I've always wanted to explore the restaurants in my neighborhood more often and had a chance to do so last weekend. Saturday was my friend's birthday, and he usually likes casual places and even feels uncomfortable in formal restaurants so he chose Columbo's in Eagle Rock. I'd never heard of the place, and when he told me where it was I could only remember a plain, square boxy looking place that I assumed was a seedy dive bar. Well, we stepped inside and I felt like I was in another world! Old-school red leather booths, an older lady playing Italian and Mexican tunes on the piano while some regulars got up to sing.....I think we were the youngest people there but it was quite crowded. We took a seat at one of the booths and checked out the menu- standard Italian fare at reasonable prices (entrees $8-$16) and a small wine list (I think the most expensive bottle was about $28). I couldn't believe this place was in my hood! It has a very Dresden vibe minus the bevvy of hipsters. We started with the shrimp cocktail- 5 large shrimp in slightly spicy and tangy coctail sauce which had diced celery and cucumbers- very refreshing. I then ordered the angel hair with tomato and basil, which was quite good- lots of great tomato flavor. My friend had the primavera which looked pretty plain (a few steamed veggies on pasta and my other friend had the lasagna, which is the house specialty. There are two kinds of lasagna (one traditional, the other goat-cheese and spinach) and they are actually 4 lasagna rolls, swimming in marinara. I have to say it was excellent. Chunks of beef and sausage, perfect ricotta and homemade marinara. We all split a bottle of chianti and couldn't stop eating the generic garlic bread (seemingly made from hamburger or hot dog buns)....I guess it's been a while since I went to a place where the bread basket was just that comforting, buttered garlic bread and it was welcomed by us all! Service was excellent....they even brought over a piece of amazing tiramisu and had the piano player do "Happy Birthday" and the entire place sang along. I really enjoyed myself- apparently Columbo's 50th anniversary is in August so I've just been living under a rock, but glad to have made the discovery.
Sunday I finally got around to Polka, which I've read so much about on this board. My dad and I had a wonderful time. It really is unassuming from the outside (small strip mall location). But like at Columbo's, once inside you feel like you're in another world, another time. We were immediately given a big cup each of the best sour cream/dill (??) soup which was absolutely delicious. Creamy and tangy all at once. My dad ordered the KLOPSY: Two Tender Steaks of mixed ground beef & pork & chicken, in brown gravy and I ordered the KRÓLEWSKI a.k.a. Royal Plate: Combination of Pierogi, Golabki, Gulasz. Both were fantastic- just warm, wonderful comfort food. The perogie (cheese and potato) was the best I'd ever had....soft and chewy on the outside, pillowy and creamy on the inside. Next time I think I'll need a plate of those. The rolled cabbage and the pork stew were both deeply flavorful and well prepared, and my dad's "steaks" (actually 2 large meat balls) were tender and peppery. The accompanying potatoes, dumplings and veggies were all tasty. We were served cherry jello with peaches and whipped topping spinkled with instant hot chocolate. Sounds strange but was very nostalgic and the perfect end to a perfect meal. I really felt cared for in this place- the family run restaurant really looks out for their customers and serves up the kind of cooking you'd serve to your children if you had the time (I mean,I don't have kids yet but damn it, I felt utterly nurtured at this place and I hope I can do the same one day when I do have kids!:). The whole feeling of the place and the people who run it was charming, warm and special. I guess you just don't see a lot of that in Los Angeles and it was actually very touching. Next time I have a bad day at work or just need good ol comfort food, I'm going to Polka. We brought a bottle of wine (they charge 99 cents per person corkage or ask you to buy one beverage on the menu) so the total for 2 came to $26. The best deal in town.
1833 Colorado Blvd. / Eagle Rock, CA.- (323)254-9138