High on Life at North End Caffe
Ben Calderwood Wiener trifecta
Creole, Opie and Tijuana are not strains of medicinal marijuana--at least not in this section of the LA Weekly online. They are the fellowship of hot dogs that compose North End Caffe's insidious, kamikaze Trio of Dawgs. Two are coiled with bacon, two are tucked among multiple slices of cheese--the third is slicked with avocado--and each presents a full-spectrum assault on the senses courtesy of creole mayo, slugs of Crystal hot sauce, spicy salt, French's yellow mustard or shreds of red onion and cilantro. The dogs themselves are spindly, irregular things, drooping well beyond the bun and bruised and split from their trip to the grill. There is no excuse for consuming even one of them, much less three, other than the fact that it satisfies to the very Jungian depths of the psyche.
The Trio was recently featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives--a poster-size glossy of the The Next Food Network Star alum materialized above the espresso counter after the episode aired. Fieri, of course, is responsible for the rock-n-roll sushi-bbq concept and collects a paycheck from TGI Friday's. North End Caffe will do just fine without his imprimatur.
This tiny corner beach café, painted Lime Julius-green and barely larger than a two-car garage, features a menu that peaks somewhere north of 100 items, not counting the coffee bar or the motley roster of dinner specials. It's almost ingratiating, this feature-length rap sheet of dishes with names like Highlander, Eggs from Hell and Huevos Divorciados (not a North End original but a personal favorite), that John Woo-inspired face-off of bacon versus sausage, cheddar versus jack and rojo versus verde salsa atop two bitterly opposed eggs.
Ben Calderwood Fieri's local color
The Zachary is a breakfast win, egg fried hard, bacon and brie frosted with raspberry jam. Upon first bite, the sweet-acid fruit plows into the depths of the sandwich like a bombjack slinging explosives down a borehole, where it detonates among the strata of protein and fat, simultaneously deflecting and complementing the richness of the dish.
For lunch there is more dizzying nomenclature, burgers--cooked medium unless you specify otherwise, and then still cooked medium--called Mannix and Flash, sandwiches like the Kirburt, the Carolina Bomb and the hearty veg Greeko, organic greens, tomato, pesto, dill pickle and caramelized onions mounded atop a fat lozenge of goat cheese. Most sandwiches default to a rubbery, mass-produced baguette. Ask for the sourdough instead.
Tables are impossible to come by during the lunch and weekend breakfast rush, but the staff, amiable under pressure, ought to have your to-go order up in about 15-20 minutes (less if it doesn't require a stove), regardless of the crush. When the crowds abate and you can claim a window seat or outdoor table, this is a wonderful place to linger over coffee or house-made ginger limeade. The sands of Manhattan Beach beckon about 500 yards away down a steep walk street, and the air and the attitude are doped by the sea.
North End Caffe: 3421 Highland Avenue, Manhattan Beach; (310) 546-4782.