Photo by Anne Fishbein

WAS EVER A GENERATION MORE NOSTALGIC THAN OURS FOR THE LOOK and accouterments of the not-so-distant past? Housed in an old firehouse and named for the district of Los Angeles' first movie studios, Silver Lake's new Edendale Grill is a bit of set-dressed history, a restaurant that's exactly what the neighborhood has long needed: a grill at once elegant and versatile enough to welcome parents, children, agents, clients and dates alike. Drive by at night on that stretch of Rowena where the hip new stores have taken hold — but slow down, please! — and the front patio glows as if lit by firelight; the charming old building looks classy, stylish and somewhat more expensive a haunt than it actually is.

Inside, the lobby walls are plastered with movie stills and photos of the area's past — the forgotten community of Edendale was a cluster of early studios that predated Hollywood as the movie capital of the world. Look, there's Charlie Chaplin. Fatty Arbuckle. The Gish sisters. The Mack Sennett Studios. One of Walt Disney's first studios, now replaced by a Gelson's market. Tom Mix's studio, now the site of a Ralphs. The Edendale Grill's bar, in fact, is named for it: The Mixville sports a 38-foot-long mahogany bar, the building's original pressed-tin ceiling, a skylight and big bay doors. What a cozy, atmospheric place to drink.

Craftsman-era lighting fixtures with mica shades cast a warm, golden glow over the dining room. The high windows, with their textured, translucent wire glass, bring to mind the sturdy public schools of a happier era (our own childhoods?!), and the hardwood floors -- and high noise level — evoke their gymnasiums. A photograph of Echo Park in 1920 is a bittersweet, romantic vision of pastoral beauty now lost to urban crowding and decay.

No surprise, then, that the Edendale kitchen serves up its own brand of culinary nostalgia — in this case, for midcentury Midwestern American cooking. Here are the oysters Rockefeller, the scallops on the half shell and the crab cakes we used to find in the steakhouses and country clubs our parents frequented. Caesar salads are made the original way — tableside — and they're juicy and delicious, with enough lemon, for once. The Amana Colonies — manufacturers of kitchen appliances and hearty family-style dining in heartland Iowa — receive homage via the terrific smoked pork chop and the shredded celeriac salad. Peas dressed in Green Goddess dressing (mayo with herbs, essentially) top the house salad — a nice neo-old fashioned touch.

Entrées all come with the same accompaniments — maple-glazed carrots, al dente string beans and a choice of mashed Yukon potatoes, boiled fingerlings or rice pilaf — just as they did at restaurants before the '80s food revolution introduced us to the composed plate. Even if the Edendale chef's sides are slightly more au courant, the "insert-protein-here" approach makes the whole meal more generic and less interesting, especially when the protein isn't all that impressive. The above-mentioned hickory-smoked pork chop is succulent and splendid, and a pricey bone-in Delmonico steak is wonderfully tasty. But the Colorado lamb chops and a flatiron steak are both overcooked and dull. Meanwhile, limp and undercooked sand dabs taste of wet flour.

Desserts are displayed on a tray — another country-club standby. The most dramatic-looking is beet-red velvet cake from the Waldorf, but it's sold out by the time it's our turn to order. We stick with a just-fine Dutch apple pie, its crumble top punctuated with candied pecans. On another visit, one order of dense chocolate bread pudding provides sufficient sugar and heft for three adults.

Despite somewhat harried service and slapdash cooking, the Edendale Grill has been packed, with reservations at a premium practically since it opened a scant four months ago — which is a good indicator of just how much the whole nearby Atwater-Echo Park-Los Feliz-Silver Lake community hungered for such a sophisticated-looking, versatile neighborhood dinner house.

2838 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 666-2000. Dinner Sun., Tues., Wed. 5 p.m.-mid.; Thurs.-Sat. 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Closed Mon. Entrées $13.75-$27. AE, D, MC, V.

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Edendale Grill

2838 Rowena Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90039



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