I used to take Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to Union Station just for those sandwiches and lemonade.

Tommy’s Joynt will have to tide me over until I get back to the promised land.

James February 2, 2009 at 11:42 pm

It seems your high school days were more halcyon than mine if they involved that much quality lemonade. Then again, I did have ready access to Orange Bang…

Abby @ mangerlaville February 3, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I have heard of their infamous pickled eggs, which sounds too good to be true.

Nicole February 3, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Hmm.. given the choice, I think 4/5 times I’d pick Horchata over Orange Bang. But I gotta admit: Orange Bang DOES hold its own very nicely against zucchini fries/pastrami sandwiches.

James February 3, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Abby- The pickled eggs are certainly great, but in a classic, no-frills kind of way. Philippe’s pickling job is subtle and clean. For a truly infamous pickled egg, you’d have to find your way to Joe Jost’s in Long Beach, where they pickle eggs in the same jar as yellow chiles and serve both to you on a bed of bar pretzels.

Nicole- Words of wisdom, these :)

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