A new main squeeze
Lemonade puts a modern edge on old-school cafeteria dining
By Dan O'Heron 11/03/2011
When the venerable Beadle’s Cafeteria hobbled to a close awhile back, old people deeply felt the loss. Even though it was served on plates that were beginning to chip and crack, they would sorely miss “cafeteria” food that had stood the test of time (picture meatloaf and Jell-O).
So, after the new Lemonade cafeteria opened across the street a few weeks ago, I was surprised the other day not to be standing in a long line. In the throng of customers, mostly between ages 20 and fortysomething, I spotted only one person older than me, and that was a silver-haired woman. My old-school tie matched her shawl. I wondered if we’d be asked for an autograph.
Lemonade’s dining room, large, bright and accommodating, is obviously hinged on a menu that has adapted to accommodate to changing modern tastes. Still, there was no reason for two oldies to feel as if they were crowding in. Many fixed-income seniors would be bumping trays and climbing all over the steam tables when they learned that “modern cafeteria food,” like avocado and tomato, pebbled with pine nuts, is pretty healthy.
And children — including the childlike — will want to join the climb. My dining partner, singer/songwriter Debra Davis, is a smirkingly sophisticated young woman. But here, checking out a colorful array of braising pots, she became wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
The noise level during the noon hour is what a school bus driver hears when he’s taking kiddies to the circus. But with everybody in line wearing smiles so sweet they could be poured on waffles, the noise could be described merely as an “attractive nuisance,” wherein the adjective has been smirched by its noun.
At any rate, in time, when customers begin to take for granted the special dishes like curried cauliflower with golden raisins and almonds, it should tone down a little. Today’s jabbering is all about a cafeteria-style of dining that didn’t exist yesterday. An innovation of Executive Chef/owner Alan Jackson, it smacks of many of the same dishes his commissary caters to finicky groups like Christie’s Auction House and the Museum of Television and Radio.
These include pearly Israeli couscous, Mexican tabbouleh, Chinese long beans and Moroccan chicken. And, making a few sharp turns from imaginative international fare, he often swerves back to familiar American dishes with fanciful touches like pot roast.
Jamal Booker, Lemonade’s corporate training chef, explained some distinctive points of Jackson’s cookery. Before slicing and charring, the pencil-thin Chinese long beans can grow up to a yard long. They are prepared here with with pluots, a cross between apricots and plums that keeps the plum’s flavors. Salmon is marinated in a Yucatecan paste made from fre, musky-flavored achiote seeds.
Booker, who previously worked for TV restaurant repairman Gordon Ramsay, said Mexican Tabbouleh is made from steamed, dried and crushed bulgur wheat, enhanced by black beans, diced jicama, chopped cilantro and Feta-like crumbles of cotija, plus a sweet jalapeno sauce.
Not only conceived in ethnic variety, the menu also opens to historic and biblical accouterments. In the mix of Beluga Lentils is protein-rich quinoa (KEEN-wah) — once the “mother grain” and staple of the Incas.
In the ham sandwich, the cheese is Spain’s manchego, which originated on the storied plains of La Mancha. Its spread, essence of quince, has ancient Middle Eastern origins. Taken from a fruit now in season but not seen in Pasadena for thousands of years, it is scrolled that the tartly delicious apple-pear hybrid quince was the true downfall of Adam and Eve.
The sandwich’s bread is made from rosemary, the herb once used in medieval times to cure diseases of the nervous system, like heresy. I couldn’t break away. For $9, I found one-half was large enough to satisfy me for lunch, and later, the other half made for a dandy midnight snack at home.
One-half is a good deal here. Some 25 appetizer plates are $4.25 each. But the items can be split, so that for $4.25 you can get generous portions of two different appetizers on the same plate. Try Brussels sprouts with shaved Parmesan and nectarine rice with white cheddar.
With six lemonades to pour, the cafeteria has something good for everybody. But what about the noise? Just say “eh” and keep digging in.
146 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena