Imagine dining at a rustic inn in the Scottish Highlands, offering beautifully prepared courses like Scotch Rarebit, Toad in the Hole, and Slow Roasted English Goose. Include nods to Robert Burns, a bagpiper or two, a dazzling selection of single malt Scotch, other spirits, beer, and wine. Wrap the whole package in superb third-generation family hospitality, and you have the next best thing right here in America, at the Tam O’Shanter Inn, located in the Los Angeles suburb of Los Feliz.
“The Tam” dates to the 1920s, when it opened as a roadside eatery on a dusty country road, and became the preferred haunt of the period’s Hollywood elite. In later years, after a name change or two, the food and picturesque ambiance attracted Walt Disney and his animators. In fact, they had lunch at The Tam so often, they referred to it as the studio commissary. Today, after 90 years, it is the oldest restaurant in Los Angeles owned and operated by the same family in the same location.
While waiting in the bar for all members of our Gentlemen’s Lunch to arrive, I enjoyed several of the dozens of single malts listed on the separate Scotch List. It was nice to see Springbank, from Campbeltown, on the menu, as it’s missing from many selections in a “less Scottish” establishment. Other standouts were Highland Park 18, Old Pultney 12, and Glenfarclas 17. The bar uses thistle-shaped whisky glasses to further enhance its Scottish ambiance. The wine list is extensive, with selections from Germany, France, Italy, South Africa, Washington State, as well as from many wine-producing regions within California.
The aforementioned Toad in the Hole entree was intriguing to several of our party, mostly about the derivation of its name. The dish is a delicious blend of Yorkshire pudding, filet mignon, onions, mushrooms (crimini, button and oyster) with burgundy wine sauce. Dungeness Crab Cake Benedict, Lawry’s Roast Beef Hash, Filet Oscar, or the signature entree, Prime Rib, have been mainstays on the menu for years. The Tam actually gave birth to the nine Lawry’s The Prime Rib fine-dining restaurants, and this Los Feliz location is proud to be the first eatery in the family group).
Reading decades-spanning menus from a restaurant in business 90 years yields fascinating tidbits, like the following.
1920s – “The cuisine is under the supervision of Mr. C. Robert Peach, for several years with the famous Harvey System.” And “The hot potato salad is from Mother Montgomery’s own recipe – a most appetizing dish.”
1930s – “Ingenious tables installed in your car enable you to sit and eat in the comfort and privacy of your own automobile.”.
1940s – “The longer [World War II] lasts, the more certain we are to run into shortages and restrictions …”.
1950s – “Plus 3% State sales tax and ½% City sales tax – a total of 3-1/2%.”
1960s – “The Whole Sole of Dover, boned and baked with mushrooms, chives and other Good Things – $3.65.”
2012 – The Toad in the Hole cost $26.
Our Gentlemen’s Lunch group is looking forward to our next Tam O’Shanter experience, when the traditional Scottish dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding will surely play a major role.