• February 21st, 2010mr meanergingergrass, LA restaurants

    There are few things more satisfying on a warn day than naturally brewed German beer. Don’t get me wrong, I love all kinds of beers, but there’s something about a Pilsener, Bock or Maarzen that quenches one’s thirst quite on a hot day like none other. German beer also has a huge advantage in that it’s almost always vegan, due to the strict brewing purity laws Reinheitsgebot, established in the 16th century, which mandate only water, barley, and hops should be used to make beer. Nowadays, and thanks to the treacherous European Community, that law is effectively repealed, but many breweries brew the traditional way which uses no animal products anywhere in the process.

    One the best places in LA to get German beer served in a (relatively) authentic atmosphere is The Red Lion Tavern, in Silverlake. Located on Glendale Blvd. this awesome mock-German bar is a fun place to visit. You have a choice of two places to drink – the lower bar is dark and cold – almost like a Bavarian beer cellar, with comfortable booths, stained glass windows and a friendly bar area with nine or ten German beers on tap at any time.

    If you’re feeling more al fresco, there’s a HUGE (and I mean HUGE) patio upstairs adjacent to the parking lot complete with its own bar. Decorated like a Rhone Valley beer garden, the patio, as with the lower bar, provides such an immersive drinking experience that I completely forget I’m in LA every time I visit. The Glendale Freeway, moments away, will change to an Autobahn right before my very eyes as I stagger out of the Red Lion.

    The staff at Red Lion are very friendly, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a REAL GERMAN person serving you while donned up in traditional national dress, complete with sashes and frilly collars. The fact that they can keep such a straight face when working there is awesome – to me, the entire Red Lion concept is so lovably, comically camp that I just can’t take it seriously, which is probably why I can’t keep away.

    A note of caution for vegans, though, is that the food menu is also traditionally German, consisting of boiled meat, fried meat, sausage-shaped meat, meat pies, meat patties and meat on a stick. The only non-meat thing on the menu is a potato cake, but even that is cooked in the meat juices for “authentic flavors”. Sometimes, as friends have pointed out, the place can bee a little too meaty smelling – especially the inside bar, so I tend to go earlier in the day before the lunch rush then fill up on drink before heading a few steps down the road to fill up on grub.

    A half-block away from the Red Lion, still on Glendale Blvd. is Gingergrass, an equally authentic establishment – but this time we’re not talking about Fraus in dresses, but a busy, non-nonsense Vietnamese cafe with a menu right out of a Hanoi street bazaar. I’ll start off by saying that Gingergrass is an omnivorous establishment, but is highly vegan friendly. The menu clearly states what can be made vegan (nearly everything), and our server was most helpful answering our picky, vegan questions.

    organic tofu noodle bowl served over rice stick noodles with shredded lettuce, pickled vegetables, herbs, and your choice of regular or vegan nuoc cham. $8.75

    On our visit we opted for the Organic tofu noodle bowl which was a hearty combination of noodles and vegetables in a tasty vegan sauce, topped off with lightly fried tofu chunks. The entire thing was absolutely wonderful, and everything was cooked just right. This dish alone would be more than enough to full up one, or perhaps two people, but we over ordered another two things, regardless.

    vegetarian pho: mushrooms, carrots, bok choy, ginger and baked tofu in a vegan broth infused with traditional pho spices over rice noodles.

    Next up was the Vegetarian PHÓ, a traditional deep bowl of soup crammed full of bok choy, carrots, ginger and baked tofu along with crunchy shredded lettuce and a generous side of bean sprouts, chilies and mint leaves. Again, everything was filling, healthy tasting, fresh and light.

    gingergrass tofu lunch plate: crispy organic tofu with shiitake mushrooms and baby bok choy served with our vegan nuoc cham sauce. $8.95

    Finally, we ordered the Gingergrass Tofu Lunch Plate which was a healthy serving of chunky fried tofu, shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, noodles and rice along with dipping sauce and a diced vegetable slaw that was to die for. This is just the kind of dish you want to scrape up with your chopsticks and eat quickly. Again, I can’t fault anything in this dish – it was incessantly fresh, perfectly cooked and wonderfully tasty.

    So, what’s not to like about Gingergrass? Frankly, the only criticism I have is that the prices are deceptively low – only $9 for a HUGE bowl of noodles with sides and salad whereas on the westside a meal like this would be in the $11-$13 price range. You have been warned: the portions are huge.

    So, a nice outing on a sunny day would start off relaxing on the patio or in the cellar bar at Red Lion while drinking ice cold beer from Germany, followed by a 2 minute walk to Gingergrass where helpful people will busily take your order and bring you plate after plate of fresh, healthy food. I love omni restaurants that specifically state which items on the menu are, or can be, made vegan and a bar with a safe-haven of vegan beer is a godsend.

    Finally, as always, if you’re unsure that your favorite tipple is vegan, check out Barnivore.com where you can quickly look up most alcoholic drinks. Also, a few weeks ago I discovered the awesome veganbrew.com, a blog run by a couple of vegan beer and food lovers that show not only how beer is brewed (cuz they actually brew it step by step on the blog) but have some tasty recipes (beer battered seitan, anybody?!) as well as crucial advice such as the timeless: “DO NOT SQUEEZE YOUR SACK”. Check it out.

    red lion tavern
    2366 Glendale Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90039
    (323) 662-5337

    2396 Glendale Blvd
    Silver Lake, CA 90039
    (323) 644-1600

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