by Dan Johnson
My first thought upon laying eyes on Cow Café at Pico Blvd and Grand Ave was, “here we go.”
It has all the outward appearances of an establishment that politically savvy urban activists have been trained to despise. After all, it’s new.
The décor is chic reclamation. Tables made from salvaged wood and steel I-beam supports squat beneath exaggerated glass light fixtures. There is a book rack with old editions of Interior Design and one copy of Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.
Amidst a housing crisis and a glut of luxury-skewed development in Los Angeles, we have evolved a binary mindset. You’re either on the right side of history or an enemy of humanity. The problem is that everyone is convinced they’re on the right side of history and the general political climate in this country has reinforced the notion that any sign of ideological disparity is casus belli.
It’s a time for scalpels instead of sledgehammers. There’s likely a workable common ground somewhere in the middle of the housing debate. I don’t anticipate we’ll reach compromise any time soon because most of us are still rock hard at the idea of going nuclear with every perceived slight.
If you read 8.72 with any regularity, you already know I’m exhausted with hype-sphere darling cafes that serve tiny portions for ungodly amounts of money. The pretension, the hashtags, the unsolicited “namastes” upon arrival—these things grate on me like wearing wet jeans to run a marathon.
But here’s the thing: looks can be deceiving. Just because a restaurant has an aesthetic that appears as if the owners foresaw their spread in the LA Downtowner long before opening does not mean it’s aligned with the exploitation brigade in their quest to bilk undiscerning millennials of discretionary spending while burning the neighborhood down.
Context is not in Cow Café’s favor. It’s located across the street from a laser tag fitness center. Read that again. It’s not a type. Then there’s a row of shuttered businesses and the barely-hanging-in-there bodega, Jo’s Liquor, across Pico Blvd. Kitty corner from Cow Café is the curiously titled “E on Grand,” a new six story sleeping facility for 9-5ers who will remain blissfully aware throughout their stay that their home is built on the site of one of the worst residential fire tragedies in Los Angeles history.
You have to march past a plethora of similarly generic new residential buildings with equally perplexing names like Apex, Luxe, Oakwood, Olive DTLA and Wren to arrive at Cow Café. The 7am to 7pm weekday haunt is not the preferable place to ponder why a developer who name a building at 12th St and Broadway “Axis.”
I was inclined not to give Cow Café the benefit of the doubt because, frankly, I’ve internalized a toxic prejudice against the new. I have the same reaction to menus with Avocado Toast featured prominently as I do banner ads hawking Girls Season 6: “this is probably not for me.”
As it turns out, Cow Café is excellent. Most of the trepidations I harbored before ordering my $7.50 spinach and sundried tomato quiche involved portion size. Was I setting myself up for a York Peppermint Patty sized dollop of spinach and pie crust? No. In fact, my $8.18 afforded me a large slice of delicious quiche with a hefty side salad. Both of which tasted excellent and left me feeling full.
If this is gentrification, sign me up. I’m not at all pissed off about a sub-8.72 special meal item that didn’t taste like a Sysco ass log built specially in a Monsanto lab to cement my colon into oblivion. The construction workers from the infrastructure project across the street seemed delighted with their meals. Don’t trust me? Take it from the blue-collar dudes in work boots.
The implication is that places like Cow Café will serve as a subtle symbol coded with meaning for ravenous greed-heads who will interpret the Wi-Fi-equipped eatery as a sign that the time is nigh from them to descend on a three-block radius and suck the life out of every living entity.
That’s not how society operates though. Yes, it could very well encourage an unscrupulous profit seeker to set up shop nearby. Still, we don’t judge businesses based on their worst customers. If we did that, Margarita’s would have been shuttered years ago for having aided and abetted the Nightstalker with calories during his murder spree.
I still feel queasy about a lot of businesses that have made in-roads into Downtown. I don’t want to live in a dustier version of San Francisco. I would also like to not eat like an asshole. With that in mind, let me just propose that we put forth the effort to keep from throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
I award Cow Café an unequivocal “1” on the binary and encourage you to support them especially given that a Starbucks is slated to go in across the street.