Golden State was pretty much like any other night at Golden State. You walk in, you're greeted with earnest warmth, you invariably run into someone you know, and mouthwatering food, Scoops ice cream, and a ridiculously good beer list are all at your disposal. Except last night, the kitchen guys relinquished the grill so that Mexicali Tacos could take over, and instead of burgers, they were vending cachetadas, vampiros and other awesome/exotic combinations of grilled tortillas, melted cheese and copious amounts of meat (more details on the food here). After all, it was a celebration: The Golden State turned two years old on Monday!
It was good to be there. I've felt like a part of Golden State since the very beginning. I was there at Jason's mom's house, when Samir made the very first incarnation of The Burger, and then expected us to put into words how delicious the thing was in focus-group-esque questionnaires that helped determine the menu that the cafe still offers today. (We also got a taste of the legendary beer affogato: Jolly Pumpkin's dark ale, mulled with spices, reduced to a syrup, and poured hot over Scoops brown bread ice cream. Unholy good.)
When they painted the outside of the shop, I dragged myself out of bed and up Fairfax to come take photos. I hung around during back-and-forth with contractor after contractor. Over months, I heard every detail of city codes, regulations, and licenses, and began to wonder if the restaurant would ever open.
Open they did, and I was there the first night (pictured above). It became my go-to when I was hungry for food and socialization. I could walk the three blocks from my apartment and know I'd be among friends. Jason would chat about beer, I'd get updates from Jim as he went from newlywed to homeowner, to dog owner, to dad, and when they were busy, Rene would entertain me between grilling burgers with his absolutely nonsensical conversation. I even did a stint behind the counter one afternoon! After my first taste of the Golden State Salad, I chided Jason and Jim about my new least favorite thing amidst a menu of knockouts. We almost got in a fight that day, but now it's our joke: they threatened to name it after me, and now every time I go in there, they offer me a Sassooni Salad.
When I did a blog mash-up with Food Marathon, taking him through my hood, I made sure gstate was on the itinerary. We were greeted there by my dear friend Nick -- Jim's brother visiting from New York, and after a bunch of other friends showed up still reeling from dinner at animal, an after-hours dance party erupted in the place.
Jim and Jason kindly contributed to No Cookie Left Behind the last 2 years (though they had to hold down the fort at the restaurant during the actual event); they've been nothing but supportive. They hooked me up with bake sale contributor Kristin Feuer of Bakelab (back when it was Laurel Avenue Bakery) after she brought them a box of cookies, unprompted, to sell at the restaurant. And after the 2009 bake sale, satisfied, but totally spent from a full day of bake sale action, nothing felt better than plopping down in their familiar dining room, sipping a cold beer, and watching the Lakers beat the Magic in the playoffs.
It's pretty amazing. A couple knuckleheads don't have a mite of experience with restaurants, but have excellent taste and undeniably keen intuition. And within 2 years, their place is named one of Jonathan Gold's 99 Essential Los Angeles Restaurants. Though I don't live in the neighborhood anymore, the Golden State is essential to me, too, and for me it's also a source of great pride in my friends. Here's to many more beers, many more burgers, and many more years of success for Jim, Jason, and the Golden State Cafe.
Golden State Cafe is located at 426 N. Fairfax Ave., 1 1/2 blocks north of Beverly.