Full Moon Cafe 1987 – 2015

11 hours later, I am standing in the dish pit in the kitchen.

Everyone’s gone home, the remaining silence a welcome respite from the night’s events.  It’s my favorite time of the shift. The only sound punctuating the stillness is the spray hose attached to the sink, the one I’m using to blast away a day’s worth of grease, food particles and God only knows what else from the bottom of my slip-resistant shoes.  My knees are blasted from walking a 17,000 square foot building for hours on end…ears ringing from the cacophony of loud chatter from guests in the dining room, the shouting of cooks back and forth, the rock music blaring, dropped dishes or bar glasses hitting the floor. My eyes are bloodshot and tired from too much caffeine, too much kitchen smoke, too much squinting at menu orders on paper chits endlessly chattering from the kitchen printer.

As I spray away, I reflect on the shift.  The kitchen went down hard tonight, worst night in a while for those guys.  I spent a lot of my time kissing the collective asses of our guests, comping checks while swearing under my breath, wondering why I still do this to myself.  It’s not their fault; we were two men down and Saturday night is the great equalizer in all restaurants:  you better have your shit straight or else.  

When I got home at 3am to a quiet house and a much-needed glass of Maker’s, I started to reflect. I began thinking about my career in this industry, which led me back to my first true management gig: The Full Moon Cafe.  

full moon

This legendary Tulsa favorite was my home for 2 years in the early ‘90s.  While it’s $1.5M annual sales were much more humble than what I’m running now, it was a very popular place in a town with a lot of competition.

Change is inevitable, however, and the iconic bar and grill on Cherry Street is no more.  Last week, the owner shut the place down after health department concerns, vendor threats and lack of staff.  Allegedly he was not paying his bills, nor his workers, on time.  The Broken Arrow location still exists but the blood is in the water I fear…

full moon3

My memories of the Full Moon circa 1992-94 bear some resemblance to the one that just shuttered but the patio was added on later and someone thought dueling pianos were a great idea after I left.  During my time, though, it was just an honest bar and grill serving up American classics.

My favorite time of the day was always in the morning, before we opened. The steam from the tilt skillet, the smell of coffee that everyone is pounding at 6am, the cooks fighting over the radio. It’s a rattle and hum that existed only in that place and at that time. 

We had monthly soirees held to celebrate the lunar cycle.  We executed them like New Year’s Eve events, down to the cheap hats and noisemakers.  We always had a live band, and at a few seconds before midnight we would count down from 10 and then pour free champagne.  One month the owners arranged, without warning, for a local high school marching band to come roaring through the middle of the crowd.  It was awesome.

moon calendar 

Full Moon was also the place that had a “Women’s” bathroom sign on the inside of the Men’s restroom door.  Upon finishing their “business”, the guys would head towards the door only to see the Women’s sign and panic, thinking they had been in the wrong bathroom.  It was the same for the women’s bathroom as well.  Good times.

I remember the night we re-painted the entire inside of the restaurant. Procuring volunteers and opening the beer taps we cranked up the stereo and went to work.  After 8 hours the fumes from the dark green paint mixed with exhaustion and more than a few pints had us all cranky but we completed the task about an hour before we opened that day.  

There was a cottage in the back parking lot that we used for storage and where bad behavior took place and was most likely encouraged…

We sold these great tee-shirts with the FM logo on the front; on the back was our famous saying “You Can’t Be First But You Could Be Next!”.  I’m sure they were talking about being next on the moon, but in that phrase existed a bit of innuendo when discussing a particularly attractive customer or new employee. The staff wore these shirts as well and we would do special tees for different one-off events: anniversaries, charity events or “Blue Moon Parties” (a blue moon is the 2nd full moon in a one-month period. They don’t happen often hence the saying “once in a blue moon”).  A boyfriend of one of the bartenders also made tie-dye versions of these shirts which were a huge hit.  

While I’m twenty years and many restaurants removed from Tulsa, the Full Moon holds a special spot in my soul.  It was the first time I was trusted with running a business for someone.  It was the first time I lived on my own; 1200 miles away from my family back in Vegas, that post-college feeling of freedom taking hold. I was in charge of booking live music for the place; Tulsa has some amazing musicians who maybe won’t ever get their due outside of Oklahoma, but are gifted nonetheless. Many were the night I would go to a little bar or even someone’s backyard to hear an unknown player in anticipation of booking them for the FM. I didn’t have any experience with these types of responsibilities…but the owners and the staff and even the town had a faith in me that I didn’t yet have in myself.    

The crew was amazing:  Russell, Karen, Brian Holland, MaryJo, Amy K, Amy E, Amy M, Sheila, Wendy, Brian Hughes, Sara, Jason, Debra, January, Cinnamon, Zak, Natalie, Shelly,Jock, Shad, Mike, Anna, Teena, Sheryl, Hal, Greg and Kelli. Great memories of after parties and late night beer runs.  There was a cadre of regulars that will most likely move on to one of Tulsa’s other many watering holes, but will hopefully always remember good times on Cherry Street.

Farewell to a classic.

full moon2

(NOTE: read: “Howling at the Full Moon Cafe” September 2014).

PS: Here’s a link to the Tulsa World story about the closing



The other day I read that Naugles, the once-legendary West Coast mexican fast-food chain, had reopened to the public. Shuttering its last location in 1995, the expired trademark (once owned by Del Taco) was purchased by a local Orange County entrepreneur/Macho Burrito fan who jumpstarted Naugles’ rise from the ashes last week with a reboot in Fountain Valley, about 20 minutes from my house.  Demand for their tacos, burritos and other favorites was so high on (re)opening day that they had to close down until they figured out some supply/procurement issues.  Imagine if you will In-N-Out (for you CA readers) or Whataburger (hi Texas) closing down for two decades and re-opening.

This is almost like that.

I will be venturing over very soon for an Ortega burger, cheese burrito with green sauce or a bun taco.

I was a big fan of the Naugles in North Vegas not far from my house and right across the street from VideoTyme, a small VHS rental store that presaged the rise of Blockbuster.  I worked at VideoTyme just over a year, and would visit Naugles on a regular lunch-break basis.  A few highlights:

Being in Vegas, we of course had a small and tucked away Adult Film section in the store.  Situated between Dramas and Family Comedy, this area always seemed to have one person perusing the titles and ogling the full-color box covers.  One day, news broke that Traci Lords, popular adult film actress, was found to have been 15 years old when she made some of her first films. This, of course, was (and is) against the law so that night the owners had to come in and take all of her movies off of the shelves, including the ones that she made after she became a legal adult.  Not long after they got rid of that area all together, not waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Then there was the day we got Top Gun.  Released in 1986, the movie was a smash hit and anticipation for VHS rentals were high. So high, in fact, that the owners of VideoTyme purchased something like 200 copies to rent out. Then they panicked, thinking they overspent and came up with a plan:  we would play Top Gun in the store on continuous loop, all day every day, in order to drive interest to our customers about this movie.  God help you if as a clerk you didn’t have a rewinded copy ready to jack into the machine the instant the movie ended.

Thats “Highway To The Danger Zone”…that’s Goose and Maverick singing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”…that’s a fitter Val Kilmer…over and over and over and over and over.  Lucky!

Back at Naugles one lunch break, I met a girl who worked there and we ended up dating for a couple months.  All I really remember is that she had dark hair and always smelled like fried tortilla chips.  She would hook me up from time to time with a free Coke or Macho Taco.  I last saw her after her mom kicked her out of the house and she was going to go live with her dad, but stopped by my house to borrow money.  Always wonder what happened to her.

My main memory of Naugles was the day I almost got shanked. At VideoTyme, there was an woman in her 40’s named Mary that was a clerk like I was.  We got along pretty well and me being 20 at the time, I think she looked at me like a son; we would talk about world events and I thought she was matronly but hipper than most.  She was married to man who would come in to the store once in a while.  Not as friendly as his wife but I felt like we got on pretty well.

One day, I was getting ready to go on break and head across the street for a macho burrito (green sauce, no rice) and told Mary that I would be back in 30 minutes.  I then put my hand on her shoulder in a friendly “see-you-later” way.  Bad idea..

So I’m sitting at one of their brown and orange tables when Mary’s husband sits down across from me.  Strange, I thought, but in the naivete’ that was a big part of my makeup in those early days, I didn’t think anything of his presence.  Maybe he was hungry for a Naugleburger or one of their wet-style burritos.

“Hey man”, I said. “What’s up?” I had paid for my order and was just sitting there waiting for my food.

“Hey David.  Why are you touching my wife?”

“What?!?!  What are you talking about dude?” I exclaimed.

Just as I said that I felt a scrape of metal against my bare leg.  It was summer in Vegas and I was wearing shorts.  I pushed back in fear and confusion and saw that he was holding a small folding knife in his hand, and he had lightly touched me with the tip of the knife to get my attention.  I was like WTF?! and jumped out of my seat and through the door to their patio.  He came after me and was screaming “don’t touch my wife again or I’ll kill you”.  Now I was pretty sturdy in 1986 but I was no match for some freaked-out, pissed-off man with a knife wanting to rearrange my breathing status thinking, in error, that I was making a play for his spouse.  I ran down the street and towards home.  He tried to come after me but realized he was not going to catch a terrified kid  who saw his short life flash before his eyes.

I made it to my house in about 10 minutes where my father was working in the front yard. Breathlessly I blurted out what had just happened and my dad just nodded.  He dropped the wrench he was holding.

“Get in the car” is all he said.

We drove back to VideoTyme, parked and my dad went into the store.  He asked me to point out Mary, who was working behind the counter.  My dad walked up to her.

“I’m David’s dad..where is your husband?”  A look of confusion and alarm came over her face.

“Why do you ask??”

“Where is your husband?”, is all he repeated.

“Well I’m not sure”, she said and then looked at me.  “What’s going on, David”

“Mary, haven’t we always got along?  Haven’t I always been respectful to you? Well your husband pulled a knife on me across the street at Naugles saying ‘don’t touch you ever again’. What the hell?!?,” I blurted out in record time.

She then looked like she wanted to cry as she shook her head..  I took from this that something similar had happened before, that he was a loose cannon, overly jealous of any man who came in contact with his wife.  It explained his sullen demeanor whenever he came to see Mary at the store.  It explained his glare at any male customer that Mary came in contact with.  It explained a lot.

“I really don’t know where he is…”, Mary finally, quietly said.

“Tell him I am looking for him,” my father said.  The look in his eyes carried the unspoken promise:  I will find him, make no mistake.

We left the store and I came back the next day for my shift, more than a little apprehensive.  Mary was not there so I went about my day, wondering when her husband would come back to finish the job.  I never saw him or Mary ever again, finding out later than Mary had gone to the owners and tendered her resignation. Whether she feared for her own safety at his hands, or her husband’s safety at my father’s, it was clear that she couldn’t stand the embarrassment of working there anymore, especially once word got around.

The next day I went over to Naugles to see if I could get the order that I paid for but never got to eat.  The person behind the counter laughed nervously and asked what happened.  I told them the story and his eyes got wide.  I felt like I was floating above listening to me tell him the story, such was the surrealness of what had happened.  After, he gave me my order and I sat down next to the window, looking across the street at VideoTyme and wondering about it all.

I look forward to going to the new Naugles in Fountain Valley.  I’ll thank them for making good on my order 29 years ago.  I’ll keep my eyes peeled for danger.


Naugles     naugles pin


naugles hat

Guerillas in the Midst 2

KG reminded me that I hadn’t written a thing for my blog since St. Patrick’s Day. Damn it….

A few months ago I wrote about some of the unique folks I’ve encountered in my travels through This Restaurant Life.  I’m sure that every industry has its share of kooks, crazies and criminals.  I guess ours just has more.  A lot more.

Even I can’t make this stuff up…

There was the Asian vendor for eatZi’s who provided us with an amazing bottled salad dressing and who had a thing for Tiffany, our female receiving manager. This guy was awesome, and would come in on a regular basis to sample his wares for our customers with a great big smile and infectious attitude.  Every once in a while, however, after “being in his cups” (drunk) he would text that manager with an amorous message that read

“Tiffany, I’m a lil bit hoo nee”.  

Say it a few times…it will come to you. Tiffany never took him up on that offer, but it was always fun to repeat when she was around.

In Tulsa, there was a southwestern cafe named “Arizona’s” where a young server decided to go shopping with a credit card that was left behind by a guest. Now, this is every consumer’s nightmare, right?  Of course, this was in the days prior to the Internet so, unlike today, you couldn’t sign up for an automatic fraud alert from your bank to your smartphone. Nope, back then what you got was a phone call asking why you had so many charges that day.  This young lady took the card to Woodland Hills Mall and leisurely pranced up and down the aisles, taking her sweet time purchasing this blouse or that lipstick.  Turns out she stayed there so long, that police were notified, once the card’s owner realized that 1. he left his card at the restaurant and 2. the bank was wondering why he was buying so many Madonna records.

They first called the restaurant and asked for a description of the server.  Then, because they knew from the bank that the card was being used in stores at that mall, merely went in, looked around and apprehended her.  She was a struggling single mother and I’m sure at the time it seemed like a desperate but necessary thing for her to do. She ended up paying a fine and getting some jail time.  Ouch.

There was the GM of a local SoCal eatery who would take pictures of his privates and in an attempt at humor, text them to one of his subordinates after consuming a few bevs.  Trouble was, his assistant kept those pics and eventually when HIS ass was on the line, he produced those shiny photos for the Home Office to see and let’s just say it wasn’t the assistant who got fired..

In every kitchen I’ve been in, when someone sneezes, you will hear the respectful “salud!” shouted out in Spanish, which translates to “health” and is a shortened version of “buena salud” or “good health”.  Almost immediately AFTER that you will hear one or more of the guys pipe in with “Sancho!”.  This of course means that if you sneeze, Sancho is at your house.  Who is Sancho?  Well, he is the guy who is at home with your wife or girlfriend, of course.  It never gets old, and you will see a cellphone flashed in front of the cook who sneezed as if to say “Bro, call your house”.

It’s like being at recess for 10 hours a day..

There was the server at Full Moon Cafe who would never use a swear word.  Ken was a passionate Christian and didn’t want to offend anyone.  That being said, his human side would get the best of him at times, usually after a few beers or when he saw a pretty girl.  Or just generally when he was pissed off.

“F that S!” is what you would hear from the side station, in reference to a poor tip or something else Ken was unhappy with.

“I can’t believe that S…” in response to something he didn’t believe.  Ken was a naive guy and you could usually get him going on false story pretty easily.

“You see her?  I want to F that B.”…in reference to…well…you get the picture..

Back in the kitchen, cooks will drop pans behind each other (and the servers) in order to scare the “S” out of them.  I could be anywhere in the restaurant and hear the jarring crash of a 16” x 6” stainless steel “hotel” pan slamming to the bare tile, the intended target jumping out of their skin in response.  I guess I became a restaurant lifer when someone dropped an empty pan behind me and…I didn’t budge.  I was so used to the cacophony of noise in our thing that it didn’t faze me.

There was a busboy who, in order to satisfy his alcoholism, would take bottles of booze from the restaurant and stash them in a an electrical box outside, retrieving them to take home after his shift. One day, my manager, Dennis, handed me his car keys and said, “Go out and sit in my car and wait for me.  We have an assignment”.  Now, my young brain at the time couldn’t process whether this was James Bond type stuff or if Dennis was trying to get into my pants. Regardless I did as ordered and about 20 minutes later he came out and got in the driver’s seat.  We pulled around the corner to get a view of the building’s electrical box.  Lo and behold here comes the busser, apron off and shirt untucked, headed for the box.  He opened it and at that moment, Dennis floored the gas pedal to roar up next to him.  The busser’s face when he realized he was busted was pure fear, shock and confusion.  The manager got out of the car and stormed up next to the poor kid.  I got out and stood by the car, realizing that a witness was need and that was my role. Dennis dressed the kid up and down, ripping the bag of booze from his hands.  The kid stood there, shoulders slumped, and finally loped away once Dennis told him he was fired.  I always wondered what happened to him..

I wonder what will happen to all of us.


Luck O’ The Irish

Drunk (1)

This is not a restaurant or food post, but beer is mentioned several times and thats kinda like what I write about so there.

“Make the pledges get the keg!!”

“Dude, don’t you think thats kinda harsh?  I mean…?”

“Hell no!  We had to do dumber shit than that when we were pledging…make ‘em!”

7 months earlier, I had joined Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.  It was a turning point for me because UNLV (at the time) was mainly a commuter campus; I already knew a bunch of the kids going there from area high schools and wanted to meet fresh faces. Joining up with TKE could provide a social outlet that I was looking for since I couldn’t afford to go away to school.  To this day the boys who turned into men over those college days have remained my closest friends even 30 years removed.

At the time however, we were just looking for cheap beer.

March of 1986 found us at the TKE house throwing a St. Patrick’s Day bash, not unlike many of the others: loud music, coeds and cheap, green beer.  A few broken glasses and hearts notwithstanding, the party was a success.  Despite our best efforts, however, we did not consume all of the green elixir.

A few weeks later, hangovers gone and coursework attempted, a group of us found ourselves at the house with not much to do and even less money to do it with.  Talk turned to beers and we anguished over how to score some.

“Get the keg”, someone chimed in.


“Get the keg, dude.  Its at the bottom of the pool”, he replied.  We looked at him like he was nuts but went outside anyway.

In the light of dusk we peered over the edge of the pool and true enough there was a 15.5 gallon steel barrel, reflecting the scant light like a diamond…a beacon glistening as a solution to our most selfish desires. It appeared that someone, after the March 17th shindig, had punted the keg into the deep end.

“Make the pledges get the keg!” more than one of us decided.

So orders were given and shirts were stripped off.  I don’t remember their names but I’m sure their pledge monikers were something like “Fluffer”, “Balls Deep” or “That Pledge That No One Likes”.  Down into the pool and up with a ¼ full keg of warm, week-old, green Bud Light.  Glorious.

We scrambled to get the manual pump and attach it to the top. A few strokes and we were rewarded with foamy shamrocks of awesome.  We cheered to our industriousness and we cheered to our friendship.  Hell, we even cheered to our cheers.  We were sure that no one was having as much fun as we were.

Soon, however, talk slowed and the energy in the room changed. We sat, elbows on knees and hunched over our cups, nodding to this comment or that opinion.  Something was amiss.  The loud talk we shared and boisterous lies we were telling had decreased to a whisper, until someone stood up first in a haste.

A quick run to the kitchen and the sound of a splash on porcelain. One by one over the next hour we each made our way to that place and commenced unloading the contents of our stomachs into the sink.  Ramen noodles from dinner and the betraying beer, both tinted green, made their way into the white basin.  One of us would come back to the circle and exclaim “no, I’m good…” only to turn pale and run back.

Turns out that the beer didn’t take too favorably to being shoved into a pool and made to percolate for a week in the warm sun of March.  It took its revenge on five 20-somethings, who felt like kings for a small moment in time, only to be brought back down to Earth on green wings.

Happy St. Patricks Day everyone.

Cookie Monster

Last week, K.G. brought home baked goods to our break room at work, which were devoured in short order by our hustlers.  It got me to thinking of the time I was dosed at work.

A long time ago in a restaurant far, far away, there was a young lady working the takeout counter who would bring in brownies, cookies and other snacks she prepared for her very appreciative co-workers.  Everyone loves a sugar rush, especially servers who are on their feet for hours at a time.  “M” was truly gifted in her kitchen, and we were the lucky recipients of her passion for baking.

One time, M brought in a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies.  Large, chewy medallions of awesomeness that I couldn’t wait to try. Wait, what is that taste? Something familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.  I thanked her for the snack, then walked down the hall towards the manager’s office, thinking she had introduced some new spice to the recipe.

After realizing I couldn’t eat just one, I circled back to the break room and asked M for another cookie.

“Are you sure you want another one?” she asked.  I thought maybe she was concerned for my weight or something, but I should have seen the evil glint in her eyes.

You know the look.


“M, what did you put in here thats different?  I can’t pinpoint what I’m tasting”.

“It’s a secret” she replied, a small smirk flashing across her smile as I jammed the entire cookie into my mouth. I left the break room to return to the dining room floor, brushing crumbs away from my face as I did so.

Not long after, I began to feel a strange euphoria.  I mean, I’m a pretty happy guy anyway, but this was like waking up after a 12-hour deep sleep, feeling like you can now conquer the world. This was accompanied by a light vibration which began to course through my body.  I started to feel like I was floating.


Definitely not unpleasant but what made me realize to my dawning horror what the magic “spice” was in M’s cookies.

Well, not spice, but herb:

“Cannabis (/ˈkænəbɪs/) is a genus of flowering plants that includes three different species, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. These species are indigenous to Central and South Asia. Cannabis has long been used for hemp fibre, for seed and seed oils, for medicinal purposes, and as a recreational drug. Industrial hemp products are made from Cannabis plants selected to produce an abundance of fiber. To satisfy the UN Narcotics Convention, some Cannabis strains have been bred to produce minimal levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent responsible for the high associated with it and which is obtained through the dried flowers of Cannabis plants selectively bred to produce high levels of THC and other psychoactive cannabinoids. Various extracts including hashish and hash oil are also produced from the plant.”

As I made my way through my shift, goofy smile plastered to my face like an icon, I wasn’t sure whether to be pissed off at M or grateful for the diversion.  Of course, the c.indica, c.sativa and/or c.ruderalis moving through my body wasn’t going to allow anything but peace and harmony for the next few hours. I cranked up the music in the dining room a couple notches.

Of course, the news that Dave Lory had eaten not one but two of M’s cookies raced through the restaurant and I noticed, with some weed-induced paranoia, a knowing smile sent my way every time I passed a team member.

Eventually, I came down from my high and finished the day. Saying goodbye to everyone, I noticed M at the front desk and gave her a quiet “thanks” and a wink. I then whispered to her “don’t ever do that again, k?”.  She smiled sheepishly and I went home and slept.


Supper Club

Supper Club is a new restaurant review segment for T.R.L.  .

A small but well-earned promotion for me at work was the impetus behind my bride’s decision to take us on a night out.

“I have a surprise for you!” she said, eyes glittering with anticipation. “Make sure you are not working on the 27th”.

As we approached the date in question, I asked if we were staying local or traveling.

“We are driving to LA and spending the night”, she replied warily, as if I were trying to discern our plans in advance.

A little about my wife at this point in the story.  She is a SoCal woman born and bred and has spent lots of time in the great outdoors.  We’ve road-tripped a bunch of places, camped for days at a time in a forest with no plumbing, electricity or, god forbid, cell service.  We’ve taken our bikes on the Amtrak for an overnight to Santa Barbara, cycled all over Catalina Island, vacationed for a week in a Texas lake cabin…you name it.  A quintessential outdoor girl.


When I think of Stephanie I don’t think of sleek LA, with its famed sidewalks and monied denizens…its sprawling concrete and polished steel. But thats where we were headed. Friday the 27th of February arrives, we pack an overnight bag and head north.

We arrive early at our hotel, a non-descript place on Beverly Blvd that we would call home for the next 23 hours. We decided, after taking our stuff upstairs, that we would walk over to The Grove which we passed on the way in.  My wife is still not telling me our plans for the night, by the way.

The Grove is an upscale outdoor mall with shops and restaurants, a movie theatre and special events.  We walked slowly down flagstone paths, people-watching and window-shopping.

We also discovered the LA Farmer’s Market, adjacent to the Grove and containing stall after stall of local and area products: fresh meat and poultry here, just-picked produce over there and specialty vendors touting everything you could imagine: 100 different types of hot sauce, an amazing variety of exotic spices, a vintage toy store, you name it.  We walked through, trying to see it all, stopping only to split a Reuben sandwich (lacking…) and later, a few pints of local brew.


We made our way back to the hotel for a break, then dressed for dinner.   Earlier I had made reservations at a favorite steakhouse of mine, only to be told by Stephanie to “cancel them”.

“Cancel them?  You know how hard it is to get a decent restaurant reso on a Friday night in LA?!”

“Yep.  Plans have changed”, she said with a wink.

Since parking is the Great LA Nightmare, we decided on Uber for the lift to my bride’s secret spot.  A short 10 minute ride over, we stopped in front of a grey building.  La Boheme. What follows is my review of the experience there:


When you first walk in to La Boheme, the multi-level dining areas, chandeliers and striking garnet red tones are impressive.  A small, 10-seat bar to the right welcomes you as does a young lady perched at the host desk to the left.  

We sat at the bar and were instantly greeted by the bartender, who handed us drink and food menus and a Happy Hour listing.  Steph told him that we were waiting for friends and would just be ordering cocktails to start.  

“Wait a sec…who do you know in LA?!”  I asked.  Anything north of Anaheim was foreign to her at least in terms of cities and experiences, let alone acquaintances.

“Drink your drink,” she replied with a smirk, then turned to the bartender, asking if the Happy hour items were available in the dining room, since we would soon be adjourning there.  

“Typically not, however since you two are the only ones here right now, I’ll see what I can do”, he said.

Happy Hour La Boheme

His comment caused me to look around and see that, indeed, we were the only ones in the place.  It was early (7pm) but I thought there would at least be some traffic, given my prior LA dining experiences.  Favored places always seem to get cracking right after sundown…

Lost in my mental meandering, I didn’t feel the first tap on my shoulder, but turned at the 2nd touch to see the face of my best friend and crime partner Chris Cox.  I did a quick laugh and shook my head.  Now it made sense.  A few weeks earlier, I had read on his FB page that Chris was going to be performing in LA, but I hadn’t made it a point to remember the date.  Stephanie had conspired with Chris to get me to LA tonight to meet up and then watch him perform at Greystone Manor later.  More about that in a bit.  

With Chris was a couple friends, Ron and Phil, and we decided to go to our table. Introductions all around, then Jeff our server was ready for a drink order.

A short thing about LA waiters.  All of them want to be anywhere but where they are at any moment in time. There is an audition waiting for them, a party, an event….truly something they are missing and in a hurry to attend. Anything but waiting tables.

“Have you made a decision on your water?”, he asked.  A decision on my water…no, stud.  LA tap is just fine. Cocktails were ordered and brought in fairly quick time.  

Phil, Chris’ friend, said that we should order some appetizers. But first, he had a question for our waiter:

“How many pieces in the Bruschetta?” asked Phil

“Six…I think”, said Jeff

We ended up ordering their Avocado and Tomato Bruschetta, Ahi Tartare and (6) Oysters.  

The bruschetta came out on a marble board with 3 pieces instead of 6 as Jeff “thought”, but no matter.  We split the bruschetta into halves and dug in. Unfortunately, the bread tasted chewy and underproofed and was topped with the most boring tomato topping I’ve ever had.  


Most versions of bruschetta that I’ve encountered share a lineage of flavor delivered by garlic, some black pepper, maybe a little kosher salt and a dash of balsamic vinegar. This had none of that.  Perhaps a reductionist version was the chef’s goal; that being said, this missed the mark entirely.

Next up was the Ahi Tartare.  At my restaurant we serve fresh Ahi poke, blackened Ahi sashimi and seared Ahi, and I’m used to seeing the bright pink flesh of the tuna take center stage.  This one looked like it had been out at room temp for some time, and was approaching the color of liver. Surrounded by what looked to be a circle of Tostitos blue-corn tortilla chip rounds (?), there was nothing appetizing about the dish in appearance, and soon, in flavor as well.

I dug in with my fork and warily lifted it to my mouth.  I was expecting the light flavor of fresh sea-water combined with the advertised yuzu and soy reduction.  What I got instead was a muddy train-wreck of flavors set off by old, poor quality tuna.  I put my fork down.  

At this point I was unwilling to try the oysters, daring only to move past the disappointing starters and ready to give their entrees a whirl.  My wine glass was kept full, my bride was by my side and good friends, both new and old, were at the table.

For dinner I ordered their New York strip steak.  At this point I should mention that my original desire was to go to Capital Grille, if only because a ribeye was my one goal for the evening.  They do great steaks at CG, but we don’t get to LA often and its always good to try local flavors.

Unfortunately, the medium rare steak came out RARE, which to me is way too underdone.  It took me a long time as a younger man to move from well-done steaks to the (unknown to me at the time) more desirable medium-rare variety.  At that age, I couldn’t imagine eating something that was so “undercooked”, but the balance of time and experience, plus the gentle urging of more sophisticated palates, led me to ordering my steaks in a manner less like shoe leather and more towards juicy and mouth-pleasing.  That being said, going all the way to “spank the cow on the ass and send it out on a plate” was not my goal.

I didn’t send it back, as I wanted to see if perhaps I would enjoy the edges and fight through the center.  But overall, the fair (not great) quality of the steak, combined with how rare it was, made me feel cheated.

For sides, the steak came with balsamic glazed cipollini onions; fat, white orbs which were overcooked and mushy. Instead of their polenta, I opted for simple mashed potatoes which came out creamy and delicious however, the portion size was about 2oz in a small souffle cup; great execution of the ingredients but let down by the stinginess of the kitchen.  Lastly, a grip of broccolini, simply seasoned and with good texture.  

All in all, I felt La Boheme was trading on its decor and its location in WeHo. A beautiful space with potential that’s not being realized on the culinary side.

Dinner Menu La Boheme

After dinner, Steph and I followed Ron and Phil to their townhouse while Chris left for soundcheck.  After a few glasses of wine provided by our gracious hosts, we walked over to Greystone Manor, our destination for the rest of the evening.

Greystone Manor is a multi-use facility owned by nightclub and venue operator SBE.  The layout is very simple with raised levels featuring a dance floor in the center with the DJ booth adjacent. Bars line both sides so revelers can stagger from the dance floor to the bar in short order.

Chris was holding court with some friends and fans and we made our way over to say hey.  What followed from that point was a blur of fun, dancing, cocktails and strange visions such as this:



La Boheme

8400 Santa Monica Blvd.

West Hollywood, CA


The Grove / LA Farmer’s Market

189 The Grove Drive

Los Angeles, CA



Greystone Manor

643 La Cienega Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA


RECIPE: Sutton’s Beef Jerky

When Sutton was in elementary school, I would pick him and his brother up at the end of the day and one of our traditions on Fridays was to stop by the local 7-Eleven for snacks.  At one point, Sutton started to choose beef jerky as his snack of choice. Years go by and Sutton continues to eat his weight in jerky whenever he can. Pre-packaged jerky can be pretty pricey, so a few years ago I decided to see if I could make my own at home.

For Christmas one year I was given a Traeger Pellet Grill (insert shameless plug in case they want to advertise on my site…). The model I use is the Texas Elite and this combination smoker/grill uses the indirect heat of wood pellets that are augured into a fire box slowly or quickly, depending on how hot you want the grill to get. The radiant heat gives cooks more consistent and even temperatures, food retains its moisture (therefore more juicy) and you can’t burn your food because there’s no direct flames.  The pellets are harvested from different hardwoods such as hickory, cherry, mesquite and apple to give you different flavor options.  I use hickory for this recipe.

traegerTraeger Grills rock!

(If you don’t have a pellet grill, you can do the same thing in your oven at home. Set your oven to 165 and preheat.  Put your marinated or seasoned beef strips onto a wire rack with a sheet pan underneath to catch the drippings.  Remember you are not trying to cook the meat, merely dehydrating it to the texture that you desire.  “Low and slow” is the key is smoking meats AND in creating jerky.  Low and slow worked for Barry White, and it will work for you too. There are also commercial dehydrators on the market.)

I’ve tried a few different recipe versions, using a combination of different meats, spices, rubs, etc.  This is one that I think hits a homerun and Sutton, that judge of the jerky, has declared it his fave.


Sutton’s Beef Jerky

2.5# lean beef (I use london broil for this recipe; other great cuts you can use are top round, sirloin or flank steak)

2 cups orange juice

1 cup worcestershire sauce

1 cup teriyaki marinade

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp mill grind black pepper

1 tbsp kosher salt

1 tbsp garlic powder

4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves pulled and minced

1/2 cup diced white onion

12 pack of your favorite beer

Mix all ingredients (except for the beef and the beer) in a large bowl and place in the refrigerator while you cut the beef.  Make sure you mix the marinade very well to incorporate all ingredients.

rosemarySecret Ingredient – rosemary

marinadeFinished marinade

Trim away any fat present on the beef and then slice against the grain into 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick slices.

(The thinner the beef, the more quickly it dries, but I prefer a little bit thicker cut.)

london broilLondon Broil…and my flip flops.

Whisk the marinade one final time, then pour 1/2 cup of it into the bottom of a 9″ x 14″ glass casserole dish.  Place a single layer of the beef strips into the bottom of the dish, then cover with 1 cup of the marinade. Place the remainder of the beef on top of the first layer, then pour all remaining marinade into the dish. Make sure that all of the strips are covered and even.

in dishReady to refrigerate

Let the strips marinate for 12-14 hours, covered and refrigerated. Drink a beer or several as you have plenty of time.

When you’re ready, preheat your smoker/grill to 180 degrees and place the beef strips perpendicular across the grill rack (don’t want the strips to fall in!). Close the lid and drink another beer.

At one hour, turn the strips over, then close the lid and…you guessed it…drink a beer.  Turn the strips once per hour until done.  Each time you turn the beef, drink a beer to celebrate your amazing cooking skills.

Check the texture at 3 hours in by pulling a beef strip from the smoker and tasting it…that simple.  Depending on the thickness of the beef, it can take anywhere from 3-5 hours at 180 degrees. What you want the final product to be, texture-wise, is up to you. For me, 4 hours is the sweet spot.


When your jerky is done, pull the strips from the grill onto a baking sheet that has wax paper or parchment paper on top.  Put into the refrigerator, drink your remaining beers and let the jerky cool down.

Once the jerky is cool, transfer to a Ziploc bag or other airtight container.  This jerky will keep up to two weeks if kept in a cool, dry place like your fridge.

Have fun with the recipe.  Don’t be afraid to split the steak into two sections and create a different marinade for each.  Cooking is about experimentation.  JUST REMEMBER to write your efforts down.  You don’t want to create the Holy Jerky Grail only to forget what you put in the marinade, due to your excessive beer drinking.



Searching for Leo Burke: My Sundays in a Jewish Kitchen

When I was very young, my parents lived in a modest, one-bedroom apartment in Vegas.  I have grainy images in my head of a crib, a black and white TV and faded curtains blowing in the desert breeze.

The property managers of the complex were an older Jewish couple named Rose and Leo.  My dad, from time to time would give Leo a hand around the property in exchange for some help with the rent.

At some point, perhaps while painting over graffiti or replacing a sink, Leo inquired of my Dad as to why there was never any family around to visit us. Unlike our neighbors, we never had older, familiar beings dropping in on Sundays to share a meal.  Truth was, my parents kept us away from extended family. They had not had great childhoods, and didn’t want to expose us to what they felt were not good people. So it was just the 4 of us:  Mom, Dad, little brother Mark and me.  No grandparents, aunts or uncles around.

“Why don’t you let Rose and I be the kid’s grandparents?”, Leo offered.  My Dad thought about it and agreed.  Multi-generational influences was something my parents wanted for us…just not from their sides of the family.

So, every Sunday became the day that we would go to the Burke’s. Even after moving out of the apartment and into our home across town, we would venture over for breakfast with our adopted grandma and grandpa.

Instead of eating fluffy pancakes made with cheap Bisquick like Mom would make, we had crispy latkes: fried potato thins topped with applesauce or sour cream.

In place of breakfast sausages there was lox: cold smoked salmon served with capers.

A bowl of tzimmes:  chopped fruits and vegetables simmered with nutmeg and a little sugar.  Instead of hash browns, there was kugel, a baked potato and egg noodle casserole.

Muffins were replaced with apfelstrudel: warm pastry dough wrapped around a filling of apples, cinnamon and raisins.  Babka bread or challah with honey.  Rose would pour orange juice in a blender for 20 seconds to froth it up for us kids.

When I turned 13, Leo would no longer hug me, preferring instead to shake my hand.  You’re a man now David, he said, and while a bar mitzvah, seder meal or Hebrew school was not in my future, he wanted me to know that I was an adopted part of his tribe.

As we grew older, the visits to their house slowed in their frequency.  Teenage friends and desires took the place of my grandparents, which I’m sure happens to most at that age. Rose and Leo passed away not long after college ended for me and I moved away.

My last image of Rose is of her in a housecoat sitting in an armchair in her living room, laughing out loud.  She also make a blanket for me by hand with this label attached.  I still have the blanket to this day:


I wish I would have spent more time with them in later years.  I could use a hug from Rose, a smile from Leo and to steal a homemade raspberry linzer cookie.


PS:  Here’s a link to a great latke recipe


Guerillas in the Midst: The People Who Work in Restaurants

The restaurant industry has a long history of attracting, shall we say, very “colorful” characters.  Part of me feels that one has to be a little off-center to want to do what we do:  the long hours, the late nights, the stress of preparing a crazy amount of orders in a hot, crowded kitchen or taking care of multiple tables filled with needy guests.  It takes a toll.

I have a friend who is an attorney and once we were talking about our individual careers.  I had an epiphany during our conversation. I realized that I could probably do his job, but I was pretty sure he couldn’t handle mine.  I’m not saying I’m smarter than he is…in fact I know I’m not.  I’m speaking more of the full throttle lifestyle of restaurant people in general, and the ability to manage this circus of personalities on a daily basis.

If you have been reading my blog, you already know about the after-hours cleaning crew girl who offered sexual favors to her teammates to make extra money, or about Evan at the Full Moon Cafe who would light the back of kitchen aprons on fire while the victim was wearing them.  Here are a few more of the fun players I’ve met in my travels.

One of my first restaurant jobs was at Church’s Chicken (the poor man’s KFC as we called it) in Vegas.  The GM there was a rascal named Jose who would refer to every woman as “Donna”.  It didn’t matter if they worked for him or came in as a guest.  He called them Donna, as in “Hey Donna, you want ketchup with that?” or “Donna, check the bathrooms, will ya?”.  I never got the story from him as to why he did that. Suffice it say that it never failed to crack me up, and I’m chuckling even now remembering that guy.

At Full Moon, we had a dishwasher named Mario, an older man with biceps of steel.  Every day, before the rush hit, Mario would be in the corner doing calisthenics and getting ready for the mountain of plates, pots and pans coming his way.  I would be checking the hollandaise and out of the corner of my eye there was Mario doing deep knee bends and stretching exercises to get ready for his shift like some maniacal Jane Fonda…

There was the Muslim kid at eatZi’s who looked like he just stepped off the beach in SoCal. When I interviewed him he mentioned that he was a practicing Muslim and that he would need to pray from time to time.  Given his experience and our need for a solid line cook I was like, no worries, we’ll make that work. Unfortunately, this dude would disappear to pray at the most inopportune times…like during the lunch rush.  I would be walking past the receiving door and there he was on a small rug in the parking lot, facing Mecca while my sandwich line was going down in flames.  He didn’t make it very long…

There was a manager I worked with once who would wear a tuxedo to every performance review he received.  I guess he felt it would boost his scores…

Another sartorial story involves a young man who came in for a dishwasher position, the worst job in the kitchen by far.  This kid came in wearing a suit and tie and carrying his Eagle Scout certificate…to apply for a minimum wage, entry-level crappy job. Needless to say I hired him on the spot..

At eatZis, there was a prep cook that was so brutally hungover, he secreted a 6-pack of Coronas under his station to make it through his shift.  He looked like hell and smelled like death, but showed up on time and was determined to make it through.  The executive chef came to me and said what should we do about the beer.  I just shrugged and told him you gotta admire the kid’s dedication…

Remember the scene from the movie “Waiting”, where the two miscreant kitchen guys were found in the dry storage room with whipped cream around their mouths, giggling while high as a kite from doing Whip Its?  Whats a Whip It, you ask?  This is where someone sucks the small amount of nitrous oxide (present as a propellant in cans of whipped cream) to get you high.  If you’ve ever purchased a can of whipped cream at a store and it doesn’t work, chances are someone had a party in the walk in cooler at the store.  WELL, we had our own kid at Full Moon Cafe named Trey who I would find sitting on a crate of oranges in the pass, laughing to himself with everyone else staring at him strangely.  I finally told him to stop wasting both his brain and my inventory. Buy a can on the way home, Trey…

One of my favorites involves a young lady named Maria who worked as a prep cook for me at eatZi’s.  She was from Guatemala, was learning English and overall a very sweet girl. However she would call out from work with the craziest stories. The best was when she called me to say that her “chango es malo”.

“Your what??”

“Mi chango is malo, Dah-veed!”

“I don’t know what you’re saying! Let me get someone to translate”.

I retrieved one of the guys in the kitchen to assist me.  After handing him the phone, he listened for a moment and then looked at me and laughed.

“Her monkey is sick and she has to take care of it…”

Turns out this young lady had a small monkey she kept as a pet and it would get sick from time to time.  I stared at him as if I were going insane.  I took the phone back.

“Maria, you need to get in here and get to work.  No more sick monkeys…”.

She showed up a couple hours late, looking at me sheepishly as I clocked her in. Eventually the poor monkey “was malo” just too many times and it caused her to lose her job.   Crazy.

Lastly, I remember an after-work event at a local Vegas sports pub where one young man was carried down the stairs and folded into an Albertson’s shopping cart, then wheeled home by drunken Chili’s co-workers.

Oh wait…that young man was me.


And On The Seventh Day…

Ah yes.  Sundays in the restaurant biz.  Not for the faint of heart.

Murphy’s classic axiom modified for This Restaurant Life states that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong….on a Sunday in any restaurant in America.  Some of the roughest shifts I’ve had have been on Sundays and for good reason.

First, the staff you encounter on Sundays in any restaurant are often the least experienced on the team.  You must understand that all of the veterans have paid their dues, and are off brunching, lunching and counting all of the money they made Friday and Saturday nights. The Sunday crew DOES NOT want to be there watching the “straights” (i.e. non-restaurant folks) come in, fresh from the beach, laughing and ordering bottomless Mimosas while they themselves are hung over from a night of drinking.

Next, a lot of the guests don’t even want to be there.  Dad would rather be home on his recliner watching football and Grandpa is falling asleep at the table.  The kids pull and chafe at their “church clothes” and can’t sit still while the only one that wants to be there is dear old Mom, who frantically put this event together…hopeful to make a memory before the kids start throwing chicken strips at each other.

Sunday is also the day you will run out of stuff, and surely just the stuff that the guest wants the most.  Haven’t sold a slice of cheesecake in a week?  I guarantee on a Sunday you will run out and for some reason…that very day…everyone and their mother wants cheesecake.  Never fails.

Of course, everyone’s Grandmother gets either sick or dies on a Sunday.  The highest incidents of sick day call outs are overwhelmingly on Sundays, and they almost always involve some fabrication of pain and suffering on behalf of a family member.

We did have one young server recently who, having come into good fortune with last minute tickets for a local music festival, decided to call us and say that her grandmother has fallen ill and that she needed the day off to tend to her. Unfortunately for her, some of her teammates saw her frenzied and drunken postings from the event on Facebook and said something to one of the managers.  She was fired the following day.  Hell hath no fury than someone who had to stay late on a Sunday due to someone else calling out for their shift to go party.

If I owned a restaurant, it would definitely be closed on Sundays. Maybe some of us would get together for softball and a BBQ. Others could spend a solid day with their families or friends. Hopefully my business plan would allow such a thing.

I alluded to Murphy’s Law earlier, so let me tell you a story about My Worst Shift Ever.

It was Easter Sunday in Tulsa, OK.  I was the GM of a little place on the outskirts of town called The OuterUrban, a 150-seat suburban diner serving that ubiquitous fare known as American Mixed Grill.  For those not in the life, this is what we call the “catch-all” menu offerings of your local Chili’s, TGI Fridays, Cheesecake Factory, et.al.  In other words, not a lot of one type of cuisine, but a variety of foods thrown onto the menu in some inspired culinary “mash-up”:  a few burgers, some pastas, some salads, a plate of ribs and surely a chicken sandwich.

Something for everyone.

The reservation book was packed for Easter Sunday and this was to be the true first test of our little bistro. I arrived early that morning to make sure we were prepared for the crush of business that was sure to come after church let out.

Around 11:30am, we saw through the bay windows the first cars pulling in and emptying their contents of families, dressed to the nines and ready for a great meal.  We were ready.  Soon, the restaurant was full of guests, talking loudly and happily with family and friends.  The staff was hummingly along:  kitchen guys keeping up nicely while the service staff was chatting up regulars and new guests.

As I walked around the small dining room, shaking hands and kissing babies, I noticed a slight fog coming from between the two entry doors to the kitchen. Not to worry, I thought.  I figured the broiler/grill station was impacted with steaks and burgers and throwing off a little more grease than usual due to how busy we were.

As I continued to move about the space, jumping in to the bar to pour mimosas and Bloody Marys, I was concerned to see the haze in the dining room was increasing.  I ran back to the kitchen.

“What’s up in here?” I asked with no small amount of concern in my voice.

“I think the hood’s gone down, David!” replied Nate hysterically.

Ready to implode in 3…2…1…

In a commercial kitchen such as the one we had, there is a massive exhaust system that hangs over the grill, broiler and fryers in a way that sucks all of the heat and grease up and out of the top of the restaurant.  This exists not only to direct all of the grease that comes from cooking and frying 100’s of orders of food into a vent system that exhausts out of the top of the restaurant, but also to reduce the amount of heat present from so many cooking surfaces.  Without a vent system it would be almost impossible to work for any length of time in a busy kitchen.  Trust me…I’ve been there.

So, without anything to suck the greasy air out of the kitchen, it has to go somewhere.  And that somewhere was the dining room of The OuterUrban.

Soon, a haze started to settle above the tables.  You could see diners glancing towards the kitchen as a fresh cloud of greasy air would waft towards them every time a server pushed out of the exit doors with their orders.  Concerned looks soon took over as I stood by the bar, uncertain what to do; opening the back door of the kitchen wasn’t having the effect we thought it would. One guest, however, was absolutely certain what to do and that was to get in my face.

“What the hell is going on?!”  I didn’t want to remind him that he just left church service an hour prior…

“Sir, I’m not sure but I think there is something wrong with our kitchen exhaust system…”

“Do you realize you have people sitting here in their Easter clothes, all dressed up and this….this…mess is coming out of the kitchen getting all over them?!?”.

I do.

And I’m sorry.

In the end we had to buy a bunch of meals and say a bunch of sorrys.  We closed the OuterUrban for the rest of the day while we searched for someone to repair the vent hood.  On Easter Sunday. How many service guys do you think were available on Easter Sunday??

On the plus side, Sunday offers SIN or “Service Industry Nights” at most local watering holes.  Deep discounts on booze, maybe some free apps and the promise of big tips from fellow lifers to those unlucky enough to have to work that night.  Not to mention flirting with staff from other restaurants and commiserating over the insanity that we are all a part of.  I have fond Sunday night memories of a local dive in Tulsa called The Bull and Bear, a little place that we would take over until last call, snow racing by the windows while inside we would warm ourselves with shots of Rumpleminze and mugs of hot chocolate.  I guess there were worse ways to get over the craziness of working Sundays.