Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chow Time: Bun 'N Burger

I have fallen off the "Healthy Eating" wagon so often that I've determined my best bet is simply to tether my cankle to the wagon and just get dragged behind, hoping for the best.  Predictably, the knot in the rope seemed to slip a little when I saw the neon wonder of a short-order cook proffering a hamburger in one hand and a piece of pie in the other.

wacky tacky chow time

Situated on a bustling corner of Alhambra's Main St, is an under-appreciated institution of Southern California's wartime gastronomy.  Looking from the outside like something straight out of a Hollywood movie's "Main St," Bun 'N Burger (est. 1941), is just shy of its 75th anniversary of serving America's greatest taste sensation, the burger ('n the bun too).

wacky tacky chow time
Bun 'N Burger - Alhambra, CA

The angled corner entry, the awnings, and that marvelous signage are all so wonderfully stereotypical of a burger joint of its vintage.  After countless disappointing, after-hours drives-by (why am I always in Alhambra after dark???), I was excited to finally get a chance to experience what lay beyond the locked doors of Bun 'N Burger.  

The obligatory red booths and counter stools are set solidly in place before formica tables and countertops.
I immediately fell head over heals for the gleaming, stainless-steel fixtures including that monstrous exhaust hood.
I would thrill to see the two-tone green color story of the exterior brought under foot in the form of linoleum tiles.

Quiet, quick, and courteous, the service at Bun 'N Burger is top notch.  I was so lost in snapping photos that the waitress finally had to snap me out of it just to take my order.  

Oh darn, I just missed menudo....

Convinced that I was making a healthy choice by ordering a grilled chicken sandwich with no cheese and no mayo (I might be the last person on Earth that foolishly does not consider bread the enemy), I realized that the waitress probably felt sorry for me and brought my sandwich with a side of guacamole (healthy fat and omega something something, right?) AND a side of fries.

Waffle-cut fries!!!
There would be no saving room for pie...

As well as "Professional Waffle-Cut Fry Connoisseur," one of my many dream jobs would be "Make-Under Artist."  As frequently and as fiercely as I tout the ideology, "Too much is never enough," I often think that what old-fashioned eateries could really tolerate is a heavy dose of good, old-fashioned decluttering - particularly where totally-unrelated miscellanea is concerned.  When will retro diners/coffee shops/et al. realize that were they all landmarks on old Route 66, the"Mother Road" would've been a highly-circuitous eight-million-miles long!

At some point in its history, Bun 'N Burger created an additional dining room by expanding into an adjoining space - as much to accommodate more guests as to accommodate the growing collection of reproduction Coca-Cola memorabilia, I'd wager.  Is it so wrong that I just want to see the streamlined bones of a streamline-era restaurant?  All Bun 'N Burger needs is a fair bit of curation by someone with a level head and a keen eye.  However, there are definitely a few select collectibles that I think should remain; I mean, who can resist a taxidermied swordfish?!!

And this loving tribute to the King...there's always
room in a wacky tacky environment for black velvet.

"Hot Dog" - Elvis Presley
What goes better together than hot dogs and hamburgers, I ask you?

Bun 'N Burger
1000 E Main St
Alhambra, CA


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Checking-In: Hotel Congress

The finest sight that any carload of road-weary travelers can see is that of a crackling neon sign standing sentinel atop an historic landmark hotel, beckoning them in for a night of much-needed slumber.

wacky tacky hotel congress
A glowing sight for sore eyes in Tucson, AZ

"Congress" is perhaps an all-too-accurate name for a place that over the past 95 years has undoubtedly housed so many "acts of congress" within its walls that it should soon be putting a bid in for President (zing!!!).  Actually, the name of Tucson, Arizona's most famous hotel, Hotel Congress (est. 1919) comes from the tree-lined street on which it proudly stands (incidentally, Congress St took its name from a 19th-Century Saloon).

Hotel Congress - Tucson, AZ

Primarily known as the last hideout of John Dillinger's gang (a January 1934 fire, started in the hotel basement, exposed the thugs and eventually led to the capture of their leader at a nearby residence), the hotel continues to host "Dillinger Days," on the third weekend in January.  Since then, hotel guests have been of either a more upstanding or a more otherworldly variety.  Yep, as with most hotels of a certain age, rumors abound that some guests of Hotel Congress check in but they never check out; we were so tired that the only thing that we saw during the night of our stay was the inside of our eyelids.

They must have known that a terrazzo entry is always a winner
in the book of wacky tacky!  That's kind of spooky, right?

The facade of Hotel Congress is stately, if a little unassuming but...

Once the threshold is crossed, one is
treated to a Southwestern step back in time.

Decorated in the Puebo Deco style (a combination of traditional Art Deco geometry and iconic Southwestern motifs), the common areas of Hotel Congress are a wacky tacky wonderland.  A mix of pattern, color, and shape, the near visual overload is grounded by rich woods and Spanish Colonial furniture.

The lobby, the landings, and the hallways are all decked out in Pueblo Deco finery.
Southwest design schemes tend to walk a very fine line; when it turns into that
flute-playing silhouette and those giant, metal lizards above the fireplace, I'm out. 

Hotel Congress falls decidedly on the SAFE side of that style divide!

Spare by contemporary hotel standards, the guest rooms are actually a treat for full-immersion vintage lovers looking to escape the modern world.  I was shocked to enter a room devoid of a television; and yet the absence of televisions and other modern amenities truly enriched both the overall experience and my sleep!

Black and white tiles and a pedestal sink make the bathroom feel perfectly old-timey.
Simple iron beds made up with white chenille bedspreads, modest furnishings,
and patterned, flat-weave carpets, made the whole experience period perfect!

The third-story sun deck, with its scenic mural of a stunning Southwest vista, looks
incredible and incredibly eerie bathed in the blood-red glow of the hotel's rooftop sign. 

If you find yourself in Tucson, AZ without a place to stay, why not hide out like an all-American hoodlum or haunt like an all-American ghost, and check-in to Hotel Congress.

Hotel Congress
311 E Congress St
Tucson, AZ



Mr. Tiny

Friday, August 15, 2014

Signs of the Times: The Palms Motor Hotel

Arguably one of America's most recognizable neon masterpieces, the magnificence of The Palms Motor Hotel sign is impossible to overstate.  Twin palms, permanently wind-swayed since 1954, stretch to great heights above a commanding arrow that has directed decades of passing motorists towards a choice, roadside-ogling op.  And ogle they must!

Some neon benders/sign makers would be satisfied with a one-color, one-font, one-sided sign.  The Palms sign was obviously not a product of "some" sign makers;  no less than four colors of neon and no less than five fonts create a tropical paradise in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.

A photo of the lit sign during our stay in 2012.
Sure, the sign needs a little bit of maintenance (neon repair and
the arrow's twinkling lights), but the breathtaking impact is still so great that
even in the dead of winter we could've sworn we felt the warm tradewinds.

A vintage view of The Palms Motor Hotel sign.
Even from the earliest days, The Palms was offering irresistible amenities;
 "Heated Pool" and "Cocktails," what more could newlywed couple ask for?!!
(except for maybe a coin-operated, vibrating bed in the "Bridal Suite")

The amenities are all well and good, but we know that the real star of this
multicolor, neon spectacular is that bright blue monkey...and the "Free TV."

Should you find yourself in the Portland area, our recommendation is to immediately visit The Palms Motor Hotel, day or night, to get an incredible view of that amazing sign.  After you have photographed every angle and mopped up the puddle of your neon-sign-loving drool, we suggest you then hit the road for more welcoming accommodations.

"Monkey See, Monkey Do" - The Archies

The Palms Motor Hotel
3801 N Interstate Ave
Portland, OR



Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chow Time: Langer's Delicatessen

If Hollywood storytelling is as historically accurate as I like to believe, then Sean Penn Mickey Cohen (holed-up in the Park Plaza Hotel before a knock-down, drag-out fight culminating in his arrest) just had to have become a regular patron of the neighborhood's oldest and most-authentic outlet of oh-so-delicate, Jewish essen, Langer's Delicatessen (est. 1947).  Nearly seventy years after both the landmark restaurant's opening and the heyday of Los Angeles' most celebrated hoodlum/murderer/racketeer, only one of the two remains; as the saying goes, "Only the strong survive."  Langer's not only survives, it thrives in its original location at the corner of 7th and Alvarado, across from the famous (infamous?) cinematic location of Cohen's downfall, MacArthur Park.

Langer's Delicatessen - Los Angeles, CA

If Mickey Cohen himself never partook of Langer's fine menu offerings, then I like to think that at the very least, Sean Penn's and Josh Brolin's assistants made time to run across the park and pick up some sandwiches from Langer's reliable curbside service during the filming of Gangster Squad.

Langer's is not necessarily a visual show-stopper.  Nevertheless, it makes the most of its '60s-era
expansion by way of terrazzo floors, tufted booths, colorful subway tile, and dramatic light fixtures.
The place is seriously legit -they've got their own t-shirts!

Missing perhaps some of the stylistic splendor of other wacky tacky eateries, what Langer's might lack in form, it more than makes up for in function - delicious food.  To describe the food as delicious, delectable, delightful is merely to practice understatement in the extreme (not to mention alliteration).  Dedicated noshers travel far and wide just to get a taste of MacArthur Park's sole recipient of The James Beard Foundation Award.

It takes first-timers a few minutes to peruse the substantial
menu, but for Mr. Tiny, the choice is always premeditated...

The No. 1 - Pastrami, Coleslaw, and Russian Dressing on Rye
It wouldn't be difficult to outdo Meg Ryan's Katz's Deli performance when eating this sandwich -
it's that good.  The rye bread is double-baked to ensure a tender center and crispy crust.

Sure, all the usual delicatessen suspects are present and accounted for: tongue and egg salad,
pastrami and pickles, ruggalach and knishes, sister-in-law and liverwurst, but let's be real Langer's...

You had me at radish rose!

And our compliments to Langer's; it's well known that
any meal that ends with a "wet one" is a good one!

Carrying on the same traditions of quality and service, as so beautifully rendered in this painting, it's dollars
to donuts (or maybe dill pickles) that Langer's will continue to make some of the best food in Los Angeles.

And with the way that they make [coffee] cake, there is very little chance
that it would ever get left out in the rain.  Even if it did, the recipe is well
secured and will continue to be made again and again.

"MacArthur Park" - Richard Harris

Whatever you do, don't make like the cake made famous in song, getting left out in the metaphorical rain; get thee to Langer's ASAP!

Langer's Delicatessen
704 S Alvarado St
Los Angeles, CA



Mr. Tiny

Take that, James Beard Foundation Award!!!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sew What?! "Fun in the Sun" Hat

I know what you're thinking, "MORE sun hats?!?!!!  This fool has got to be kidding!!!"  Well, as long as the sun shines in the great state of California, sun hats will always be a necessity.  Furthermore, this post has nothing whatsoever to do with the Put A Lid On It Sun Hats by Mr. Tiny, currently available on Etsy (that doesn't mean that there isn't time for a shameless little p-p-puh-plug).  Rather, this post has everything to do a with a vintage hat pattern that I unearthed from the bottom of a pattern avalanche that I received several years ago as a hand-me-down from my grandmother.

muggins original stuff sun hat
At first glance, the illustration led me to believe that the undated pattern might've been from the
late-'60s-'70s.  After reviewing the printing and instructions, I figured that it was probably from the
1980's, likely a classic pattern that had been in print for a number of years by Muggins Original
 (a company from whom it appears an interested party might still potentially acquire a copy).

A one-sheet pattern, I nearly disposed of it, doubting seriously my ambition for creating sun hats (my, my, how times have changed).  Recognizing that certain timeless styles remain perennially en vogue, I decided to retain it in the Mr. Tiny pattern archives, feeling deep within my hoarder's heart that it would eventually come in handy.

wacky tacky joan crawford thelma todd
Hoping to invoke the spirit of Joan and Thelma, and evoke a style reminiscent of these other
floppy-hatted beachside beauties, I pulled the "Fun in the Sun" hat pattern from the vaults.
(Source A, B, C, D, E, F)

Also from the vaults came this sturdy rayon-linen blend printed with charming sprays of pink
dogwood blossoms.  I've had this fabric so long that it has actually moved house with me twice! 

I had the pattern, the inspiration, the fabric, and a free afternoon; nothing was to stop me from diving head first into this hat (please, do not pardon the pun; it only encourages me).

I decided to skip the frivolity of the scalloped brim (View 2) and the superfluous sunglass holder (View 3) in favor of the simplicity of View 1.  That isn't to say that I followed the instructions word-for-word (definitely not my strong suit).  I ignored the warning against fusible interfacing (for a reason known only to the high heavens, I used fusible AND non-fusible interfacing), I extended the depth of the brim by 2" all around, and opted to assemble the hat in a way that suited my dubious understanding of garment/hat construction as opposed to the pattern-maker's expert instruction.

Instead of attaching ready-made ribbons to the finished hat, as per pattern instructions,
I made my own ties out of the fashion fabric and sewed them into the seam for a more finished look. 

I might not have fully committed myself to the instructions but I did love the editorial commentary peppered
liberally throughout: "Everything cut out?  Machine threaded? Radio turned to your favorite station?
How about a can of pop and a couple of cookies? O.K....Everything in place, so let's get sewin'."

Radio?  Cookies? Pop?!?!!  If this was my grandma's house in the '70s-'80s, it would've
been Donahue on the TV, a handful of Excedrin, and an ice-cold chaser of Tab! 

The hat went together quickly and easily but I, of course, failed to take any progress pictures - I wasn't about to disrupt my hat making rhythm!

Because our house model is out of town, I had to employ our far more
reliable, exceedingly more cooperative standby, "Hat-tie McDaniel."
Just imagine what it would like like with a little bit of hair!

The last departure I made from the original hat pattern was electing to eliminate the multiple rows of topstitching on the brim; I like the way it looks without but I think the topstitching would provide a bit more body and stability.  I might change my mind by the time our live mannequin returns ready to model the complete look (yep, I can't help myself from making matchy-matchy hat ensembles).  What a cliffhanger!!!  Will Mr. Tiny take to the topstitch or will the broad brim remain bare?  Stay tuned!!!

Have you sewn a hat before?  Is it possible that Ms. Crawford would deign to don our "Fun in the Sun Hat?"  What do you think, is floppy too sloppy, or would you wear a floppy, floral, flapper-inspired beach hat?


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

wacky tacky Icons: Cantinflas

Mario "Cantinflas" Moreno
August 12, 1911 - April 20, 1993

I don't know what it's like in the rest of the world, but in Southern California, one would be hard-pressed to channel surf through the often shallow waters of broadcast television (or even basic cable) at any time of the day and not find at least one channel playing any of the more-than-thirty films of Mexican cinema's greatest star, namely Cantinflas.

An iconic image of Mexico's greatest comedic character.

As an American, my first exposure to Cantinflas was as Passepartout, David Niven's valet, factotum, and all around right-hand man, in the Academy Award winning, Technicolor epic, Around the World in 80 Days (the star's only legitimate success in America).

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Once used by my dad as implements of childhood torture, the lengthy, epic, mid-century,
adventure movies (see: The Great Race, Casino Royale, Around the World in 80 Days, et al.)
 have mysteriously evolved into sentimental favorites.

It was a surprise thrill to become reacquainted with this international celebrity in the winding lanes and back alleys of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter during our High Rockabilly adventure of 2012.

He might have only had one hand (the statue not the man) but he sure knew how to keep a secret!

Born in Mexico City, Cantinflas' wacky tacky credibility stems from his unique physicality, his clever manipulation of language, his iconic mustache, and the indivisibility of his on-screen persona from himself.  

Who came first, the man or the saggy, baggy-pants comic?
Who cares, this poster art is unbelievable!!!

Like many classic comedians/comediennes, the wackiness
and lack of ego in every Cantinflas performance makes
audiences forget that he was a pretty smooth-looking fella
and an astute businessman, earning many writing and
producing credits.

Even though my Spanish is limited to schoolyard curses and practical words and phrases picked up during my after school job at a bakery, I always pause when I see a "pelicula de Cantinflas" in progress.  Part Charlie Chaplin, part Groucho Marx, and part Mr. Bean, the universality of his beguiling performances all but eliminates any language barrier (the occasional English subtitle doesn't hurt either).

A clip from Ahì Està El Deltalle (1940)

It is his enduring legacy of timeless comedy that has inspired a full-length feature film based on his life and career.  Unlike many big screen biopics, we are pretty excited to see Cantinflas.

Cantinflas trailer (2014)

As we approach what would have been his 103rd birthday, it seems especially timely to anticipate a silver screen celebration of his life and to reflect on his credo of happiness.

"The primary obligation of humanity is to be happy,
the second is to bring happiness to others." - Cantinflas
We think he was definitely on to something!

Are you a Cantinflas fan?  Is there a classic comedy star with whom you closely identify?  Are you currently considering the very real possibility of seeing Mr. Tiny transformed into Cantinflas (or at least his overweight, albino brother) this Halloween?


Mr. Tiny

Monday, August 4, 2014

Kitsch-en Kounter: We Have a Wiener (Dog)!!!

As proven by our Mexican Corn Dogs (a questionable take on tamales), it is nigh impossible to improve on the perfection of the classic corn dog.  Nevertheless, in all of my foolhardiness, I keep on trying.

Last weekend I was invited to an "Edible Atrocities" potluck birthday party where each guest was asked to bring a dish inspired by the kooky culinary traditions of 20th-Century American cookery.  Instead of referencing my shelf of vintage cookbooks, I decided to explore that well-known black hole of bizarre ideas, my own brain.  The very last thing in the world that I like to do is waste food; I knew I had to make something that was both bizarre and, hopefully, crowd-pleasing.  What's more crowd-pleasing than corn dogs?

What's more edible than that all-American pantry staple, Jiffy Cornbread Mix?
 "Quality and Value since 1930!" 

And what's more atrocious than CHEESY WEENIES?!?!!
"Nutrition facts:" none.

After considering the options for a corn dog casserole, it was clear that a 9x13" pan was not going to cut the mustard.  It is oft said that we eat with our eyes first; shape is always important and a circle is always appealing - think donut, burger, cookies, pizza, all the best foods.

I realized that I had pans brownie, cake, springform, angel food, loaf, glass, non-stick, etc.  The one gaping hole in my pan-theon of baking pans was a one with a gaping hole; I needed a ring/bundt-type pan.  A quick trip to the thrift store on half-price day was the answer to my kitsch-en kounter prayers - a steel steal at 50¢!

It was at this moment that I considered the possibility that I might have
overfilled the pan.  Instead of panicking, I just gave myself a pat on the
back for putting everything on a lined cookie sheet!

After a bit of clean-up and cooling time, this corn dog creation was nearly award ready.
Next stop, the "Wiener's Circle!!!"

Of course, a simple ring was a little too tame for the type of party people that this savory corn cake was going to feed.  The "edible" box had been ticked, it was time to tackle "atrocious."  The corn-dog casserole needed a puppy personality and the obvious direction was dachshund, a wiener-dog wiener dog!!!

Using golden potatoes and black olives, I made a simple dog face that
ended up reminding me more than a little bit of Gromit

Atop a bed of curly parsley, chasing its roasted-potato tail on potato-wedge feet around
a bowl of honey-mustard glaze, this Golden Wiener Ring pup was prepped to party!

While the Golden Cheesy Weenie Ring is not necessarily what I would hold up as a "Kitsch-en Kounter" best, I feel fortunate that failure really wasn't an option when "atrocity" was the desired outcome.  The only real failure was that, at the last minute, with the Golden Wiener Dog on the leash and ready to go, some silly circumstances precluded my attendance at the party.  Talk about wasting food - I wasn't about to eat this junk!!!  Hahaha!!!

Well, who wants leftovers?  Do you like corn dogs?  Have you ever experimented with crazy mid-century recipes?  Have you been brave enough to eat the results?


Mr. Tiny