Forget traditional pumpkin pie (although we’ll tell you where to find a slice of heaven) pumpkin is used in ice cream, pasta, and even hot sauce. Enjoyed in savory and sweet dishes alike, pumpkin adds flavor to any old staple. While this versatile vegetable is in season, the city awaits your gustatory exploration of all the tastes that pumpkin has to offer. They’re not just for carving anymore!
One stack of pumpkin pancakes at the bustling breakfast paradise, The Griddle Café, could feed a family of five – and five very happy people at that. Weekend waits at Griddle are long and frustrating, but just endure it for the best pancakes in the world. Yes, that’s a bold statement, but anything smothered in pumpkin puree and whipped cream deserves a pedestal. Each pancake is about 9 inches across and an inch thick. These pancakes are so big they should have their own zip code. They are not overly sweet, and their fluffy texture is divine. The fact that Griddle serves these pancakes all year round is a good indication of their popularity. So head to Griddle for your morning pumpkin fix, and greet the day the right way.
The Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax is a pumpkin lover’s playground. It’s easy to spend an entire day people watching, relaxing and eating everything pumpkin at this LA institution. $1.75 will buy you a cinnamon- and sugar-coated pumpkin muffin at Thee’s Continental Pastries.
Right around the corner in stall #212 is Light My Fire, the one-stop-shop for every hot sauce concoction imaginable. Believe it or not, one of the main ingredients in Blind Betty’s Original Recipe is pumpkin. The sauce is made in the Virgin Islands, and can enhance the flavor of anything you can think to douse it in.
Bennett’s Homemade Ice Cream and Yogurt produces the creamiest, most decadent pumpkin ice cream. As if a scoop or five wasn’t tasty enough, ask the friendly employees to make you a pumpkin ice cream milkshake. It’s bright orange and out of this world. Who knew bliss could be achieved for $5?
Ultimate Nut & Candy Co. also sells roasted and salted pumpkin seeds. The Farmer’s Market has every part of the pumpkin covered!
Every bread-lover salivates upon hearing the name La Brea Bakery, and this flour haven has its own delicious pumpkin bread rendition. A dance of aromatic seduction ensues upon entering the bakery, as the fragrance of fresh breads, pastries and small gourmet items permeate the air. The killer pumpkin bread is reminiscent of a flavored sourdough, with bits of pumpkin seeds in each bite. It’s subtle, yet strong enough to hold its own against any sandwich component.
The cloistered Contemplative Daughters of St. Dominic at the Monastery of the Angels in Hollywood have a rigorous schedule: Rise at 5am, pray and study all day, lights out at 9:15pm sharp. Yet somehow they find time to bake the most phenomenal pumpkin bread every single day. Yes, pumpkin bread made by nuns in Hollywood sounds like a "Saturday Night Live" skit, but this cake-like bread is so rich it will shut any disbeliever up – between bites that is.
Sister Mary St. Peter gave me the scoop on the origins of the strangest of the pumpkin finds. The tradition started back in the early ‘80s with Sister Mary Agnus, who inherited the secret recipe from her grandmother. Now the bread has so many die-hard fans that it is baked fresh in a rotating oven all-year round. Quietly enter the gift shop any Monday-Saturday from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and chat with one of the nuns while she pulls out a fresh loaf of pumpkin bread ($7) that is holy in its goodness.
A foodie war is currently being waged by cupcake fans at Leda’s Bake Shop in Sherman Oaks and Sprinkles Cupcakes cohorts in Beverly Hills (tempting battles can be witnessed on Chowhound.com). Both haven’t been open for more than seven months, but both are attracting the sugar-obsessed with their orgiastic pumpkin cupcakes.P> Sprinkles’ pastry chef and co-owner, Candace Nelson, artfully displays her cupcakes in a mod setting, and treats every enthusiastic eater like a best friend. A cinnamon cream cheese frosting liberally covers her pumpkin cupcakes. They can only be had on Wednesdays and Fridays, so wake up early, because these babies go fast.
Next, take part in the battle and drive out to Leda’s on Ventura Blvd. Owner Ledette Gambini serves her miniature cupcakes (apparently people buy three and call it a day) with an enormous smile. At $1.50 a pop, you won’t believe your luck when you bite into one of these queens of the cupcake world. They are iced with vanilla-bean butter cream, and a dollop of tangy lemon curd. The cake itself is spicy and sweet, conjuring images of falling leaves and steaming cups of cocoa. The lemon curd and vanilla-bean icing give Leda’s cupcakes a velvety texture. Who knew something so tiny could be packed with so much pumpkin flavor and intensity?
So you think Grandma Milly makes the best pumpkin pie? Think again. One slice at Cayenne, an unassuming Mediterranean café on Beverly Blvd. will have you whistling a different tune. The owner’s mother works all day in the kitchen to produce the restaurant’s desserts. You’ll wonder how you ate the recipe on the back of Libby’s Pumpkin Puree can year after year. Momma’s secret is in the crust, a buttery delight that melts in your mouth. The creamy texture of the custard contrasts the flaky pastry beautifully. Taste bud pyrotechnics are guaranteed. Something tells me Momma doesn’t cater Thanksgiving feasts in Los Angeles, but how I wish she did. Her pumpkin pie is perfect.
An entire meal devoted to the most orange of vegetables can be devoured at Zucca Ristorante in downtown LA. Zucca means pumpkin in Italian, and the menu features outstanding dishes with its namesake ingredient. Start your feast with the pizzetta con zucca rossa on their Happy Hour bar menu. Sweet roasted pumpkin, tangy goat cheese, caramelized onions and lightly smoked ham are the toppings for this adorable pizza. The thin dough draws attention to the creamy texture of the pumpkin puree, while sweet and salty flavors mingle on the tongue. More please!
The tortelloni di zucca al burro e salvia (long name, but worth the embarrassment of failed pronunciation) is the star. The huge tortellini burst at the seams with roasted pumpkin and parmigiano-reggiano. Sage is incorporated into a butter sauce that envelops the tortellini without overwhelming the dish. The pasta has the power to entrance until you hanker for another taste. Do not leave without savoring the pumpkin gelato. Light, luscious and the perfect ending to an entire meal dedicated to pumpkin.
So stop staring at that rotting orange thing on your doorstep and go sample some delicious dishes that highlight the pumpkin’s versatility. Los Angeles has so much to offer the pumpkin lover that you will see the great veggie in a completely new light!
Locations and information:
The Griddle Café – 7916 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood (323) 874-0377
Zucca Ristorante – 801 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles (213) 614-7800
Thee’s Continental Pastries, Light My Fire, Bennett’s Ice Cream and Ultimate Nut & Candy Co. – 3rd St. & Fairfax in Los Angeles
La Brea Bakery – 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles (323) 939-6813
The Monastery of the Angels – 1977 Carmen Ave., Los Angeles (323) 466-2186
Sprinkles Cupcakes – 9635 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills (310) 274-8765
Leda’s Bake Shop – 13722 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks (818) 386-9644
Cayenne Café – 7169 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles (323) 857