Downtown Los Angeles is a breeding ground for fresh, new dining experiences and one particular gem, set back on one of the many dark side streets, is The Escondite: a gastropub offering a vast selection of craft beers, creative dishes served until 1am and live music seven days a week. Escondite means hideout in Spanish, and walking into this vast, low-lit place takes you away from the asphalt and high-rises outside, to a Western-style refuge; but for those who don't feel the need to hide, there's a dog-friendly patio with a picturesque view of the skyline. And to top it all off, there's free parking (in an actual lot!) after 6pm.
Comedian and host of podcast "Conversations with Matt Dwyer," Matt Dwyer, is a self-proclaimed fan of The Escondite, specifically its Buffalo mushrooms. We sit down to try them, among other things, and talk about his dog, vegetarianism and the Dalai Lama.
Matt: Sorry, I'm slightly hung over, I had a crappy day yesterday because I found out my dog has worms.
Rebecca: Aww. What kind of dog do you have?
Matt: He's some kind of weird stray -- he has a beard. His name is Charlie. I'm partly playing though, but I did drink six beers and listen to the Beach Boys last night.
Rebecca: What kind of beer are you ordering tonight? I ordered the Lightening since I'm partial to amber ales.
Matt: You know, I always get some kind of beer, but I don't like the ambers so much.
Rebecca: How'd you find out about this place?
Matt: My friend Brian Tranum owns it. He also owns this other bar that I kind of sometimes work at, Bar 107. We used to do comedy together in Chicago.
Our server arrives and shrieks "Hello Matt Dwyer!" They hug and Matt orders a Smith Ale. Classic rock songs, the ones you know the words to, flow through the speakers as a band sets up for the night.
Matt: I came here opening day; it's one of my favorite places. It's just been open a little over a year. The food is pretty damn good.
Rebecca: What's your usual?
Matt: I actually just changed my entire way of eating, I don't eat meat now, but it used to be the Captain Macleod burger with bleu cheese and sautéed mushrooms.
Rebecca: Why vegetarian?
Matt: That's not an easy question to answer; my father was killed by cows.
Rebecca: (uncomfortable silence)
Matt: Just kidding. The concept of hurting other life, unless it's small children, bothers me.
Rebecca: I see.
Matt: I have a lot of issues with industrialized farming. I think you vote more with your dollar than you do in the booth. I try not to shop at any major grocery stores. It's difficult, but I do the best I can.
Rebecca: Do you support prop 37? Where genetically-modified foods will have to be labeled as such?
Matt: I can't believe that's not already a thing. That reminds me of one of my [podcast] interviews with a female butcher. She worked at a popular health food store chain and said she saw meat that wasn't ready to go out, go out.
Rebecca: Oh, that's no good.
Matt: No, it isn't. It's not good for you.
Rebecca: So what do you eat now that you're a vegetarian?
Matt: I eat pine needles on the trees outside of my house.
Rebecca: How do you feel?
Matt: I feel lighter.
Rebecca: Do you miss anything?
Matt: No, not really. I'm wondering about that. I feel like I've stuffed enough B.S. in my face over my many years, I'd like now to avoid that, but I haven't been back to Chicago yet.
Rebecca: Oh, pizza and hot dogs?
Matt: Italian beef sandwiches actually, which they have a version of here, The Escondite. They're kind of like a French dip.
Rebecca: How long have you lived in L.A.?
Matt: I'm from Chicago and lived in New York for a while and I've been here 10 and a half years.
Rebecca: So between Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, which one's the best?
Matt: San Francisco.
The server returns with our beers and we order fried pickles and Buffalo mushrooms to start, along with our main courses. Matt decides on The Boss Hog with a veggie patty and our photographer Hagop and I split a Fat Albert burger and a Captain Kangaroo burger because it's too hard to choose.
Rebecca: Interesting that you're a vegetarian but took me to a burger place.
Matt: It's because of the Buffalo mushrooms. They're one of the best things here, they're great. It's fried mushrooms in Buffalo wing sauce.
Rebecca: I look forward to trying them.
The fried pickles and Buffalo mushrooms arrive in plastic baskets lined with paper. The pickles come with a sweet and spicy sauce and the mushrooms come with ranch.
Matt: I really like spicy things. I like Buffalo wings and all that, but they're kind of a pain in the ass, so this is kind of the best of both worlds. And you don't get all that weird chicken stuff in your teeth.
Rebecca: It's not overly fried, it's really light. You can barely tell it's a mushroom.
Matt: My friend who hates mushrooms loves these.
While the spicy, tender and warm Buffalo mushrooms are the superstars of the show, the fried pickles, sliced dills battered in a crunchy, yet cake-light coating, hold their own.
Matt: Brian designed the look of this place; it's all his doing. It's funny because I knew him in Chicago and expected his place to be a disaster, but his apartment was impeccably vintage, very well put together, not what I expected.
Rebecca: Totally his dream and his vision?
Matt: Yep. He's worked at a lot of restaurants and he's always loved food. When he first moved here he'd grill out of the back of his truck and come up with these crazy burgers. Sometimes I'd be like, that sounds awful, but they were freaking great.
Our burgers and fries arrive. I assumed the bun on my Fat Albert would be a bun-donut hybrid, but it's literally a glazed donut, hole and all. A tall, built man who looks like he could break someone in half visits our table as the food arrives - his t-shirt has puppy dogs on it.. It's Brian, the owner, and I like him immediately.
Rebecca: Your shirt is amazing
Brian: Thanks, it's how I feel on the inside.
Matt: They loved the Buffalo mushrooms.
Rebecca: Where'd you come up with these?
Brian: I guess I did it because I love Buffalo wings, so we unleashed the Buffalo mushrooms. We're home of the Buffalo mushroom. Tastes like chicken though, doesn't it?
Rebecca: Totally does!
Brian: We also have brunch, the best chicken and waffles you'll have and the best French toast. And during happy hour, all our apps are $3 to $5.
Rebecca: Including the mushrooms?
Brian: Including the mushrooms.
I try my half of The Fat Albert. It's a beast of a burger: a juicy beef patty with provolone, applewood smoked bacon and maple syrup, all stacked between a glazed donut. The thought of combining the two comfort foods made my arteries quiver, but the sweet and savory flavors are so perfectly balanced, I almost forget I'm eating a donut and a burger at the same time. It's not greasy, but does leave your fingers sticky.
Rebecca: Your Boss Hog apparently comes with "special crunch." What is that?
Matt: Fritos. It's really good.
The Boss Hog is topped with sour cream, vegetarian chili, cheddar cheese and special crunch. After finishing the Fat Albert, I move on to the Captain Kangaroo, which includes an over easy egg, hash browns, cheddar, Canadian bacon, gravy and Cholula hot sauce. It's rich, drippy and crunchy all at the same time. It's breakfast for dinner.
Rebecca: So Brian is your bestie? I wish he was mine.
Matt: He's one of my besties, but I don't think you can rate your friends. Fortunately I have a lot of great friends. I have some amazing friends. Most of them are from Chicago but they do the same garbage I do, so they all live out here now.
Rebecca: What kind of garbage is that?
Matt: Comedy, in one form or the other.
Rebecca: How often do you do "Conversations with Matt Dwyer?"
Matt: I try to do a couple a week.
Rebecca: And your subjects don't have to be famous, right? You don't think people need to be famous to be interesting?
Matt: I guess some of the people are pseudo-famous but not mainstream famous.
Rebecca: What does famous mean to you?
Matt: Somebody with gigantic holes in the center of their being that have to be affirmed. I think fame is a really weird thing to strive for; I mean, I did it for a huge portion of my life. I started hanging around Second City when I was a teenager so I've always been around it, but it seems like a disease sometimes.
Rebecca: If you could interview anyone who would it be?
Matt: I think I'd want to talk with the Dalai Lama. He would be the most interesting person to me. He is the realist of leaders, not afraid to be wrong, and always handles things best.
Rebecca: That's a good one. I loved your podcast with Pete O'Neal.
Matt: Pete's amazing, isn't he?
Rebecca: Yes. It was all very educational.
Matt: Good, that's my hope for the show. I want it to make people ask questions.
Rebecca: Here's a question: Do you ever get dessert here?
Matt: I've had the fried Snickers.
While dessert is completely unnecessary at this point, we finish off the night with an Oreo mousse cake, which tastes like ice cream and frosting had a love child. As we (mostly I) dig into our last course, a man with a substantial mustache greets Matt to eagerly show him a cell phone video of his drunk friend. Matt bursts out in contagious laughter and we all double over, mostly from hilarity, but a little from fullness. At the Escondite, mushrooms taste like chicken, the big boss feels like a puppy inside and everyone knows Matt Dwyer's name.