Do you remember a few years ago when Anthony Bourdain championed a writer from South Dakota named Marilyn Hagerty? If I remember the story correctly, someone made fun of Hagerty’s writing and Bourdain stuck up for her. He ended up writing the forward to her book – a collection of reviews.
Hagerty reviews restaurants in South Dakota – from diners and coffee shops to fast food spots and chains like Olive Garden. (For what it’s worth and at risk of straying even farther off topic she also traveled the world and is an experienced diner of cuisines the world over.) There is/was a quaintness to Hagerty’s writing, an earnestness that in some ways also describes the places she reviews in a place where the best chefs and the latest dining trends are just something one reads about on the Internet.
As it happens, I like Hagerty’s approach and for some reason I’m thinking about it as I recall our dinner from Phil Trani’s this past weekend.
I’ve been going to Phil Trani’s for maybe 25 years. I used to write sports and was good friends with the late Joe MacDonnell, an L.A. institution on sports talk radio. Phil Trani’s was one of Joe’s spots and I used to go with him, even got to visit the kitchen a few times. On our most recent visit, I saw Phil hanging out with some friends, but he no longer remembers me and I didn’t say hello.
How do I describe Phil Trani’s?
The menu is old school. Steaks and seafood. A selection of Italian specialties. Homemade soups and fresh salads. Big portions. Well-poured drinks of the Old Fashioned/Manhattan variety. Live music in the bar. Sports on the TVs with the sound off.
Phil Trani’s has a long association with the L.A. sports scene. The old Los Angeles Rams used to hang out there – guys like Fred Dryer. Tom Mack’s jersey hangs on the ceiling. That’s old school. There are helmets and stuff on the wall of the bar, but it’s not at all a sports bar. Go in on a Saturday night during football season and the place is packed with people on their way home from the USC or maybe the UCLA game. It’s old school, it’s venerable. The booths are spacious and the chairs are huge – like arm chairs.
What about the food?
Well, I really like it.
We always order the fried calamari strips to start. My go to dish when I don’t know what I want are the sand dabs, which are lightly breaded and fried. I start with the salad, though my son swears by the lentil soup. The clam chowder is good, too. My wife went with the pot roast, younger son the bone-in rib eye, older son the veal scallopine. You get your usual choice of sides: mashed, baked, or pasta with fresh vegetables.
We enjoy our visits to Phil Trani’s every time we go. It’s a good meal in a fun place. If we lived in Long Beach we’d go more often.
I have a habit of adding caveats to my posts here. I admit it: I have a thing for hole in the walls and family run spots and venerable old places. There’s a vibe in these places that enhances the experience even if dish for dish some other spot might be better. Of course, atmosphere doesn’t trump bad food. (True story: We go to Joe Petrelli’s in Culver City about once every three years. Every time we go, we remember why we don’t go there. Apologies to those who dig it, but that’s a venerable spot where the vibe isn’t enough to make you forget that the food just isn’t that great.)
So, does Phil Trani’s offer the best steak? The best veal? The best sand dabs? I dunno. Are James Bond movies the best movies? Probably not. But we all see them and we all like them – even if they don’t get the industry award. So it is with Phil Trani’s, in my own humble opinion of course. The food is good, the place is fun, the prices reasonable, the portions filling, the service really good and the crowd is relaxed – you don’t need to be a regular to eat at Phil’s.
Would I drive across town to eat at Trani’s? I guess I would because I do. Should you? I dunno. But if you find yourself near the LBC and are looking for a good place for a solid meal that’s off the beaten path, you might like it, too.