Tastemade’s newest original series, Worth the Hype, hosted by Emmy award-winning chef Frankie Celenza is now streaming, taking viewers on a culinary road trip across the country. The first episode starts with a tour of some of the buzziest spots in L.A.
Celenza visits the Instagrammable fritter shop Holey Grail Donuts, GTA for pizza, smash burger sensation Heavy Handed, and the often overlooked and underrated third-generation Mexican seafood restaurant, Casablanca, in Venice, famous for its calamari steaks, handmade flour tortillas and margarita cart since 1980.
“I know the title seems like hype means now and new, but we’re not thinking about it that way at all,” the star of Tastemade’s popular Struggle Meals show tells L.A. Weekly over the phone from his Connecticut home. “We’re looking for a wide variety of restaurants. There are four spots in every episode, and we’re always looking for one traditional restaurant, one takeaway restaurant and one trendy one. Casablanca falls into that traditional spot. The food is fantastic and the people that work there are fun, and it has this oddball ambiance that makes for great visuals and an experience.”
The journey continues to GTA and an introduction to guanciale on pizza, Heavy Handed for smash burgers and crispy fries cooked in beef fat, buttered buns, house fermented pickles and homemade sauce.
Finally, Celenza discovers the Holey Grail donuts in Santa Monica.
“As far as sweets go, I’ve never been a great fan, but the taro root donuts at Holey Grail were so good,” he says. “It’s the tang of the taro root when fried that creates a little more depth. If we weren’t allowed to make donuts the traditional way and could only use taro root – I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I could eat those for the rest of my life as the only style of donuts. It’s just a better donut.”
As far as what’s trendy, Celenza says it’s in the eye of the beholder, as much as what we see surging on social media. Places like Katz’s Deli in New York have had lines around the block for about 100 years. But hype can have its drawbacks, especially when it means keeping up with the crowds and rushing the customer.
“I went to Jon & Vinny in Brentwood by myself on one of my days off,” Celenza recalls. “I ordered three dishes: a salad, chicken Milanese, and a pasta. I got there about 5 o’clock and the bar was empty. My salad came out and it was great. Three minutes later my pasta came, and I was like ‘Oh. I’d better eat the pasta before it texturally expires and gets cold.’ Then three bites into the pasta my Milanese came and 45 minutes later I got a $120 bill. I didn’t get to eat any of the dishes in their optimal state because I was so rushed. I don’t know if that’s a Jon & Vinny thing, because I know they’ve had trouble with their service charges, or they just don’t like solo diners. The food was delicious, but I hated that they gave me three dishes at once. I had the same experience at Ospi. I sat at the bar, the place was packed and they served three dishes within eight minutes of each other. I ate them all, but they weren’t optimal. That’s an example of when there’s too much hype and they can’t keep up. They’re forced to turn as many tables as possible, which ultimately takes away from the dining experience.”
On the flip side, one of Celenza’s favorite L.A. spots not mentioned in the series and not quite caught up in the hype, goes back to his Italian roots.
“I stumbled across Colapasta in Santa Monica because I have family in Cortina, Italy,” he says. “The pasta in cortina is a beet-filled half-moon ravioli served with poppy seeds in brown butter. I only saw it once at Babo in New York City and then at Colapasta, because the chef is from Cortina. They are chewy, semolina pasta. There are like eight pastas on the menu and two salads. It’s delicious and super affordable.”
New episodes of Worth the Hype premiere on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on the Tastemade streaming channel and are also available on-demand in the Tastemade mobile and TV apps and ad-free with Tastemade+.
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