Last updated: 07/01/15
In Cassellís heyday, Al Cassell used to chant, ďHere comes another one, just like the other one,Ē as he flipped USDA Prime one-third or two-thirds pound patties, onto specially baked buns. He trimmed and ground the beef daily. Constant quality Ė that was his mantra.
Al sold his place, and three years ago the owners in turn sold the business to a Chinese-American architect, who immediately closed the faltering restaurant pending a move to a new location.
Those of us who loved Cassellís Ė and I was certainly one, having written about the place three times Ė were pessimistic. What did an architect know about burgers? In those three years, Al, who was in his 90ís, died. The L.A. Times published my tribute to the man and his wonderful burger place. As I wrote it, I thought, that was then, and itís gone forever.
Whew. Iím happy to report that the terrific quality Cassellís burger is back, and itís not my nostalgia speaking.
It took three years for the architect, Jingbo Lou, to finish a meticulous restoration of the Hotel Normandie, constructed in 1926 at the corner of Normandie and Sixth Street (about a half-mile west of Cassellís previous location). Lou designed the new incarnation of Cassellís, in the corner of the hotels first floor, to resemble a sleek chrome diner.
Looks, of course, arenít everything, especially in a restaurant. The chef at the ďnewĒ Cassellís, Christian Page, is faithful to Al Cassellís tradition: USDA Prime Colorado chuck is trimmed and ground daily Ė using Al Cassellís original grinder. The patties are cooked on the same Crossfire grill that Al Cassell bought and maintained. Each patty is exactly as delicious as I remember when Al owned his place.
Lemonade, a perfect blend of tart and sweet, is just as Al made it. Al didnít care for even the best store-bought mayonnaise, so he made his own. So does Christian Page and his team. The potato salad still has the kick of a handful of Colmanís dry mustard.
Al never served French fries; the new Cassellís has them, and theyíre very, very good. Al Cassell didnít even imagine serving a milkshake or malt. The new Cassellís serves both, and both, using McConnellís ice cream, are the epitome of what a fií dollar shake should be (Pulp Fiction reference). The only problem with both shake and malt is, the straws are too small: when you order your shake or malt, be sure to get a spoon.
Los Angeles may have problems that have grown ever larger since Al Cassell opened up in 1948, but at least the city can again boast of Cassellís, L.A.ís home-town, world-class hamburger.