“I write about taco stands and fancy French restaurants to try to get people less afraid of their neighbors and to live in their entire city…” — Jonathan Gold
Writer and Altadena resident Jervey Tervalon says his best friend, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer, Jonathan Gold, was “absolutely fearless.”
Gold, who would have turned 60 on July 28, lived in northeast Pasadena for over 20 years with his wife, L.A. Times editor Laurie Ochoa and their two children, before his untimely passing from pancreatic cancer in 2018.
Tervalon was Gold’s long-time wingman accompanying the intrepid critic in his beloved battered pick-up truck to distant corners of Los Angeles ferreting out obscure ethnic specialties hidden in strip malls or tasting the latest gastro-experiments from high-end avant-garde chefs.
Tervalon has a cameo in the documentary “City of Gold” released in 2015 and directed by Laurie Gabbert, which chronicled Gold’s L.A. beat and his inspirations as a critic and food writer. He was known to be consummately generous as a critic and went out of his way to identify restaurants and chefs, who were otherwise unknown and struggling. As the film illustrates, Gold’s benevolent attention saved businesses and families.
“He made me famous,” Rosario Mazzeo of Roma Market and the inventor of “The Sandwich” (PW 5/20) says. When asked if Gold coined the name for the eponymous icon, Mazzeo shakes his head but with more emphasis repeats, “He made me famous!”
Roma Market was one of several local favorites Gold cited in my one precious extended conversation with him at a dinner party years ago. The now-closed “Slaw Dogs” had just opened on Lake Avenue. Having been there a couple of times and figuring I had a hot tip, I asked if he had checked it out. He simply replied, “Didn’t you see my review today?” You could not scoop the guy.
It’s the day after the second anniversary of Gold’s passing and I’m sitting with Tervalon at the lovely breezy and shaded outdoor dining area of Bulgarini’s (PW 7/9). Gelato maestro Leo Bulgarini was also a favorite and close friend of Gold’s, who discovered Bulgarini’s gelato when the budding chef was scooping it from a pushcart in the courtyard of the Pacific Asia Museum in 2006.
In my initial conversation with Bulgarini he allowed, “What helped us stay alive was that Jonathan wrote about us.” He recounts a series of chance meetings with Gold in Italy, who was on tour with chef Nancy Silverton. Meeting in Naples for pizza and sharing smuggled balls of fresh mozzarella during intermission at the Roman Opera, the two quickly bonded.
Bulgarini brings us our lunch of Pici al ‘Aglione – thick hand-pressed noodles, as fat as udon, slathered with piquant garlic tomato sauce—and hot oven-fresh focaccia, as Tervalon recalls tagging along with Gold on culinary adventures in Guadalajara and New Orleans. Tervalon met Gold in high school, when Gold’s mother was the head librarian at Dorsey High School, where Tervalon was a student. The two became close friends when Gold served on staff at the L.A. Weekly in the mid-1980s and Tervalon’s writing career was just taking off. Gold was best man at Tervalon’s wedding and the two friends were integral to the founding of Pasadena LitFest, which Tervalon still oversees.
So where did Gold hang out in Pasadena? From my long ago conversation with him, besides Roma Market, he mentioned Burrito Express on Washington Boulevard (PW 2/5 ), where I, too, endorse the JVC Burrito and Tonny’s, now Vero’s (PW 7/2), on Orange Grove, where he regularly enjoyed the fresh-made juices, which Vero’s still offers. Tervalon recalls Gold’s effusive interest in “a German butcher shop in Montrose,” which we surmise to be Gelsinger’s Meats Market Deli, where Gold apparently sourced beef cheeks.
Euro Pane bakery was on Gold’s local circuit before founding master baker Sumi Chang sold the operation in 2017. Further-flung personal favorites of Gold’s included La Super Rica in Santa Barbara and the venerable Jocko’s Steakhouse in Nipomo, where he would escort an entourage for steak and burger expeditions.
Our pasta bowls are now empty save for a slick of sauce, when Leo Bulgarini returns with scoops of his favorite gelato combination: strawberry and mascarpone. “C’mon Jervey … what else you got?” Silence ensues as we sink into momentary gelato rapture. Finally, Tervalon offers, “Conrad’s.”
“Conrad’s?” The 40-year old “family-style” diner on Walnut and Lake that also notably advertised “cocktails” had long puzzled me but not strongly enough for a visit. It seemed an unlikely regular landing for Gold but then again, maybe not. “He could relax there,” Tervalon explains. Conrad’s has closed temporarily during the lockdown but still advertises for takeout. If they’re on the menu, the chicken livers were Gold’s go-to order.
OK, here’s the first posthumous list of Jonathan Gold’s personal local favorites:
• Roma Market
• Burrito Express
• Tonny’s (now Vero’s)
• Gelsinger’s Deli (Montrose)
• La Super Rica (Santa Barbara)
• Jocko’s Steakhouse (Nipomo)
It seems a blessing and a curse and perhaps also a sign of Gold’s prescient sense of timing that he is missing from the pandemic’s interminable havoc and mayhem. We can only wonder what he might make of it. As Tervalon suggests via email following our lunch at Bulgarini’s, “He’d be chasing taco trucks wearing a mask.”
Regardless, rest assured, Gold still haunts the beat.