A few weeks ago, I took 30 students from Occidental College’s “Urban Fictions” literature class to Leimert Park. We stopped at Earlez Grille at Crenshaw and Exposition for lunch, thanks to the enthusiastic recommendation from a neighbor who used to work with City Councilman Bernard Parks in the area. “Everyone goes to Earlez Grille!” he said.
Turns out, he’s right. As Jonathan Gold wrote for the LA Weekly in 2008,
“Earlez Grille is a major crossroads of the Crenshaw Strip, popular with politicians, poets and rap stars. If you sit at a table long enough, nursing a bowl of vegan chili and a tall paper cup of lemonade, all of South Los Angeles passes before your eyes.”
I believe this is the line that hooked the course professor. I’ve been working with Raul Villa this spring 2012 semester to develop class projects to get the students off-campus, and out of Northeast L.A. The students are all frosh, and most have come to Occidental from all over the country. We wanted them to see new parts of L.A., observe the urban milieu, and become a part of the city experience. The opportunity to see all of South Los Angeles pass before your eyes? What a treat.Then day dawned dark and rainy. But no matter. Earlez Grille was open. Hot dogs and pastrami sandwiches awaited us. Along with Jamaican patties, pickles, pies and “playa’s juice” (that’s play-uh, not the Spanish playa). Before we could order, an employee bounded out of the kitchen and into the dining room to reel off the menu items like an MC announcing a terrific concert lineup. “These are the best hot dogs in L.A.! Hot off the grill!” No one needed much convincing. “Then we have pastrami sandwiches! They’re the best in L.A.!” We believe ya, man.
Just before we left, a crowd gathered outside. Some carried signs and bullhorns. Many wore hoodies. Not just because of the rain, but in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, who was tragically shot and killed in Florida a few days before. The march was en route to Leimert Park for a rally protesting the shooting and Florida’s handling of the case.
Meanwhile, inside at Earlez Grille, a television screen showed Wattstax, the 1973 documentary about a jazz festival held at L.A.’s coliseum in 1972 to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Watts Riots. Many saw it as the African-American version of Woodstock, and tickets sold for just $1. The documentary competed for attention, however, with a television at the opposite end of the eatery displaying colorful, exciting images. It was a slideshow of menu items.