Scotland may have voted against becoming an independent country this year, but they have plenty of tasty things to console themselves with – most of which will be consumed on Saint Andrew’s Day, November 30.
Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland (all the countries that make up the United Kingdom have their own), and here in L.A. you can celebrate at several wee spots, the granddaddy of which is the 92-year-old Tam O’Shanter restaurant and bar in Atwater Village.
Opened in 1922 by the Van de Kamp bakery brothers and now part of Lawry’s, “The Tam” was named after a 1791 Robert Burns poem about a drunken farmer (complete with the famous slanted beret) on a ghostly, stormy night. The poem inspired the eye-grabbing neon sign, and while there’s a red phone box and lion statue outside, inside it stays just about on the right side of “och aye the noo!” kitsch.
There are hanging flags, swords, portraits, bagpipes and maps, but also their first frying pan, archive photos, tattered missives and countless swatches of family tartans, complete with their history, as well as Toby jug-like models of a smiling Tam. No wonder it was a favorite of Walt Disney and his merry employees, and seemingly made its way into one of his movies (a number of mining dwarfs lived there). Disney’s regular table, complete with his etchings, has to be booked in advance.
It’s also been an LAPD hangout too, though that might have more to do with the plaid-heavy, tilted kilt-style uniforms and knee-high white socks the lady servers wear, rather than the Scotch whisky and a couple of Scottish beers among the drinks choices in both the restaurant and their Sandwich and Ale Bar.
The pair of two seat nooks in the bar are perfect for a quiet drink and a snack-y roast-meat sandwich, while the main restaurant is the place for prime rib, which comes with Yorkshire pudding (Americans know them better as “popovers”), fresh horseradish and creamed spinach.
The menu also features overseas favorites like Toad in the Hole (chunks of filet, pearl onions and mushrooms in a large Yorkshire – rather like a chowder bread bowl), fish and chips, Scottish salmon and even roasted goose, and there’s a section of “Odds & Sods,” small bites like avocado mash, meatballs, corn fritters and Scotch rarebit (a heavenly Yorkshire with cheddar cheese and a smooth Belhaven ale garnish – unmissable).
You don’t need to go all prime rib to celebrate though. Just down the road is The Morrison pub, a place for crafted burgers (their latest wheeze is the ramen burger), soccer and rugby, and a very long list of whiskies, while in DTLA is the recently-moved The Gorbals, the restaurant opened by Scotsman Ilan Hall, winner of the second season of Bravo’s Top Chef.
At the time it was noted for its Jewish/Scottish concoctions, like non-kosher matzo balls wrapped in bacon, but now it’s moved out of the Alexandria Hotel lobby and onto Spring Street proper. The menu has relocated too – it’s almost 80% vegan.
If you’ve a sweet tooth, the Buchanan Arms pub has sweet cookie shortbread (a tartan-boxed holiday gift favorite), fudge, and Tunnock tea cakes (silver and red foil-wrapped marshmallow-topped treats), and Sassenach (British) pubs will often have the electric orange Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru too; Gerard Butler necked one outside Ye Olde Kings Head in Santa Monica recently.
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Finally, you could always wait for Valentine’s Day next year to ogle some kilts and sporrans at the Scots Festival at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, which runs February 14 and 15, 2015. There you’ll find plenty of drams, food of all kind (deep-fried is a Scottish treat too), a Highland Games (big, beary, bearded men heaving telephone poles), a piping competition and plenty of energetic ceilidh dancing by the seaside.
No matter where you go though, avoid the temptation to ask for a Glasgow Kiss – it’s not a cocktail, nor anything as romantic as Rabbie Burns’ poetry…..