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Straight Out of Los Angeles (and Pasadena)

Foods Straight Out of LA

Photos, top to bottom, left to right:
French Dip sandwich by Davinic, via Wikimedia Commons;
Shirley Temple drink by cbgrfx123, via Wikimedia Commons;
Hot Fudge Sundae by ARMcGrath, via Wikimedia Commons;
Cobb Salad at Brown Derby, 2008, by Elizabeth from Lansing, MI, via Wikimedia Commons;
Cheeseburger by hellosoyeon, via Pixabay.com.

Also see: Was the Fortune Cookie Born in Los Angeles?


The French Dip Sandwich

First, the French Dip sandwich is not from French cuisine. There are two restaurants in Los Angeles that lay claim to having invented the French dip sandwich (also known as the “beef dip”). Cole's Pacific Electric Buffet at 18 East Sixth Street and Philippe the Original at 1001 North Alameda (founder Philippe Mathieu was actually French) both lay claim to originating the sandwich. Both opened in 1908 and Cole’s claims the sandwich to have been introduced in their establishment shortly after opening. Philippe’s, on the other hand, insists that the sandwich was not actually invented until 1917 or 1918 at their restaurant.

The most commonly told story of the how the French Dip sandwich came to be (attributed to Phillipe’s) is that Phillipe Mathieuaccidentally dropped a customer’s roll in beef juices and the customer (a city worker, possibly a policeman or fireman) wanted to try it anyway. The customer liked the result and the sandwich ended up in the menu. Another version says that a Philippe’s customer asked that some meat drippings not be wasted. Cole’s versions are similar to those of Phillippe’s, except that one relates that chef Jack Garlinghouse softened up the bread for a customer with sore gums.

In 2016, Thrillist claimed that the debate as to the inventor of the French Dip sandwich was resolved. They argued that the French dip sandwich was tied to Phillipe’s in newspaper articles and advertisements as far back as 1930, but no mention of the sandwich is found tied to Cole's until later. At the same time, no first-person account by Cole’s founder, Henry Cole, is on record about the creation of the sandwich, whereas, Phillipe Mathieu related his own story of the sandwich’s creation in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1951.

Both Phillippe's and Cole’s remain open. Phillippe's dips their sandwich roll in hot beef juices before putting the sandwich together. Cole's serves their sandwich with beef juices on the side. Both locations offer the sandwich "double dipped," if requested and both offer spicy mustard with their sandwich.

The Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple, 1938

Shirley Temple, 1938. Photo by Harris & Ewing, courtesy of the Library of Congress

As with most food and beverage origin stories, there is no definitive origin for the Shirley Temple drink, but most agree that it got its start during the 1930s in or near Hollywood and was invented because of child starlet Shirley Temple. The two local competing claims are that it was invented for the child star’s 10th birthday (which would have been in 1938) at Chasen’s restaurant in West Hollywood (once located at 9039 Beverly Boulevard). The other claim is that it was invented for the star at the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood (once located at 1628 North Vine Street). Either way, the story relates that she was unhappy that her parents enjoyed an alcoholic beverage that contained a maraschino cherry and that she wanted one too. So restaurant staff came up with the “mocktail” that she could enjoy. Years later, in a 1986 NPR interview with Scott Simon, Shirley Temple Black admitted that she did not like the beverage, finding it too sweet. Nevertheless, in 1988, as a soft drink maker began introducing new beverages using her name, she fought back in a lawsuit to secure any rights to use her name.

A third claim to the invention of the Shirley Temple beverage goes to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, Hawaii, a resort that Shirley Temple often visited.

Chasen’s closed in 1995. The Brown Derby in Hollywood closed in 1985.

The Hot Fudge Sundae

The legendary ice cream parlor, C.C. Brown’s (once located at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard, near Grauman’s Chinese Theater), is said to be the birthplace of the Hot Fudge Sundae, where the delicious treat was enjoyed by celebrities and tourists alike for decades. Clarence Clifton Brown, however, inventor of the treat, actually did so at the parlor’s original location at Seventh and Flower Streets in Downtown Los Angeles in 1906. His son, Cliff, moved the parlor to Hollywood in 1929 where it remained until closing in 1996.

The Cobb Salad

Brown Derby Restaurant, Hollywood, 1940s

1940s postcard featuring the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood. Published by Western Publishing & Novelty Co., Los Angeles.

There seems to be no dispute that the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood was the birthplace of the Cobb Salad. The details of its creation, however, were not so clear.

One version claims the Cobb Salad was created by owner Robert Howard Cobb (or possibly his chef, Paul J. Posti) around 1937 at the Hollywood restaurant location. The dish was thrown together as a late-night concoction of kitchen leftovers mixed with the restaurant’s French dressing. The story further relates that Sid Grauman (of Grauman's Chinese Theatre), who was with Cobb that night, shared some of the dish and liked it so much that he asked for it the following day. It went on the menu and became one of the restaurant’s signature dishes.

A second version, set earlier in 1929, the same year the Hollywood location opened, credits the restaurant’s executive chef, Robert Kreis, who, at the Hollywood location, created the salad in honor of owner Robert Cobb.

The Brown Derby in Hollywood closed in 1985.

The Cheeseburger

Plaque Honoring Creation of Cheeseburger in Pasadena

A plaque at 1500 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, original site of the Rite Spot restaurant.

The classic hamburger as we know it today (with the classic bun and meat) is credited to the 1916 invention of the hamburger bun by Walter Anderson, founder of the first Hamburger chain “White Castle.” There are a number of competing claims as to who invented the cheeseburger, including Gus Belt, founder of Steak n’ Shake, who applied in the 1930s for a trademark on the word “cheeseburger” and Louis Ballast of Denver who was actually awarded the trademark in 1944. The earliest and most commonly-cited claim, however, goes to teenager Lionel Sternberger, who, in 1924, worked as a cook at his father's restaurant in Pasadena, the “Rite Spot” (1500 West Colorado Boulevard, long closed). He then reportedly came up with the cheeseburger by experimenting with different ways to prepare a hamburger. Some claim that Sternberger’s invention occurred at a second restaurant location in Highland Park on Figueroa, but, most sources place it at the Pasadena restaurant. According to a 2012 Los Angeles Times article, a menu for the Rite Spot was found by the Pasadena Museum of History that listed a 45 cent "Aristocratic Burger: the Original Hamburger with Cheese." Although the menu was undated, it was determined to have been printed sometime prior to 1939. This, with an extra bit of additional sleuthing, lent added support to Sternberger’s claim.

O'Dell's restaurant in Los Angeles (once located at 4922 South Figueroa Boulevard) offered a cheeseburger, smothered in chili, on their 1928 menu for 25 cents.

None of the Sternberger restaurants remain open.

In a 2003 interview with the Glendale News-Press, Dotti Wian Weis, sister of Bob Wian, founder of the Bob's Big Boy restaurant chain, related that she and brother Bob both started out working at the Rite Spot in Pasadena.