This final installment in our series on Altadena’s food culture looks at some established and emerging trends and players as the town is increasingly recognized as a place where new culinary ideas are conceived, tested and tasted.
Institute for Domestic Technology: One of the offshoots of the now-closed Altadena Urban Farmer’s Market, the institute uses a rather steampunk name while offering a selection of courses on food crafting, usually held at the Zane Grey Estate. Shepherded by Joseph Shuldiner, who is working to bring a certified farmer’s market to Altadena, the institute has fall and winter classes on stovetop coffee roasting, artisanal cocktail mixing and homemade liqueurs and bitters. Instructors include Joshua McIver, director of mixology at Palate Food & Wine of Glendale; Ian Riley, coffee roaster at LAMILL Coffee in Alhambra; and Gloria Putnam and Stephen Rudicel, the residents of the Zane Grey Estate who teach “milkcrafting,” or making your own cheese, chevre, and cottage cheese with fresh goat milk. Rudicel also owns and operates The Press restaurant in Claremont.
Bulgarini Gelato: Bulgarini is one of the local institutions LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold reviewed when he received his 2007 Pulitzer Prize for food criticism. Leo Bulgarini has since moved from a cart to a real gelateria, hidden in the back of a tired shopping mall on Altadena Drive and Lake Avenue. During one summer visit, the smell of peaches ripening in crates outside the shop was pleasantly overpowering — Bulgarini uses only fresh, mostly local ingredients in his handmade delights, which have received international recognition. While he makes his nut supplying restaurants on L.A.’s west side with gelato, the native of Rome does good business here at home, and has recently remodeled the shop to include an espresso bar. On warm summer Saturdays, you can order a pasta meal and watch a free Italian movie projected on the wall of the building outside. Bulgarini Gelato is a spoonful of Italy right in Altadena.
Fancy food trucks: It’s not all handmade, organic, urban homesteading in Altadena — food truck culture is alive, well and vibrant. It probably started when the Kogi Korean barbecue truck first made an appearance in Altadena in the summer of 2009. Since then, Altadenans have fallen in love with their gourmet food trucks. It’s a rare night when there’s no food truck parked near the Coffee Gallery or at the local Ralphs supermarket, which favors the
A Rockin Ice shaved ice truck. The stores at the Webster’s complex at 2450 N. Lake Ave. draw families as well as hipsters to the monthly Fancy Food Truck Friday event in their parking lot, with an ever-changing rotation of six trucks. This month the Sidewalk Cafe, a new West Pasadena coffee house just across the street from Altadena, hosts a late night Thursday lineup of food trucks for that underserved part of town.
Will Altadena become the next Williamsburg — the trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., which also has a food-centric scene? Hard to tell. Altadena’s food culture is home-based and small-scale. It will no doubt develop to be its own only-in-Altadena experience.
At the moment, Altadena is a town with a food scene, but no “destination” restaurant. That may change soon: Zane Grey Estate owner and restaurateur Stephen Rudicel recently announced that he’s acquired a property and hopes to build a wood-fired gourmet pizza restaurant in his hometown — along with a food truck version, of course. It’s Altadena!
Timothy Rutt is the publisher and editor of Altadenablog.com. Altadena Junction appears weekly in the Sunday Valley Sun.