Of all the recent trends in restaurants, the gastropub is up there with my favorites. The traditional public house (or “pub”) is one of the oldest forms of eating outside of the home.
After all, the modern restaurant didn’t come into being until the late 18th century, when the French aristocrats were toppled and their personal chefs were forced to hit the bricks. Europe’s old road houses couldn’t contend with such highly skilled competition, and for the most part never evolved beyond offering simple fare for simple tastes.
Unlike a traditional pub, today’s gastropub takes the comfort food from Europe’s commoners (bratwurst, fish n’ chips, cassoulet) and puts it in the hands of modern chefs. The key is to ratchet up these conventional dishes in subtle ways while still preserving their familiar and unassuming natures. In short, it’s fancy bar food, and the new Fatty’s Public House does it well.
On La Cienega Boulevard, just over WeHo’s border, Fatty’s sits on the site of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s former residence. I had to refresh my memory on this Prohibition-era A-Lister: In 1921 the silent film star attended a wild party at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, where he allegedly raped a liquored-up starlet in one of the suites. She died four days later at a sanatorium that was known to perform abortions.
So … anyone getting hungry yet?
To be fair, Fatty Arbuckle — the man who mentored Charlie Chaplin and discovered Buster Keaton and Bob Hope — was acquitted of his charges, but not before the scandal ruined his illustrious career. Those who knew him said he was a shy and decent man. So there’s no need to feel squeamish about setting foot in Arbuckle’s old digs, especially when the food and service are this good.
From the moment I arrive at Fatty’s Public House, the warm hospitality melts away all thoughts of a scurrilous past. As the man himself would say, the joint is “hittin’ on all sixes.” It’s a lively dining room, with a retractable ceiling that softens the din and makes the space feel more like a patio than a parlor. The front of the house is overstaffed with floor managers and servers criss-crossing the room to address any concerns patrons might have. A mural of Fatty and the Hollywood sign and several televisions surround the dining area, and at the far end of the room a glass wall gives a view into the bustling kitchen.
A dame in suspenders ushers me to one of the many tables where I peruse the menu in the glow of Edison bulbs. There are several signature cocktails, but I forego the giggle juice and opt for one of the dozen beers on tap while I snack on the herbed popcorn that has appeared at my table in a little metal bucket. Before long, the $14 crab cake arrives; it’s the size of my fist. Crispy outside, creamy inside and topped with micro greens, it sits beside segments of pink grapefruit. It disappears quickly.
The menu offers a wide variety of choices: meatloaf, potpie, pork chops, fish n’ chips, a short rib burrito … but the five pizzas have me intrigued. There’s one with chicken curry, another with lamb sausage and manchego; I go for the al pastor.
For 15 clams I get a 12-inch pie loaded with pulled pork, pineapple and chilies. It’s very good, the outer crust thin and crispy, and it really would have been the cat’s pajamas if the center held up and had not been soggy. Would I order it again? As of press time I probably already have.
On the other hand, the chicken and waffles ($14) were flawless. Hand-battered chicken breasts are pounded thin, pan-fried golden brown, sprinkled with a zestful orange relish and draped over a vanilla-scented Belgian waffle. A side of warm maple syrup complements the dish.
Everything about the meal this night was top of the heap. Every time I needed anything (or even looked like I needed anything) a member of the restaurant staff was at hand. The portions were generous, and the prices reasonable.
Fatty’s is the bee’s knees, and as much as I wanted to stay, I had to head for the valet before Mr. Arbuckle and I were forced to share his nickname.
Fatty’s Public House, 829 N. La Cienega Blvd. at Willoughby, (310) 854-0756