The Roast Turkey Lunch at Clifton’s Cafeteria is a Perfect Pre-Thanksgiving Meal
I’m not sure what it is about old school cafeterias that cause me to so willingly give up quality, but they do. I will gladly accept dry turkey, meatloaf of an unknown provenance, congealed cheese covered mac and cheese, and terrible pies and pudding provided that the method of ordering doesn’t involve menus or waiters, but simply requires moving said items from a counter onto a tray. Of course the food has to be cheap- otherwise a fat guy like me will end up spending a fortune, and that is no good.
So when I heard that Downtown L.A. was home to one of these such places, I knew I had to go. And when I heard that their gravy topped roast turkey and stuffing was a winner, I knew I had to go before Thanksgiving!
Despite all the recommendations to try Clifton’s, I was kind of shocked to discover that the place is a Disneyland’ish bi-level mountainous forest, complete with fake redwoods and a man-made waterfall. Kind of like a gigantic version of the Big Foot Lodge, minus the irony. So it’s actually not a huge stretch to imagine that Clifton’s was recently bought by the owner of the Edison, Andrew Meieran, who intends to transform it into a real Downtown destination, complete with cocktails, better food, and little hidden speakeasies all throughout the massive space.
Even though I’ve never been to Clifton’s before, I’m pretty sure none of those changes have been implemented yet (a fact I’m sure long time fans are pretty happy about.) The cafeteria line looks to be stuck in the 50s, and none of the food appears to have been modernized- as is the eventual plan.
The old school cafeteria line starts *and* ends with dessert (amazing), and in between there’s a carving station (with turkey, roast beef, and brisket) and a hot food line with fried chicken, pork chops, fried fish and more. Despite the overwhelming number of options, I was able to stay on track…
Turkey, stuffing, and gravy, plus cranberry sauce for $6.89. Sure, the turkey was a bit dry, but that was easily fixed by the thick gravy sludge. And the stuffing was kind of great, in that “Pepperidge Farm really knows what they’re doing” kind of a way. Basically if you’re the kind of person who likes to warm up for Thanksgiving with some hot turkey action, this should be your lunch this week. (Lord knows nobody is going to want to eat this a week from today.) For $7, I had no complaints… well, except for the pie.
Couldn’t help but grab a slice of sweet potato pie, which ending up tasting strangely of bubble gum. No joke. It was like a juicy fruit flavored pie. I don’t even know how they got the pie to taste that way, but I couldn’t finish it. So sad (and rare to not finish a slice of pie), but it won’t make me gun shy on the next visit. I’m guessing there’s at least one decent dessert on that massive counter, I just might make sure the one I choose next doesn’t smell like gum.
I’m not exactly sure how long Clifton’s is going to be Clifton’s Cafeteria so many have come to know and enjoy, but if you want a slice of old school Downtown L.A. you’ll probably want to head over soon. It’s the kind of place that would be super depressing if it wasn’t so freakin’ awesome. Alright… not everything is great- hell, nothing is really “great”. But everything is cheap, looks as good (or bad) as it tastes, and quite frankly, what’s better than eating turkey in a fake Redwood forest 3 days before Thanksgiving? Nothing, that’s what.
Clifton’s Cafeteria, 648 South Broadway, 213-627-1673