Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Oinkster in Eagle Rock

What is the point of life? Is it to live forever with Vulcan restraint, limiting caloric intake, surviving on water, celery sticks, and tempeh? Or is it to revel in carnal indulgence? To have animal juices and fats dripping down your chin?

These are the questions posed by The Oinkster. The Oinkster has, in the popular consciousness of L.A., become a type of synecdoche for Eagle Rock. It sort of sums up the Zeitgeist of the place neatly: an old building revamped, selling sort of old-time food that's now a little pricier and souped-up, with a "hip" ironic name, and t-shirts that say OINKSTER in the format of the old Run-DMC logo. The Oinkster proclaims on its site that it is an "[i]nnovative and affordable, stylish and fun" place, that "aims to be Los Angeles’ antidote to both, expensive gourmet meals and their cheap fast food counterparts," from its location "on Eagle Rock’s newly hip Colorado Boulevard . . . ."

The Oinkster is probably the only restaurant in the neighborhood that one could call sexy. But it's not sexy because of the decor, the location, or any of that. Rather, it's the attitude of the place.

In an age of eco-conscious veganism, food allergies, gluten intolerance, "heart-healthy" diets, Lipitor, etc., The Oinkster is an orgiastic celebration of our irresponsible, bestial side, with its menu of pastrami, pulled pork, burgers, rotisserie chicken, Belgian fries (called the best fries in the city by Jonathan Gold), aioli mayo, and cupcakes.

It's notable that The Oinkster, despite its name, is invariably populated by many young, svelte people who don't appear to be headed for coronary thrombosis anytime soon. In fact, those eating at The Oinkster seem to often be involved in the type of counterintuitive Zahavian handicap signalling of genetic fitness involved in smoking cigarettes, where one displays one's superior fitness by purposefully engaging in dangerous or unhealthy activities: "From lion-hunting Masai warriors to cigarette-smoking, drag-racing American teenagers, people (often young) perform risky acts to prove that they are so fit or skilled that they can afford to be daring." (MIT Media Lab.) That's probably what creates the sexiness.

As my friend Colonel Mortimer noted elsewhere, my general abstinence from eating mammals hamstrings me a bit in offering a full review of The Oinkster. However, I can attest to the magnificence of the Belgian fries, which have a crisp outer shell inside of which the puffy lightness of the fry is preserved, the moist and juicy rotisserie chicken, the wonderful microbrews on tap and available by the bottle (with great specials and happy hours), the fabulous red cabbage slaw and beet salad, and the delicious cupcakes. And I have had a guilty bite or two of Oinkster pastrami and burgers from Mrs. Octopus' plate: they are pretty awesome, and probably worth the artery-narrowing. The Oinkster features an array of delicious "homemade" condiments: they've got Homemade Ketchup, Chipotle Ketchup, Roasted Garlic Aioli, Ancho-Lime Mayonnaise, Dijon Mustard, and Dijon-Horseradish Mayonnaise.

There are two flat screen TVs at either end of the inside seating area, usually showing sports. There's a nice outdoor patio. The building, which has a red, high-peaked, HoJo-style roof, used to be inhabited by something called Jim's Burgers. The Oinkster's "summer hours" are Mon.-Thurs. 11 to 11, Fri.-Sat. 11 to midnight, and Sunday 11 to 10.


zeuqram said...

on metafilter, this is called overthinking a plate of beans.

oinkster is in conversation with other pastrami joints, a staple of the LA developed by European refugees and immigrants. it has improved the quality of the pastrami, added a pulled pork and roast chicken (nods to more recent migrations and tastes) as well as a great burger. some microbrews, a great lemonade and garlic mayo for the fries round out the main offerings.

(btw, it's hard not to find a pastrami / burger / taco joint in most parts of central LA.)

whether or not it's orgiastic may say more about the reviewer than the place itself. i would focus more on the food. the people will follow. ;-)

anyway, my .02 cents, deposited on your blog, thank you.

Colonel Mortimer said...

I took that comment off twitter because I thought it sounded a bit prickish after I wrote it. Tweeters remorse.

It's funny, the three or so times I have been in the place, I didn't see very many skinny hipsters as much as I saw a good range of ages, ethnicities and families, all watching the Lakers; a microcosm of Eagle Rock, well, at least the section of Eagle Rock that could afford to splurge on a $9 pastrami sandwich every now and then (which sadly does not include my wife and I too much these days).

Sure the RUN DMC shirts and the Wes Anderson look alike with the ironic moustache are a little much on the service, but the guy is nice and the shirt's are fun.

I have a similar view of Intelligenstia in Silver Lake, a little leery of what it may represent and some of the clientele (much more an issue at Intelligenstia), but unable to deny the quality and the overall enthusiasm of the staff.

Anyway, fair review despite the limitations that the place presented to you. I've never been to Colombo's, may I request that next in addition to my previous Farmer's Market based requests.

Octopus Grigori said...

zeuqram: Cheers. You may notice, but these reviews of Eagle Rock places I'm doing include restaurants and non-restaurants (e.g., Tritch Hardware, All Star Lanes, etc.). I'll probably also review the local branch of the LAPL, Read Books, Paper, Pollen, etc.

I'm still working it out, but the project, in my mind, is to review the places that make Eagle Rock what it is. I'm obviously no food critic, and my natural tendency is to try to describe a place, the kind of people that go there, why they go there, etc. I try, as much as I can, to discuss the food when I review a restaurant, but as you saw with my review of Dave's Chillin' & Grillin', I'm sometimes more interested in the nature of a place or the people that work there, rather than simply focusing on the food. But I appreciate the friendly advice.

Col. Mortimer: Didn't sound prickish at all -- just a statement of fact, really. And I've added the link to your site in the post -- something I forgot to do on the first go around. And I agree with you: the clientele does tend to be a bit more diverse than my focus on the young and the restless may have suggested. And the staff at the Oinkster are unfailingly nice.

I will have to go back to Colombo's to get another taste of the place. The last time we went, there was a guy taking requests and singing stuff like "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Mac the Knife". It was a lot of fun, though my food was sort of gross.

Anonymous said...

The Oinkster, before it was Jim's Burgers, was a Tastee Freez. In fact the font of the Oinkster sign is very similar to the one Tastee Freez had. In that case, the sign was a white background with orange letters, hence the orange roof the building had for many years as Jim's. Owner Andre Guerrero told me before it opened that the font looking similar was coincidence, but that he wanted to preserve the googie style of the building.

Anonymous said...

I was invited to the Oinkster by my sister that had heard it was good. We went on a weekend day, there were 4 of us. It was full of people with small children, inside and out... There was a line to order and a sign informing people that you had to order food before you grabbed a table. I had a pulled pork and it was pretty tasteless and came with a red watery sauce that was even more tasteless. I have had what I thought was good pulled pork and this seemed to not be so good. My sister had the pastrami and she said it sucked. Would not return.