Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Is it too weird to mourn the closing of a restaurant?

It’s not like you could argue that “it’s all for the best and it’s now gone to a better place”. If there is such a thing as heaven I imagine it’s pretty crowded already without closed restaurants and Montgomery Wards and muffler shops.

But it’s sad just the same.

Anna’s Italian restaurant on Pico Blvd. in West Los Angeles closed Sunday after 37 years of operation. The owners, Tony and Andy sold it to someone who is converting it to something else. I wish Tony and Andy both a long happy prosperous retirement. And at least they sold it and made a nice profit. Tony Soprano didn’t have to burn it down.

Anna’s was very much your neighborhood Italian joint. Homey red leather booths, caricatures of the waiters (many of whom have been there for over twenty years), the horrible Sinatra duets album playing (by that point I don’t think he even knew who the artists were he was singing with), and reasonable prices. Oh, and the food was delicious. They had a minestrone soup that was thick and unlike any other. Great sauces, great pizza, an anti pasta assortment in big wooden compartmentalized plates – what more could you want for God sakes?

When my partner David and I were on MASH, Alan Alda joined us one night for a rewrite. We got done about 8:30. David and I were diving for the Excedrin bottle but Alan was all revved up. So he suggested we go out to dinner at Annas’, which was about a mile from the studio. Anna’s had a good wine selection too (I learned that night).

Shortly thereafter TV GUIDE did a profile on Alan. In it he mentions that rewrite night and dinner at Anna’s. A few weeks later when the issue came out, Tony and Andy were blown away that their little restaurant was mentioned by name in a national magazine. From that day on I was like a God over there.

I’d walk in, Tony would greet me, remember my name, immediately show me to a table, and come around from time to time just to make sure everything was perfect. If you’re Jack Nicholson, that must happen to you in every restaurant you ever enter (except in Boston). For me, it was just this one.

Partly I guess I’m mourning just another reminder of the passage of time. Things we take for granted that will always be there suddenly are gone. I’m sure where you live a favorite haunt or store has gone away. I’m not a big believer in the afterlife – especially when it comes to commercial businesses. But someday, somewhere, I hope to order minestrone soup, take one sip, glance up to the heavens, and know that somewhere in the Great Beyond Anna’s is indeed there, watching over me, wanting to know if I want extra cheese.

Anna’s restaurant 1973-2010 Close in Peace,


Brian Phillips said...

I don't think it's weird to mourn. For me, it would be the original incarnation of Jimmy Wong's Chinese Restaurant, in San Diego. They fed me many of my undergraduate days and I gave my wife her engagement ring there (and her voice went up two octaves the rest of the night).

It's not really gone, though. It's now "Jimmy Wong's Golden Dragon Asian Bistro", but the decor and the food is different. There were wonderful celebrity pictures there, Charlie Joiner of the San Diego Chargers, my favorite, Mickey Shaugnessy, who signed his picture thusly, "Hey, Jimmy! How long did you leave the lasagne on? Mickey. P.S. I brought an Italian friend with me!" and looking out from behind Mickey is...Frank Sinatra (that guy ate everywhere!) and the picture everyone, man or woman, remembered was the rather revealing picture of Tempest Storm.

Here is to wonderful food and the waitstaff that were among the first to find out that we were engaged. One of the said she was lucky; we've been married for twenty-two years, July 9th.

Max Clarke said...

Good send-off.

There are lots of places which, when shut down, seem like the loss of friend. People will feel this loss if Elaine's in NYC ever closes.

In the movie, Body Heat, the first scene shows the loss of a restaurant, the Seawater Inn. William Hurt's character, Ned Racine, watches the place burning down on the beach at night. He's saddened by this, his family used to eat dinner there when he was a kid.

He then speculates how one of his legal clients probably started the fire.

Nat G said...

It wasn't a matter of Sinatra not knowing who he was singing with on "Duets" - he wasn't singing with them at all. Frank laid down all his tracks, then his singing partners would record their tracks at a later date, and generally via remote hookup. So no chance of building chemistry there!
(He did, supposedly, choose the singers himself.)

Matt said...

It's not odd.

Dayton, Ohio had a great, family owned italian restaurant -- "Dominic's." It opened in 1957 and was located on Main street near the University of Dayton campus. I discovered Dominic's in 1996 when I moved there to do mornings on the news/talk station, and dined there many, many times.

Dominic's was famous for their garlic house salad dressing. It's unlike anything I'd ever eaten before. Sweet with that sharp garlic bit. Served with salt crusted rye bread and butter. And like most places, I'd settled on the one dish I always came back for: baked manicotti. That cheese stuffed shell buried beneath melted cheese and swimming in Dominic's own family recipe pasta sauce. I swear Billy Joel must've eaten there when he wrote "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant." The charm of the place was that it hadn't been redecorated since the early to mid 70s. I loved it!

Once the old man died, Dominic's fell into a family struggle and for this or that reason (no one really knows), it closed. For good. And has been razed. And it makes me sad to even see where it once stood. BUT ...

... you can get that classic garlic dressing!


Order it. Try my salad recipe. You won't go wrong:


1 or 2 bags of Romaine lettuce (or 3 to 5 cups of freshly chopped Romaine)
1 medium red onion, quartered then cut in half again.
1 container of bleu cheese
4 to 5 strips of roasted Red Pepper, diced.
8 to 10 strips of bacon, fried (or microwaved) crisp

Additional garnishes:

Green Olives


Anna Mantia Garlic Dressing (Dominic’s Restaurant House Dressing):



Add lettuce to bowl.

After you half, quarter, then half the quarters, separate the onion layers and layer them throughout the lettuce.

Add in the bleu cheese, reserving a small amount..

Dice the red pepper strips and add to bowl. (Note: you can find already roasted red peppers in a jar at your local grocery).

Rough chop the crisp bacon and add to lettuce, reserving a small amount.

Pour in the dressing enough to coat all the vegetables when tossed. This is a wet
salad (but not too much). If you have a lid, cover and shake.

For presenting, add the reserved bleu cheese and bacon on top. Optional garnish: add pepperchinies or green olives (either whole or stuffed).

Janet T said...

not weird at all- I miss places we used to go when we lived in the Valley- Zigs and the Velvet Turtle (yum.. beef wellington) As I'm a thousand miles away with no intention of going back- they might as well be closed. Thanks for the tribute

Dana Gabbard said...

A great restaurant is like a member of the family. I am especially midnful of the many places in San Diego that were favorites that have vanished over the years I have attended Comic Con.

Right now my place is an indian place on Wilshire in the Miracle Mile. Great staff and great food. The lunchtime buffet is a steal and includes the good stuff.

Matt, thanks for the dressing link. I'll share it with my friend in Idaho who is a foodie and says getting the classic Buddy's dressing is getting harder and harder. This sounds like a reasonable equivalent...

Hollywoodaholic said...

My wife worked at the Velvet Turtle, I met her at Joe Allen's on Third, and our first date ended up at Zucky's in Santa Monica. Since all the evidence is now gone, does that mean I'm single again?

Rick said...

It's not weird at all. Since I'm in my early sixties, I have watched and mourned the demise of any number of restaurants since the 1960s.

One in Westwood that closed about 30-35 years ago called The Stew Kettle remains irreplaceable to me.
It was just east of Overland on Pico and served no entrees but about twenty varieties of (duh) stew.

It served every kind of stew I'd ever heard of back then and many others too--from borscht, goulash through East Indian, Irish, hobo, plus many more. All were served in bowls or generous individual black-pot- metal kettles, with salads and sourdough bread or cornbread on the side.
It always did well, but sadly when the father died the family didn't have the heart to keep it going.
I think it would still be a successful concept.

Now if you really want to hear me mourn, get me started on the closures of brick & mortar book stores/used bookstores over the last ten years...

Gary said...

Ken, was that place an inspiration for the Frasier episode in which the restaurant owner displayed caricatures of his more famous customers?

benson said...

At least my story has a happy ending (for now). I'd been telling my fiance about my favorite pizza place in Chicago for years, and finally we drive in from out of state, and meet up with her girlfriend from high school and take two cars. They get there first and call me and say "Are you sure about this place?" I get there, and the neon sign above is on but there's a big white banner over the entrance. I poke my head in and it's pitch black. The place had a fire and was total ash inside. The banner said they were coming back and they did later that year.

Pequod's on N. Clybourne on near north side. Best pizza I've ever had and oh, cold beer, too.

Tallulah Morehead said...

To outlive your children is sad.

To outlive your favorite restaurant is a misery.

To outlive your favorite bar is a TRAGEDY!

Howard Hoffman said...

Godspeed, Anna's. The decor, the waiters, the recipes, the requisite red and white checked tablecloths - all smacked loudly of 1973 to the very end. Thanks for introducing me to this rugged little jewel early on in our friendship, Ken.

My heritage forces me to feel guilty that my frequenting Anna's expedited their demise. It happens to every restaurant I love.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Ah, The Smoke House across from Warner Bros.

Bless my parents for taking me there. Bless Mel Brooks for shooting some of "Blazing Saddles" out front.

Bless the owner for quitting his job at Lockheed and deciding to open a restaurant...

estiv said...

Count me in the it's-not-weird camp. If something is 1) positive and 2) long-lasting in your life, then you'll miss it when it's gone. I think I'm about your age, and I realized recently that getting older is like very very gradually moving to a foreign country: everything that was familiar in your life ends up being replaced by something unfamiliar. I'm not thrilled about it, but as Maurice Chevalier said, when I consider the alternative...

Charlie said...

We went on Sunday night for the closing dinner. It was just as it had always been-the kind of neighborhood Italian restaurant that you just don't see anymore. They served a selection of their most popular dishes. It was a great goodbye for Tony, Andy and all the wait staff that has been there forever. Glad you mentioned it.

eamenes said...

So wrong -- I've lived in West LA for eleven years and I only just started going to Anna's. Now where do I eat?

geezer said...

Anna's, Nickodell's, Martoni's... where will it ever end?

D. McEwan said...

Ah, Nickodell's. On May 1st, 1974, I had dinner there with Doodles Weaver and Walker Edmiston. Doodles told hilarious stories of getting drunk with Humphrey Bogart. So memorable an evening, that I still recall the exact date, 36 years later.

Is it too weird to run down the center of a busy highway in only a diaper, shouting: "The redcoats are coming! The redcoats are coming!"?

Oh! It is? Well then, I won't do it again.

(But the Nickodell's memory is true.)

Brian said...

I took my future wife to Anna's for our very first date in 1995... and we went back many times over the next 15 years. Very nice people in Anna's. We will miss them.

Sea captain said...

I still miss "Ships" restaurant in Westwood. They had the best onion rings in the world.

Anonymous said...

Had dinner @ Anna's on the Friday before it closed Sunday with the Fam. Anna's was an old fav of my Dad's - red vinyl booths, checkered table cloths, linguini & clam sauce and all. Granted, the food may not have been cutting edge, but it was good and consistent.

Beyond the food however, was the personality of the restaurant and its people that helped it standout. Interaction and connection to patrons seems all but lost in modern dining out, esp. in L.A., where restaurant loyalty is akin to a 3 yr. old's attention span.

So losing a friendly & welcoming place like Anna's is a tough lost for those of us who appreciate the value of both good food and quality friendship. Over the years... I rarely if ever stepped in to Anna's without getting the kind of greeting an old friends share when given an opportunity to spend some more time together.

So Anna's, thanks for the memories and you'll be missed by all 3 generations of my family whom you served well.

aj said...

what a great surprise to find a write up here! my wife introduced Anna's to me. She had her picture on the wall of her when she was 6 with Tony. They recreated that image on sunday night, nearly 19 years later.

A sad, sad loss. We had our final Anna's leftovers tonight for dinner. I will most miss the Lasagna Verde, the dinner salad with italian blue cheese, and the pizzas. My wife will miss the rigatoni with meat sauce, minestrone, and the friday night frappes.

My wife celebrated every birthday there, along with graduation and our wedding rehearsal dinner. Thanks for the great write up!

The one silver lining is that soon the recipes will go up online and we can spend the rest of our lives trying to recreate it (my wife nix'd the idea of asking about buying one of the red vinyl seats)

The Curmudgeon said...

You write wonderful eulogies. You do the best eulogies since George Jessel. I mean this seriously -- and respectfully.

I remember reading in one of George Burns' books how Jessel offered to say a few words when James Mason's cat died. Mason's kids were upset, so Mason agreed.

Mason later told Burns: You know, that cat was in the family for a long time. But, until Jessel's eulogy, I never knew how much that cat had done for the State of Israel.

Now I see a new dimension to your talent. You can even eulogize a restaurant.

Zack Bennett said...

Are you sure this just isn't a rerun of the one where Norm tries to save the Hungry Heifer?

Cheryl d said...

Found your writeup after Googling about being sad about losing a favorite restaurant. I'm sad today... it feels like I'm losing a person. Part of me thinks that's pathetic. Thanks for saying it's not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Andy and Tony

For lots of memories of great food, great people and many many celebrations we had in your restaurant.

Joyce and Janet
PS If you open a new please let the world know. God Bless

Ellen Bloom said...

I was at the Studio (20th) during the M*A*S*H years too! We used to go to Anna's ALL the time for lunch!
I even remember the OTHER Anna's Restaurant on La Brea, just north of Pico. Pico, my Pico...has changed so much. I grew up close to Pico and Roxbury. Thanks for the memories! Sigh.

bruce said...

This is going to be weird, but it will cycle back. I went to high school with Mark Evanier, who runs a blog about Old LA Restaurants. Reading it, I was reminded of "The Stew Kettle", which he hasn't covered. (The people who ran it were named Erdos. Even as a high school math kid, before I became a math professor, I knew about Paul Erdos, one of the most famous mathematicians of the 20th century. No relation, and they'd heard about the connection from some UCLA people anyway.) Googling the name of the restaurant and Pico sent me here, to Rick's comment. Now, here's the weird part. Mark is a tv writer and he has often linked to this very blog, since Ken Levine is also a tv writer. And back in high school in the late 60s, when I went to "The Stew Kettle", it was with my family, and my father was also a tv writer.

Anonymous said...

Yes even Mr Ship's misses Ship's
in WLA. Privately owned business
is not easy. Add family business
and well its a hard road. On top
govt control. Govt estate grabs.
You get picture. But the customers
only see the the favorite food.
And no business till the end?????
Support them all the time.

Unknown said...

The closing of Anna's was a real nut punch. I've never found a better minestrone soup anywhere. I'd kill for that recipe. They also had this seafood dish which was cooked in a clear plastic bag. It was cut open at your table and poured over pasta. They made a great pizza too. I really miss Anna's.

Unknown said...

The closing of Anna's was a real nut punch. I've never found a better minestrone soup anywhere. I'd kill for that recipe. They also had this seafood dish which was cooked in a clear plastic bag. It was cut open at your table and poured over pasta. They made a great pizza too. I really miss Anna's.

Unknown said...

I am still in mourning 6 years later and I will never get over Anna's closing. There will never be another Anna's and it makes me sad. They really made you feel like family when you walked through the door and the food was like no other. I remember we met Garth Brooks there three times and amazingly he had remembered us from a previous meet and remembered our names. Amazing. Every time he was in town Anna's was always his go to place without fail. Net his wife Trisha too. Such nice people. Miss you all at Anna's.

Maerie said...

Would love the garlic dressing recipe. Unable to contact Anna Mantia. Thanks