Daglas Drive-in: Hamburger Stand By Me
View more photos in Anne Fishbein's slideshow, "Daglas Drive-in: Home of the West Valley, Greco-American French Fry."
I was going to write about Korean grilled-beef intestines this week, really I was; intestines so smoky and crunchy that if somebody didn't tip you off, you'd probably mistake them for tubular bacon. Something has to move toward that space in the culture currently occupied by pork belly, and it may as well be cow guts as feet, tongues or tails. Ask any cowboy: Intestines are as American as apple pie. And they're kind of tasty when they're cooked the right way.
But as tends to happen this time of year, I was distracted — specifically by cheeseburgers and french fries, foodstuffs that take on a weird vitality around Labor Day.
It's when relative strangers hold forth on the virtues of dry-aging, the advantages of krinkle-kuts over shoestrings, and the morality of frying potatoes in pure, rendered tallow.
As the Dodgers bank into their annual tailspin, and conversations turn from baseball to fries, somebody will inevitably bring up Daglas Drive-In, a hamburger stand that in one form or another has occupied its patch of Canoga Park since Drysdale was in the rotation, and which may hold the same importance to West Valley kids that Tommy's does to Mid-City teenagers, as the still center of the turning world.
Even if you've never traveled to this corner of the universe, the sight of Daglas on its busy stretch of Roscoe is calculated to bring you cheer. The curved, soaring sign is as exuberant as Los Angeles during the mid-'60s: Yellow balls perch on iron crenellations around the perimeter of the roof like jewels atop a crown, and a sharp, garlicky scent of pastrami lingers through the char-burger smoke.
The enclosed dining room features a mural of a cat gazing out at the Ionian Sea, and the paper tray-liners are printed with the blockish borders familiar from both ancient kraters and deli coffee cups; like so many of the legendary hamburger stands in America, Daglas flirts with Greek heritage, right down to the prefab gyros, the bloodless patties and the not-bad pita burger with tzatziki sauce.
The burgers, which are pretty run-of-the-mill, are not up to the standards of the joints lubricated with gelato, exotically bitter microbrews and Animal Collective MP3s, but they're dancing to a different crowd.
Although many people claim that the stand has moved to skimpier portions, the heft of a serving of fries here may be unsurpassed. A small order to go plumps out a paper bag to the size of a cannonball; a large order rises like an alp from its plastic cafeteria tray, enough to fatten a small, potato-loving village.
If you end up ordering your burgers as combo plates, still more french fries pile up, until the weight of the tubers threatens to crack the concrete floor.
Daglas fries are hand-cut from fresh potatoes, and like Belgian fries are blanched in relatively cool oil before they are finished in hot fat. If you discount oddball molecular-gastronomy methods of cooking potatoes, this two-step frying method is pretty much the only way to make fresh potatoes both crisp and fluffy.
But the Daglas aesthetic tends less toward supernal crispness than it does to a sort of greasy tenderness — the potatoes are well-cooked, and they acquire an attractive golden hue, but they are limp, almost curled; oily, and slightly sweet, dusted with seasoned salt, a flavor that may well be as embedded in your taste memory as it is in mine. It's a flavor as indebted to East L.A. as it is to the West Valley.
Are the fries as good as the double-cooked fries at Oinkster, the impeccable shoestrings at La Frite or the lard-cooked beauties at Church & State? Probably not. But they taste like an older Los Angeles, where every neighborhood had a burger stand like this one, and the big chains were still a novelty; where pastrami was as common a burger topping as ketchup or pickles.
Daglas is from a time when fast food represented the freedom of the American road rather than the talons of the American oligarchy, when each restaurant had its own beloved idiosyncrasies, and the faint air of disrepute owed more to the raffish customer base than to the calorie count of the grilled cheese sandwich with pastrami.
This is the Daglas slogan: "Where every day is Fryday!'' And who can argue with that?
DAGLAS DRIVE-IN: 20036 Vanowen St., Canoga Park. (818) 883-6313, daglas.net. Open Mon.-Thurs., 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. MC, V. No alcohol. Lot parking in rear.
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