Behind the Bar with Ken Gray, Bartender Extraordinaire at Fishing with Dynamite

It's true. I spend most of my time and energy focused on food. And although I don't always talk about cocktails, they are often a very important component to any meal. Luckily, the LA restaurant scene is filled with many amazing bars backed by some of the most talented mixologists (too pretentious??) in the country. Whether you are looking for one of the classics or something completely new - we've got it all. 

Enter Ken Gray. Not too long ago, we had the opportunity to sit down with Ken at Fishing with Dynamite, where he has been crafting cocktails since day one. After four and a half years behind their bar, many of the Manhattan Beach locals only stop by when they see his smiling face through the window. They know, as we do now, that hanging out with Ken is always a good time. 

 
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Four and a half years is a long time! What's is your favorite part about working here?  
I love how small and intimate it is, creating a VERY personal experience and helps me develop a personal relationship with our guests. A human connection. Things tend to taste and smell better when it feels like you're in the caring home of a long time friend.

Love that! Do you have a favorite cocktail on the menu? 
That's tough, they're like our children. We, the bar crew, puts so much time and effort into each and every one. I like to drink based on my mood I guess hahaha. If I had to pick just one, The Ghost of Tom Jodd. Such a cool story behind the name, lots of soul. It's the perfect storm of aromatic and refreshing. You smell the rich cascara husks, you taste the savory amaro and whiskey then the finish is so light and playful. Love that drink!

We could go for one of those. Do you have go-to drinks when you are away from Fishing with Dynamite?
I've got a few go-to's! I love a good "Bang-Bang". A fancy way to say a Coors Original and a side shot of bullit bourbon (Silver bullet, bullit whiskey... hence "bang-bang"). I get that from my Father. That was his favorite drink. If I want to be fancy, I get a plantation pineapple rum Daiquiri. So simple and refreshing. (rum, sugar and lime!)

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And where are you typically ordering these "Bang-Bang"s? Do you have a favorite bar in LA?Hmmm... Another tough one. If I lived closer, I could spend three nights a week at Brack Shop Tavern downtown. the GM Mike Santos has really put together a killer spot. Very low key but elevated service. GREAT cocktails and solid solid food. They care. If I'm on the west side, you'll find me on Monday's at Old Lightning in Venice. Pablo has done a killer job at creating a very intimate vibe with the BEST whiskey selection. The bartender, Niko Novick, really cares and serves with humility and charm. 

And when you're not there? 
Being in front of people all day 5 days a week some times I like to just go on what I call walk-a-bout. I turn my phone off and just go to a random part of our awesome city. If I were to have a final destination, I really love "Old Man Bar" in Culver City (Hatchet Hall). Lot of great memories there with friends and loved ones. Plus they serve a mean Bang Bang! I do however LOVE to support Local so I go see Love & Salt, Darrens...

Any insider tips about Fishing with Dynamite?
Be open minded about experiencing the whole menu. For example, if you do the PEI mussels, ya gotta do it with the squash rolls! Try the scallops with out a doubt! They're like eating a mimosa! And trust the staff, They really care about your personally tailored experience and can help you pair with wine, cocktails, beer, satisfying your stomach AND soul.

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You can visit Fishing with Dynamite Monday - Friday 11:30am - 10:00pm and Saturday - Sunday 10am - 10:30pm. From raw bar to cocktail bar, it is difficult to go wrong. We highly recommend stopping by for brunch on Saturday or Sunday and sipping on a Moon of Faith with a side of crab benedict and squash rolls. Don't forget to start with an order of Peruvian scallops! 

Five Los Angeles BBQ Spots You Have to Try This Summer

If summer had a flavor, it would be the sweet juiciness of richly charred BBQ. From June to September, you can find us gathered around a smoky grill on a warm night, firing everything from baby back ribs to sweet corn. During these months, BBQ hot spots across the nation are brimming with guests. Some venture out to discover new and delicious cuts of meat, sauces, and sides. Others travel to their favorite restaurant for a familiar, region-specific style.

Case in point: you’ll be hard pressed to get Texans and Hawaiians agreeing on the best way to smoke a pig, and you’ll have even more of a hard time bridging the gap between the dry rubs of Memphis and the wet sauces used on the grills of Kansas City. One thing’s for sure: no matter what BBQ joint you choose to dine at (or take out), they’re bound to take your tastebuds on a tour of the nation’s most revered craft — the art of barbecue.

Los Angeles, long considered a melting pot of cuisines, represents countless regional BBQ flavors. So whether you’re in the mood for a thin, vinegary Tennessee sauce or a mustard-laden dip straight from South Carolina, you can find what you’re craving in L.A. Not sure where to start your BBQ adventure? Don’t worry. We’ve rounded up five of our favorite spots (complete with menu suggestions) for your tasting pleasure. Consider it our summertime gift.

Bludso’s Bar & Que

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SERVES: Texas Style BBQ
GO WHEN: Y’all are craving some Texan cuisine
KNOWN FOR: Its namesake: Pitmaster, Chef, and Owner… Kevin Bludso himself
TRY THE: Brisket. It’s dry rubbed and seasoned overnight, then smoked low and slow over pecan wood for 14 hours. Just the way Texas intended.
WEBSITE: http://www.barandque.com/

Kevin Bludso has always been a BBQ aficionado. He learned how to cook authentic Texas BBQ from his granny, Willie Mae Fields. Famous for her grilling in Corsicana, TX, Bludso would spend summers with her behind the grill. His BBQ is authentically Texan. Bludso’s craft doesn’t stop at brisket — he’s also perfected the pork ribs, smoked chicken, and rib tips. While you’re there, make sure to check out the sausage selection. The Texas Red Hot is a fiery blend of pork and spices that goes perfectly with a tall glass of sweet tea. Order it up with a side of baked beans and fresh-from-the-oven cornbread to complete the Texan experience.

Maple Block Meat Company

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SERVES: Texas Style BBQ
GO WHEN: You can’t go one more moment without some legit brisket
KNOWN FOR: Traditional Texas BBQ with California additions, like the use of peachwood in their smoker
TRY THE: Housemade Smoked Sausage. Chef Adam Steffan makes this program a priority, cooking sausages that literally snap open with juiciness from a slight bend.
WEBSITE: http://www.mapleblockmeat.com/

If you’re looking for a spot that embodies the Texas BBQ experience but also pulls from the seasonal richness of California ingredients, you’ve come to the right place. Maple Block strives to source locally, from the wood used in the smoker to the Mary’s Free Range Chicken. They are famous for their brisket, which is truly Texan. Dry rubs and minimal sauce allow the meaty flavor of each bite to be front and center. The best kept secret, however, is the sausage program. 100% house made, each link is smoked to perfection. Looking to try a different grilled protein? Check out the Faroe Islands Salmon or Wood Smoked Chicken. Order with a side of the Housemade Pickles to add a vinegary crunch. Don’t leave without a stack of the Buttermilk Biscuits, baked fresh daily and slathered in whipped honey butter.

Gus’s BBQ

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SERVES: Southern favorites
GO WHEN: You’re looking to indulge in some serious Southern cuisine
KNOWN FOR: Being one of the oldest BBQ joints in Los Angeles, EST 1946
TRY THE: Memphis Baby Back Ribs, followed by Fried Chicken and Waffles. With so much Southern flavor on this menu, it’s hard to pick just one!
WEBSITE: http://www.gussbbq.com/

Gus’s is the godfather of Los Angeles BBQ. Established by relatives Gus, Jack, and Mike in 1946, it has been a staple in Pasadena for over 70 years. Gus’s has abided by the same rule since day one: No Shortcuts. It is their mission to “stay authentic to the craft” of BBQ. Their meats are smoked for up to 16 hours, allowing the natural fatty richness to soak into every bit. Their Southern charm doesn’t stop there. They also boast traditional Southern dishes like Shrimp and Grits, Fried Catfish, Carolina Style Pulled Pork, Cast Iron Cornbread, Smokehouse Chili, and Gumbo. Everything is made in-house, putting the emphasis on quality ingredients served in a comfortable, family-friendly environment.

Holy Cow

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SERVES: Southern Regional BBQ
GO WHEN: You’re craving BBQ, but you’re REALLY craving all those sides
KNOWN FOR: Mac & Cheese… holy cow, this stuff is good
TRY THE: Baby Back Ribs. Take it to the next level and pair with some Mac & Cheese and Sweet Potatoes.
WEBSITE: http://www.holycowbbq.com/

You can’t talk about BBQ without talking about the sides. Everyone knows that feeling when you visit that restaurant, open that menu, and can’t look away from all the smaller plate options. You want to focus on selecting an entrée… but the sides! Oh, the sides. Holy Cow has had this effect on us. Although they try to tempt us with Carolina Pulled Pork, Santa Maria Tri Tip, and Texas Brisket, our eyes always end up on the section below. House Slaw, Sweet Potatoes, Collards, Kettle Beans… the list goes on. The Loaded Taters are exactly as they sound: fried potatoes piled high with sour cream, smoked bacon, and aged cheddar. Sop up the extra BBQ sauce from your entrée with an order of Texas Toast, cut thick and loaded with butter and house seasoning. Finish it off with Peach Crumb dessert, topped with brown sugar and oat crumb, served perfectly warm.

Baby Blues BBQ

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SERVES: Southern Regional BBQ
GO WHEN: You don’t know what kind of BBQ sauce you want, but you know you want a lot of it
KNOWN FOR: Southern hospitality and really amazing sauces
TRY THE: North Carolina Pulled Pork. Slow cooked in Guinness beer, this is one saucy mess you don’t want to miss.
WEBSITE: http://babybluesbbq.com/

When the founders of Baby Blues BBQ created their perfect menu, they did the same thing we would do. Select your favorite BBQ from each region, make it just the way you like it, and then give five sauce options for customers to douse, slather, lather, and pour as they please. Our favorite pairings? We thought you’d never ask. Let’s start with the king of them all: the Original BBQ Sauce, which goes perfectly with the Smoked Chicken. We like to coat the Memphis Ribs in the spicy Hot BBQ Sauce, contrasted with our love for dipping the Baby Back Ribs in mouthwatering Sweet BBQ Sauce. Consider the housemade Sweet Apple Cider Vinegar the perfect sidekick to your Blues on the Cob. This side is a sweet corn cob coated in buttery cheese and grilled up hot. When it comes to the XXX BBQ Sauce, don’t be shy. We like to dip everything in it from The North Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich to the Tri-Tip.

So there you have it, the definitive summer roundup that is guaranteed to satiate your meatiest of cravings. Now it’s your turn to sample those regional BBQ flavors and create your own opinion on dry rubs v. wet brines, vinegary sauces v. sweet lathers. Bet you didn’t know you could take a trip to the South without ever leaving Los Angeles.

Originally published at www.chownow.com on July 7, 2017.

Behind the Counter with Dan Goddard, Co-Founder of Backyard Bowls

There are few things more enjoyable that eating a bowl of something deliciously sweet with a spoon. Yes, this includes ice cream, (we would never downplay the importance of ice cream) but it also includes the sweet, frozen creations that Backyard Bowls has been blending up (LOUDLY, I might add) since 2008.

The acai bowl was born in Brazil, adopted by Hawaii, and can now be found everywhere from Los Angeles to New York. Before now, acai bowls were predominantly enjoyed on the Hawaiian islands, satisfying local surfers who were looking for a healthy, filling breakfast that didn’t weigh them down. Sprinkled with additions like coconut flakes, pineapple, berries, banana slices, and granola, these bowls are a surge of superfoods that offer benefits ranging from glowing skin to supporting weight loss.

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Backyard Bowls

Backyard Bowls is widely credited with bringing the acai craze to the mainland. It begins with the story of friends Dan Goddard and Pete Heth, two surfers whose travels led them to Hawaii. During their time living on Oahu they feel in love with acai berry. Without any background in the industry, they knew their calling was to open up a restaurant that would feature these healthful purple berries. They moved back to the mainland and set up shop in Santa Barbara, where they became an instant favorite.

Backyard Bowls never jumped on the “green” train… they were born on it. While many other restaurants were struggling to make their businesses eco-friendly, Pete and Dan put environmental responsibility in their mission statement. By providing their customers with sustainably sourced food that bolsters both health and environmental balance, the founders created an oasis in Santa Barbara where you could get all the feels thinking about your meal.

Are these bowls good for you? Naturally. (Pun intended). But enough about that — how do they taste? One bite and you’ll be convinced that these are not your average acai blends. These impossibly delicious spoonfuls taste exactly as they look: bright, bold, tropical… you can feel the sunshine that made each berry in every bite.

The interior of Backyard Bowls reflects its casual, honest, earthy vibe. Exposed brick, wooden tables, and handwritten menu boards are made even more inviting by the genuine smiles behind the counter. At the Beverly Hills location, attached to the prep counter, is a giant box where two staff members had stepped inside to don sound-blocking headphones and blend up some super-fruits, fresh to order. This box, dubbed the “DJ Blender Booth,” is a necessary component to the comfort level of dine-in guests. Without this plexiglass protection, Backyard Bowls would sound less like a retreat and more like a lawnmower.

When I met with Dan, we sat down at one of the communal tables lining the exposed brick wall at the Beverly Hills location. Dan is one of those guys where the moment you meet him, you’re convinced that you’ve been friends forever. Friendly, approachable, and by the looks of his tan, way more committed to surfing than I’ll ever be. So I pulled up a bench, sat down with my old friend, and we talked about what makes Backyard Bowls unique, what makes it a local favorite, and what inspired him to take a leap and ultimately start one of Los Angeles’ most addictive habits: the acai bowl.

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Interview with Dan Goddard of Backyard Bowls

How did you come up with the idea for Backyard Bowls?
 
I was living in Hawaii, and there were a number of places there were serving acai bowls. Bowls were really popular. It’s a part of the culture out there. With my crew, it was definitely part of our lifestyle, eating acai bowls for a light meal. We fell in love with the product, but what we noticed was that everywhere that served them was either a juice bar or a cafe or a restaurant whose main focus was something else. They would have a bowl on the side of the menu. At the time, it was a novel idea when we said “let’s create a concept that focuses on the bowl.” So, it was my partner, Pete and I, it was while we were both in Hawaii that we hatched this idea to open a restaurant focused on bowls and bring it to Santa Barbara where we had both gone to school.

Why choose the name Backyard Bowls?
 
[Laughs] It’s a little bit cheesy, but what it is, Backyard is the name of a surf spot that Pete and I surfed all the time while in Oahu. Beyond that, it obviously has other great connotations. It says a bit about who we are, the vibe that we are going for. Natural, organic environment. To feel hospitable and accommodating as if people were in their own backyard.

Tell me about the ingredients you source. What is important to you?
 
Sourcing is another thing that really separates us. From day one, it’s one of the reasons that we opened. We care about healthy food, and food that is not just good for your body but good for the environment, the production of which doesn’t ruin it. Organic, sustainable, local, it’s been at the core of our sourcing process since day one and it’s something that we’ve gotten better and better at as time has gone on. It’s something we are going to continue to get better and better at.

How is Backyard Bowls unique from other acai bowl concepts in Los Angeles?
 
When we started, there were no other acai bowl places in Southern California. A lot of the places that came soon after us, they really drew inspiration from what we did at our original stores in Santa Barbara.

We’ve continued to evolve since opening, what you see us doing here today is entirely different from what anyone else is making. In the beginning, it was just an acai bowl. Acai was always the prominent ingredients in the blended base. That has evolved considerably over the years. You look at our menu now and it’s expanded. Since you’re doing acai bowls, you might as well do smoothies, and we offer a couple hot cereals like oatmeal. We’ve ventured into savory foods like grain bowls and salads.

Tell me more about the “blending chamber.”
 
You look around you, you’re not going to see a blending chamber anywhere else. That was one of our ideas that we came up with for L.A. It has a remedy for the fact that our stores are loud, our blenders are really loud. Also… it makes it fun!

What are the three most popular items on the menu?
 
The Island Bowl has been a bestseller since day one. For obvious reasons. It’s a classic acai bowl, it’s fruity, it’s sweet, it’s delicious, somewhat addicting… people love it. Now, the Powerbowl is the only one that competes with that in the acai bowl category. It’s packed with protein so it’s got some protein powder, some peanut butter, some awesome almonds chopped on top, that would probably be my favorite of the acai bowls. The Arroz Verde grain bowl is also pretty fantastic. The grain bowls are the newest component to our menu, one that we launched about eight months ago. It’s a portion that we are going further and further into.

What are your three favorite items on the menu?
 
The Powerbowl, the Arroz Verde, and probably Mama’s Oatmeal. If you like oatmeal at all, you’re gonna love it. It’s really delicious. The way we came up with it was “how do you make oatmeal as good as it couple possibly be?” So it has steelcut oats, homemade cashew milk, freshly roasted local almonds, and local berry jam with bananas. It’s pretty perfect.

We call it Mama’s Oatmeal because of the jam that we use on top of it. We source it from a place called Mama’s Preserves — you’ve probably seen it at the Farmers’ Markets around [Los Angeles]. It’s one of the things that makes it really delicious.

What do you love most about owning Backyard Bowls?
 
Getting to use your time and your efforts to promote things that you think are worth promoting. Getting to serve healthy food, promote a lighter footprint, and increasing our positive impact.

What’s the one thing you want people to remember about Backyard Bowls?
 
Hopefully their meal will speak for itself. We really want everyone’s experience here to be memorable for its own reasons. To be that they had really delicious food in a fun, comfortable environment, food that they can feel good about eating.

You can visit Backyard Bowls from 7:00am to 7:00pm Monday through Friday, and 8:00am to 7:00pm Saturday & Sunday. From their gingery Green Bowl to their rich Mama’s Oatmeal, you’ll enjoy a meal that is good for the bod, good for the soul, and good for the earth. The variety of bowls can be distracting, but don’t forget about their smoothies! If you’re on the go, grab a colorful Pitaya Smoothie, packed full of this antioxidant-rich superfood. If you’re looking for a delicious way to infuse more Vitamin E and Fiber in your life, the Avocado Smoothie is calling your name. We can feel your environmental footprint getting lighter already.

Originally published at www.chownow.com on June 8, 2017.

Behind the Counter with Anya Michelson and Family of Paper or Plastik Cafe

There are many family-run restaurants in Los Angeles, it’s one of my favorite aspects of this multifaceted city. When the host, the server, and the chef all grew up talking loudly and enjoying home-cooked meals around the same dinner table, the guests can feel and taste the difference. I frequently ask the same question to the chefs I interview: “What’s your secret to creating such delicious dishes?” The large majority of the time, their answers are all the same: “Love.”

Food that is “made with love” is always honest. It’s both given and received. It connects generations. It’s not something you can simply borrow and incorporate into your own menu. Often, the dishes that chefs describe most lovingly are the ones that their mothers or grandmothers passed down. Sometimes, this culinary matriarch is still cooking in the kitchen, right alongside them, transferring decades (even centuries) of savory knowledge. Sometimes, she’s captaining the front of the house. Bouncing from table to table in the dining room or at the bar, turning walk-ins into regulars, and regulars into her closest friends — building a family much bigger than her own lineage.

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When I first met Anya Michelson, she was bringing a latte out to a guest on the patio. A minute later she was behind the counter with her barista. The next, she was sitting down with a regular who had stopped by for an early afternoon cappuccino. Anya, her husband Yasha, and their daughter Marina founded Paper or Plastik together because they love the communal culture that blossoms from the roots of a cafe.

Marina describes the cafe as not just coffee, not just food. Something in between. The architecture breathes energy into the space. The smells from the kitchen warm your soul and relax you during a busy day. The ambiance of caffeinated conversations at each table bring you closer to the center of Paper or Plastik — which is about family.

After the Michelson family had owned Mimoda Studio for a time, Anya brought to attention the building next door. They had not found a cafe in Los Angeles that represented true cafe culture the way that it is savored in Europe. She encouraged the family to take a leap, to make a place that was a combination of everything they loved. Paper or Plastik combines art, architecture, music, locality, community, and (of course) really seriously delicious food. It is a true expression of their family.

We asked Anya to share with us what makes cafe culture so special to her, how she infuses it into her own life, and how special it is — as a mother — to work alongside the ones she loves.

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Interview with Anya Michelson of Paper or Plastik

What is the cafe lifestyle? What does it mean to you to have a cafe where everyone can meet up and use daily as a commonplace?
 PoP is a true neighborhood spot where most people (the customers the staff and the owners) know everybody’s names, as well as the names of their kids and pets. Many friendships and romantic relationships started at PoP and we get to witness those. A lot of student papers, novels, poetry, and scripts were written at PoP and we are proud and happy to realize that we provide emotional and physical sustenance to those creative individuals. When the holiday season comes, we get a lot of cards from our customers who have become our friends and family. The most precious ones are the picture cards drawn by our youngest customers, the children that have grown up in front of our eyes.

What do you love most about the culture of a cafe?
 Cafe culture in LA is different from what I am used to back in Europe and the Middle East. What I really value about coffee shop culture is the aspect of the cafe being a meeting place for a lot of different people, with different backgrounds and stories, and seeing them interact while enjoying our coffee and food. It is tremendously satisfying to hear our customers’ compliments to the choices we make sourcing our coffee, food, wine, beer, and retail.

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Why did you want to bring cafe culture to Los Angeles?
 The cafe scene in Los Angeles is mostly seeing people glued to their computers with ears covered by headphones. While I understand, or at least am trying to understand, the need to treat the cafe as a workplace, to me it is something else. For me, a cafe is just as much about great coffee and food as it is about people watching, relaxing, enjoying the moment of plunging into the meditative state of here and now. I hope that we have managed to balance the workplace with the leisurely and hedonistic aspect of the coffee culture.

What is your favorite time of day at Paper or Plastik?
 My favorite time at PoP is at sunset when the beautiful afternoon light floods into our cafe through the huge windows, giving everything and everybody a warm, glowing hue. It looks very romantic and calm, even though we could be very busy at the moment.

What do you love most about owning a cafe with your family? What special talents do each of you contribute?
 Working with my family first and foremost gives me a sense of security and trust. I know my bases are covered and hopefully I provide the same feeling to my partners. As a family we can teach each other and the staff some of our family values, which are kindness, honesty, and responsibility, among others. (laughs) Of course we get on each other’s nerves sometimes, but that’s a part of it!

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You can visit Paper or Plastik Cafe from 7:00am to 10:00pm every day of the week. From Shakshuka & Griddled Polenta for breakfast to Forbidden Paella for dinner, you could come back each day and try something completely new. When it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, come check out PoP’s beer & wine program, which features a rotating selection of local draft brews. If you’re lucky enough to snag one, there are a few tables reserved for “no laptops” right in the front. Paper or Plastik encourages you to relax and enjoy their space for whatever length fits best into your day. So take a page from their book and take moment, take a breath, take a sip, and enjoy.

Originally published at www.chownow.com on May 14, 2017.