Road Trip Stop 2: Coco's Variety, Los Angeles, California

By Mark Frauenfelder

Cocos-Variety

I'm taking a road trip to points of interest in Southern California! The trip is being underwritten by Buick LaCrosse, which has also kindly provided me with the use of a Buick LaCrosse to drive during the tour. My first stop was the Griffith Observatory, in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. My second stop is to Coco's Variety.

In an otherwise nondescript industrial street in Los Angeles' Silver Lake district there's a store called Coco's and it's quite unlike any other retail establishment I've ever seen. The storefront's facade is a brightly colored Trompe l'Oeil depicting a tropical paradise, complete with palm trees, a lagoon, and a jug of "agua pura" floating in the sky. There's also a painting of a red Kit-Cat Klock, with a notice that Coco's is the headquarters for the venerable timepieces.

When you walk into Coco's, the multifarious array of products on the shelves, the counters, the floor, and the ceiling is dizzying. As Mister Jalopy, Coco's proprietor, writes on the store's "Coco's Variety sells flyswatters, glass five-gallon water bottles, headache remedies, oil cloth by the yard, used bicycles, California souvenir tablecloths, Kit-Cat Klocks, gumballs, Mexican Cokes in glass bottles, squirt guns, tote bags adorned with hula girls, Lodge cast iron frying pans, old American-made tools, baskets for your bicycle, wood matches, reverse osmosis purified drinking water by the gallon and fancy Jadeite cake plates for fancy cakes on fancy occasions."

Note that even though Mister Jalopy is my friend, he is also a shrewd businessman. Some weeks prior to my visit to Coco's, I had him over to my place for supper. Apropos of nothing, he began soliloquizing on the almost magically qualities of cast-iron cookware. If treated properly, he said, the cooking surface of a cast iron skillet take on a glass-like quality that possesses non-stick properties exceeding that of modern non-stick cookware, with none of the noxious chemicals present in non-stick coatings. He also mentioned that he was carrying Lodge cast iron cookware at Coco's. Now that I think about it, I realize that he must have peeked in my kitchen cabinets while I wasn't looking and spotted my Cuisinart pots and pans, which I believe to be the most tenacious hangers-onto of burned food residue ever made -- resistant to scrub brushes, and steel wool loaded with Bon Ami. When barnacles die, they are reborn as Cuisinart skillets.

From time to time over the next several weeks, my mind conjured up the image of a frying pan coated with a well-seasoned layer that handily resisted the most stubborn efforts by carbonized bacon and eggs to gain a purchase on its obsidian surface. The vision became more intense as the days went on. By the time I arrived at Coco's, I could think of nothing else but the cast iron cookware. Blind to the lovingly-restored used bicycles on the sidewalk, the baskets of colorful trinkets my children made me promise to buy for them, and the multitude of Mexican nostrums, such as Tio Nacho's pine tar and sulphur dandruff soap, I had eyes only for the shelves of cast iron skillets. Unfortunately, I missed out on the special 20% sale on the skillets (the secret words were "grilled cheese") but no matter -- I am delighted with my purchase and eagerly await the glass-like patina to accrete on their interior surfaces.

Published 7:00 am Wed, Feb 24, 2010

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About the Author

Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the founding editor-in-chief of MAKE. He is editor-in-chief of Cool Tools and co-founder of Wink Books. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects


29 Responses to “Road Trip Stop 2: Coco's Variety, Los Angeles, California”

  1. slipperyskip says:

    I’m sure you meant to change the title to Coco’s.

  2. PlushieSchwartz says:

    Mr. Jalopy’s your friend and he spies on you? and he won’t give you the 20% off discount?! Did he poke you in the eye as well? Give you a noogie (sp?)? Pants you?

    I admit it, I’d like to see that last one.

  3. merreborn says:

    That’s not Trompe l’Oeil. It’s just a mural. Trompe l’Oeil specifically refers to images that cause an illusion of depth.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trompe-l'Å“il

  4. MycroftMkIV says:

    Stick to cooking greasy things in your new cast iron, Mark. At least for a while. Cooking acidic food (such as tomatoes) will tend to strip off that nice patina. When the pot is nice and black, then you can use it for your favorite Italian dish.

    I know this because I am a outdoor Dutch oven fanatic. I also cook my breakfast in a cast iron frying pan every morning. 8-)

    Give http://www.justdutchovenrecipes.com/ a go for some pretty good eats…

  5. anacecitux says:

    “El Jabón del Tío Nacho”, I know that all too well :D

  6. vbacon says:

    ah, us southern folk can often times finding ourselves fighting over our elders cast iron cookware with its years and years of perfection. Most suggest vegetable oil to season your pan. My suggestion would be to find some good pork fat, purely fat. I got mine from a wild hog butcher. Put it in the pan, put the pan in a 350* oven for how many ever hours you can stand it. You can take it out and rub some of the melted fat up the sides to really work it in. Also, as MycroftMkIV says, cook oily foods first, mostly bacon. Next move up to frying foods in it. And finally, eggs and all good things. Try to avoid water and soap if you can. You can also re-season it periodically to encourage more yumminess.

  7. Thirdcoastkites says:

    I love random junk shops…”junk shop” not being a pejorative of course.

  8. powermatic says:

    Talk about log rolling-out of the thousands and thousands of cool spots in the Basin, your big L.A. “road trip” consists of a file photo of business partner Hoopty’s hang and a PR write up? I guess we can next expect a “trip” to Coop’s gallery, and after that to a bookstore carrying Cory’s library of works. Joke.

  9. narrowstreetsLA says:

    If you guys like quirky LA buildings, you gotta check out http://lafacades.tumblr.com .

  10. Rob Beschizza says:

    test comment

  11. Rob Beschizza says:

    Another one! Forgive.

  12. scifijazznik says:

    The ONLY Coke is Mexican Coke in a glass bottle. Once you’ve had one, you’re spoiled for life and will never be able to drink one from a can or plastic bottle. Consider yourselves warned.

  13. MrsBug says:

    Ah, Mr. Frauenfelder sir, I see that your esteemed colleague has set you in the right path concerning the miracle of cast iron cookware. I won’t use anything else for frying. I have Revereware saucepans for the boiley-type stuff, but cast iron is the way to go for eggs, pancakes and anything worthy of the butter (or ghee or olive oil) that you fry it in.

    Tip: never use soap on them. I scrub mine out with scalding water and a scrub brush and then dry them out stovetop.

  14. TuesdayWeld says:

    @ scifijazznik:

    Agreed. The habib across my street started selling the real, cane sugar-sweetened Mexican Coke a week ago and they can’t keep up with demand!

  15. Anonymous says:

    How did you get a deal with Buick for this? Was it their idea? Why are you taking a road trip anyway? Did you plan the trip first, and approach Buick?

    I’m much more interested in these details than the actual road trip :)

  16. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Jeez, NBC’s really enforcing that non-appearance clause.

  17. satman says:

    Me three in praise of cast iron. To add to the great comments above about seasoning and cleaning, I used my gas grill outdoors to season and reseason cast iron over indirect heat.It really cuts down on the smoke in the house from using the oven. A lot of the new Lodge items come pre-seasoned, but I always do it again. I don’t think you can over season cast iron.

    Soap: never never never. Rinse with water and a bit of salt if anything or a good scrub brush. I’ve also found a tiny bit of oil rubbed into the surface after cleaning seems to help.

    Treat it right,it will last you a lifetime.

    Now, off to bake a cake of cornbread…

  18. Ito Kagehisa says:

    My pans were picked up at estate auctions and jumble sales at various times and have all outlasted their original owners. Food tastes better when you cook it on well-kept iron.

  19. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    What kind of scrub brush do you recommend for cast iron skillets? The ones made by Lodge have a lot of negative reviews on Amazon.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      If your skillet’s properly cured, you shouldn’t need to wash it. You just wipe it out with a dry cloth and add a little oil as necessary. Of course, you might want to have dedicated skillets for sweet foods and spicy foods so your pancakes don’t taste like fish fry.

    • Anonymous says:

      A bamboo brush. Sold wherever woks are sold.

  20. rageahol says:

    The guys from the French Culinary Institute recently did a post on cast iron cooking. http://cookingissues.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/heavy-metal-the-science-of-cast-iron-cooking/

    I had always marveled at the slick black surface of vintage cast iron, and it appears that that’s not quite possible with modern cast iron. the old stuff was occasionally polished, and noone does that these days, it’s all bumps.

  21. AverageGeek says:

    I love reading stories like this. It reaffirms my (ignorant) love for California and all things cool. And makes me wonder how a person like Mr. Jalopy ended up running a shop like this.

  22. noah django says:

    do they sell cast-iron Buick Lacrosses there?

  23. Ito Kagehisa says:

    OK, Mark, I worked my methods out by trial and error, but anyway this is what I do. The cleaning is 100% determined by the cooking.

    The key points are 1) do not let anything stick – the longer the pan seasons the easier this gets 2) clean it HOT – do not let it cool off without cleaning it first – the longer the pan seasons the easier this gets. 3) don’t panic if you trash the seasoning.

    You have to use grease – animal fat, butter or olive oil – when cooking. The oil is what keeps stuff from sticking. If you are cooking something that is absorbent you need to have the pan & oil nice and hot before you drop the food in or it’ll taste greasy. If you want your food to have no oil at all on it, you wipe the pan with a clean paper towel or rag after the oil is hot and before dropping the food in, then use your spatula to keep it moving so it won’t stick. Don’t burn yourself wiping it.

    Second I use the thinnest possible steel spatula – the best one I ever had was spring steel, not stainless, but I lost it in the woods somewhere. Currently I am using an $8 Oxo flexible stainless steel spatula and the blade is just right, but the welded wire handle attachment is less than perfect. If anything chunky gets stuck to the pan I pop it off with the spatula before the pan cools down. This won’t work with a thick and/or plastic spatula.

    As soon as the food’s out of the pan, if you cooked it properly the pan will be shiny, smooth and black and you can just wipe it once and set it aside to cool. Once it’s well seasoned, that thin shiny coat of hot oil will be sucked up into the seasoning as it cools so it won’t be a greasy mess that attracts vermin and dust in the cabinet.

    If you burnt the food or you didn’t use oil or you didn’t turn it and move it around enough for it to be cooked evenly given the amount of oil you used, things become more complicated. Bad cooking is what hurts ’em.

    If the pan has brown stuff or an uneven surface, run the tap in the kitchen sink until VERY hot, then stick the HOT pan under the tap and use the spatula to scrape it smooth. This will blast off the top layer of seasoning and cause cooking nazis to scream and faint and fall about the room like William Shatner on the bridge. Afterwards you must thoroughly dry and lightly grease the pan, preferably with Crisco.

    If it’s still not clean, use a soapy sponge, if there’s anything that the sponge and the spatula won’t get use scotchbrite and kiss your seasoning goodbye – time to start over. My kids learned to cook on my cast iron so I’ve had to do this a dozen times.

    I used to carefully re-season my pans with salt and crisco and multiple firings in the oven after the spouse or kids trashed one but after the fifth or sixth time I stopped bothering. Even if you scour a cast iron pan down to bare metal you can re-season it by simply cooking very carefully on it until it’s built up a good coat of iron- and oil-infused carbon on it. Never let anything get stuck, that’s the key, and eventually nothing will be able to stick.

    Right now I’ve got five pans in different sizes, from a big 14″ down to a completely useless one the size of an ashtray. They are all somewhat ancient. They are smooth dull black when cold, glassy black when hot, and they make the best fried eggs, omlettes & kedgeree imaginable.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Well I’ve seen some trompe l’oeil, but that ain’t no trompe l’oeil, or else your oeil is easily tromped…

  25. Anonymous says:

    I live 4 blocks away.

  26. davedorr9 says:

    How about Ito as a guest blogger?