A Classic Restored: The Clubhouse Restaurant at Griffith Park
Those in search of Old Hollywood would do well to save the fossil fuel and the shoe leather and spend the day at Griffith Park, where two venerable 18-hole courses sit in the shadow of a splendid Spanish Colonial Revival clubhouse, built in 1937 with an assist from the Works Project Administration.
Just down the road, the Observatory made famous in Rebel Without a Cause still attracts selfie-seekers posing like James Dean and Natalie Wood, and the Autry Museum of the American West and Los Angeles Zoo are just a solid drive and a five-iron away.
The Wilson and Harding layouts keep the turnstiles twirling for the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, as does the Griffith Park Clubhouse bar and restaurant, a faithfully restored and elegant eatery where one can easily imagine luminaries like Babe Ruth or architect George C. Thomas nursing a cold ale on a sweltering summer afternoon. Sadly, precious little remains of Thomas’s original routing, but locals don’t seem to mind. Next to Rancho Park, these are Tinseltown’s toughest tee-times to book.
Same with the Clubhouse, where the wood-beamed vaulted ceilings look down on a constant stream of noisome duffers, fresh from a drubbing on the turf. The thick stucco walls and red-brick walkways have been lovingly restored by operator AM Best Food, who also run the popular Los Feliz Cafe at the nine-holer just down the hill from Griffith Park.
Partners Mike Azarian and Tadeh Zadoorian oversaw the demolition and restoration of the restaurant just as COVID hit, complicating an already Byzantine process of staying faithful to the historic building’s look and feel. Aside from a few anachronistic flat-screens above the well-stocked bar, you’d fully expect to see Clark Gable and Jimmy Cagney hanging out there.
I had the pleasure of lunching on the spacious outdoor terrace with Zadoorian (and his devoted daughter Soseh) recently and was utterly charmed by his soft-spoken humility and passion for food. Zadoorian is a long way from Iran, where he ran a two-man sandwich cart that saw lines of a hundred people at a time, from 11 in the morning till midnight! “The next day, I’d have to shop, every day shopping, because it was a small place and there was no room to store food.”
Nowadays, with the American dream of leaving Iran behind fulfilled, the round-the-clock hard work continues unabated. It’s not unusual to see Zadoorian at the break of dawn keeping a keen eye on things in the kitchen, even donning an apron when circumstances demand. In fact, when a chef left early at Los Feliz Cafe one weekend morning, Zadoorian ran the busy kitchen singlehandedly and was besieged by grateful diners afterwards wondering why the food was even better than usual.
“Thirty-five years I worked in the kitchen, and people could tell I was trying to make everything perfect,” he said with a satisfied smile.
Despite his absence from the kitchen as we lunched, the food was way above average for golf course fare. A sampler platter featuring fried shrimp, mozzarella sticks, French fries and chicken wings was outstanding — crisp and hot and served with a spicy marinara sauce as well as chipotle mayo.
I went back for breakfast a few days later (and to search fruitlessly for a Callaway 8-iron I’d lost on the course), and was well-pleased with the eggs benedict and crispy hash browns, served adjacent to the practice chipping area on the terrace, which also doubles as an outdoor event space for weddings and corporate shindigs.
Zadoorian’s crispy chicken wings are a nod to Asian-inspired cuisine. He’s proud that his clientele wholeheartedly approves. Burgers and sandwiches round out the daily menu, as well as a quartet of pasta dishes and barbecued St. Louis ribs.
“I hope next time you come, I can make you my short ribs — they’re not on the menu but sometimes we have short rib quesadillas or tacos. I think you’d like them very much,” he said.
After enumerating how brutally difficult it is to operate in the black since the double whammy of COVID and inflation (foodstuffs are three times more costly nowadays), Zadoorian confesses that profit is not his prime motivation. “When I sit here and see this view, and people tell me how happy they are with our food, that’s good enough for me. I don’t work just for the money, I do it from my heart.”