Early Pasadena Gastronomy

Localism Exhibits in Southern California

As California’s population and economy grew after WW II, new chapters of the International Wine and Food Society were formed in the state.

The Los Angeles branch was first to be founded in the state, in 1935. Indeed 20 years later it reached a stage of maturity to warrant its first history being published as I discussed recently; in fact, two histories have been published to date. This is years before a food-aware culture permeated America as a whole.

Two members of the L.A. group left to form the nucleus of a new Pasadena chapter in 1954, as explained on its website:*

… a second organizational meeting was held at the Stuft Shirt Restaurant. Each charter member was requested to invite a few good friends who enjoyed food, wine, and camaraderie to join the new Society. It was determined that there would be four annual dinners, a logo was designed , and annual dues of $50 per member were assessed. ($10 was allotted to each dinner, to include both food and wine). The minutes of the second meeting were closed by Mr. Goss, stating “the meeting was adjourned in a gentlemanly fashion, sans stagger.” The first full membership dinner of the Wine and Food Society of Pasadena was held at The Piccadilly Restaurant in Pasadena on 9 November 1954. It was titled “An Italian Dinner accompanied by Inglenook Wines”.

On the website you may read its first menu, a simple affair for typography and design but which set out an inviting Italian dinner, held in a local restaurant.

The Piccadilly Restaurant was the name, perhaps an alternate name for Piccadilly Cafeteria, a small, Southern chain of restaurants. No restaurant exists today in California under either name, as far as I know.

 

 

All the wines served were from Inglenook, the famed California winery founded in the late 1800s. The winery was started – unconventionally and in typical American fashion – by a Finnish seafarer and his American wife.

Inglenook took many twists and turns after the helmsman died. The business was revived after Prohibition and became one of four or five wineries that dominated the U.S. wine business, i.e., nation-wide. Inglenook’s fortunes declined with the other big names after hundreds of small wineries gained momentum starting in the late-1960s.

Francis Ford Coppola needs no introduction. He bought the Inglenook vineyards after a wending ownership that included mighty Constellation Brands. Initially he did not own the Inglenook name but later acquired that, too.

Fine estate wines now again appear under the Inglenook label. Before he acquired it Coppola issued wines under the name Coppola-Niebaum – Niebaum was the founding Finn.

Certainly the Los Angeles Wine and Food Society, today called the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, early in its history supported local wineries, as I discussed earlier. It had to have held Italian dinners, as well. So it is quite likely the Pasadena group did not innovate in this area.

Still, for an American wine society to base its inaugural dinner on all-local wines, in the Eisenhower era, showed growing confidence in the higher end of California production. Rather than make a safe selection of French, German or Italian wines, these early gastronomes drank local.

Possibly the wines were sponsored, but tasting the fruits of one’s own soil can only be applauded at this time.

The Charbono on the list denotes an Italian-originated, red wine grape that goes by many names, and is still grown in California. It’s not the same cultivar as the vigorous, rustic Barbera, but offers some of its qualities, or of the ur-California variety, Zinfandel.

Charbono was and still is used in blending, both for so-called field blends and to buttress the noble Cabernet Sauvignon.

An Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon at the Pasadena dinner speaks for itself, vintage-dated 1946. You can buy an Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon in Ontario, with mention of 1882 on the label, suggestive perhaps of the style of Inglenook’s early Bordeaux-type wine.**

Note re image: the image above was sourced from Pinterest, here. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Unfortunately, links in the text to these aspects of the chapter’s history appear no longer operative.

** I later bought it and it was first rate: inky black and tasting of pencil shaving, blackberry, and all the good stuff.