by Dan Johnson
Josef Centeno has a van. Not just any van, but a tremendous black rig with a custom paint job that makes it look like it belongs to an early ‘80s power metal band.
Like Glenn Close in Hook, I did not believe in Josef Centeno. You will excuse me while I fold myself into the proverbial boo-box.
Now that I look back on it, my initial non-faith in Centeno had less to do with the man himself. More the outright gush that surrounded his ascent to Old Bank District acclaim. There’s also the prickly matter of Tom Gilmore using Centeno’s rocket-like ascent to cull a block of businesses I enjoyed.
Circumstances aside, the prima facie of the issue is hard to ignore: Centeno has a gift for food. Most of this cuisine is out of the $8.72 price range. Especially over at Orsa & Winston (the former Rocket Pizza) where a meal is equivalent to a few months’ worth of $8.72s.
Recently a sandwich board sign appeared outside of Ledlow (neé Pete’s). During Happy Hour, all are invited to partake in an eight-dollar beer and burger special. Like a leg-hock hanging conspicuously amidst the vegetative landscape of the forest moon Endor, I found the temptation too great to resist.
From 5pm to 7pm, you too can bask in this demi-meal. It isn’t a jumbo burger and the beer is a house-selected Abita Amber. Unless you’ve had lapband surgery, this will likely not fill you up for the night. Still, it’s a hell of a deal.
The whole point of this experiment in cheap eats is not to indulge in punitive politics or poverty porn. There’s enough of that already. The idea is to document and encourage the creation of a viable middle ground, by which people of all stripes inherit a neighborhood stocked with things they can afford.
At Ledlow and many other dining establishments many would ordinarily associate with “gentrification,” there is an abundance of loss-leaders to be had. Thanks to the owners and managers who program a modicum of affordability on to the menu. It’s nice to have a frugal option.
The loss-leader is a long cherished tool of commerce. Bring rubes in for a product that doesn’t net much profit and you will inherently fill your coffers with up-charges, add-ons, returned business and proximity purchases.
It’s cold logic that yields a larger neurological benefit here in Downtown where the boundaries between haves and have-nots feels stark. Tucked away deep within all of our noggins is an amygdala and hippocampus duo that tends to the creation of emotional memory. More than any other region of gray matter, these two crucial entities are subject to degeneration as a result of psychological trauma. With prolonged exposure to duress or sharp snaps of tragedy, these function centers can deteriorate.
It doesn’t take a grand horror to chip away at the hippocampus. I suspect month after month of culinary drudgery punctuated with occasional forays into the unsavory greasy spoons chronicled hereabouts can and will do damage to human mental hardware.
Properly employed, the loss-leader can be a tremendous antidote. Even if you’re not ordering top flight menu items, there is an opportunity to hide away for a few minutes and receive a decent helping of food for around eight dollars.
Over at Everson Royce Bar, you can snag a biscuit (really three biscuits) that are incredibly fresh and fluffy without the burdensome feeling as if you’ve just injected refined white flour into your bloodstream. In terms of food volume, you’ll get more bang for your buck with the Colonel, but the superlative biscuit is not to be overlooked.
Across Downtown along the concrete banks of the 110 Freeway, the Wilshire Grand-adjacent Harbor House will gladly sling you a half serving sandwich with a fresh salad drenched in a robust citrus dressing that tastes like it was made by an actual chef with the intention of nourishing actual human beings, not preservative-fiend cylons walking dead-eyed amidst the horrorscape of the urban 21st century.
Happy Hour at Stocking Frame at 9th St and Hill St or Engine Co. 28 at Wilshire Blvd and Figueroa St means you can take down a variety of sub-8.72 offerings in a restaurant setting that is typically beyond the financial purview of us cheapskates. Have a water and take your time.
Those seeking less refined (and possibly intoxication-friendly) digs are encouraged to get some tater tots at Arts District Brewing or an absolutely stellar $3.50 bacon and cheese pretzel at Mumford Brewing. If you’re in Skidrokyo already, you may as well pound down an order of unlikely, but delicious, buffalo mushrooms at the Escondite.
Meanwhile on Spring St, Saturday mornings find the Down and Out offering up a complimentary breakfast buffet for those who buy a drink. Miller High Life is $3 all day, every day. Do the math.
There is a treasure trove of low cost food in Downtown geared to lure you in off the street. Assuming you have the discipline not to overindulge, there are ample opportunities to eat, drink, be merry or wallow in your own misery without eating like too much of an asshole.
I award all participants in the novel concept of loss-leadership a “1” on the binary and doff my cap.