SUNDAY DRIVE: What Could Be More Italian Than Colombo’s in Eagle Rock

September 8, 2017
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I have been a fan of Casa Bianca, the family-run, we-take-only-cash restaurant that is an Eagle Rock icon. So when Colleen and I were finishing up at a house in Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco that she will soon be putting on the market, I suggested we go to the Italian eatery.

We were on our way, driving west on Colorado Blvd., on a Thursday night about 7:30, when I saw that Casa Bianca was dark. My first thought was, “How was it possible that this Italian institution had shuttered its doors.”

Ye of little faith. Colleen knew better. The owners had closed their little cash cow to go on vacation. And she was right. After Colleen called the restaurant as we whisked by, she learned that they would be returning around September 19.

Whew. With one scare mollified, we still had to deal with another. Where were we going to eat? Now. Eagle Rock, in hipster north L.A. County, is a hotbed of trendy restaurants, both new and old — The Oinkster, Cafe Beaujolais, Blue Hen, Little Beast, Eagle Rock Brewery, Cindy’s, Classic Thai, etc., etc., but once we had the idea of Italian in our heads, we couldn’t shake it.

Still weaving west, in and out of the designated bike lanes, we passed Colombo’s Italian Steak House and Jazz Club, nothing more Italian-sounding than that, and Colleen was well familiar with its reputation as a restaurant that had been mentioned in the same positive reviews as other Italian-inspired restaurants as Union, Sotto, Dan Tana’s and Love and Salt. So after passing it once, I U-turned and parked on a side street with lots of friendly, well-lit Craftsman homes, and we walked in.

Immediately, we were greeted with a smile and seated in these large classic red booths that swallowed us with a warm, comfortable charm.  Seconds later, we were handed menus, water and a basket of lightly-seasoned garlic bread.

While we sat cozily in a large, spacious dining room, we could look over to the bar section, separated by some kitschy Christmas lights, where patrons were watching the Patriots-Chiefs NFL opener on three different television screens. But the bar wasn’t full of rowdies or super-charged NFL Neanderthals. The game merely seemed like a pleasant distraction to the important neighborhood conversations taking place.

Columbo’s menu is quite expansive, but the restaurant features daily specials, so seeing the Thursday trout highlighted, we both went fishing. Now, that’s a little odd, I know, but we both felt like something on the lighter side, and it came with a choice of soup or salad and vegetables. The spaghetti and mostaccioli would have to wait for another time.

The salads arrived promptly. The leaves were crisp, but the dressings were a little runny. I never quite get that. Why dilute bleu cheese, ranch or thousand island dressing to save a few pennies.

The trout arrived shortly thereafter. It was breaded and a little underseasoned for my taste, but it looked beautiful on the plate with the al dente broccoli and green and yellow squash. While noshing away and filling up quickly (too much bread, of course), the jazz band started up, serving as a perfect complement to the convivial room.

There was simply this easy vibe in the air that made us both feel as if we had been coming here for years. There was no push, no rush, no feeling of being hustled. The service was easy and flawless. We were made to feel as if we could stay and listen all night. The atmosphere was joyful. Looking at the other diners — young and old, regulars and newbies, hipsters and squares — we felt we belonged there.

Feeling a bit of a betrayal for not ordering something quintessentially Italian, or that at least had some red tomato sauce on it, we also ordered a sausage and pepperoni pizza to go. I snagged a piece when I got home before watching “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert. It was thin-crust style as we had requested and had some zing to it.

Colombo’s isn’t at the forefront of Italian cuisine, but the restaurant is clearly comfortable in its own skin and it’s that quiet confidence that also puts diners at ease.

Next time, it’s music and mostaccioli. It’s always good to have a backup plan, especially when you know you’ll be treated like a regular even though you’re new to the neighborhood.

1833 Colorado Blvd, Eagle Rock, 323.254.9138. $$-$$$

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