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Dirty, dingy and a genuine greasy spoon, I was excited by the prospect of eating at Carney’s. I frequently drove by what I thought was their only location in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard, as I would return home from the Henry Fonda or Amoeba. I never set aside time to check out the yellow Pacific Railroad Express passenger train repurposed as an eatery, always writing rain checks for a later date. Recently I made an unexpected trip to their second eatery in an unfamiliar location at the suggestion of a friend.

In Studio City, on Ventura Boulevard, a yellow doppelganger beckoned us. We were grabbing dinner before heading out to a friend’s birthday party. We thought it would be a good idea to eat something before the upcoming suds so we were looking to load up on a hefty burger and fries.

The elongated diner was packed. Unbeknownst to both of us, Carney’s seemed to specialize in hot dogs and chili, as much as burgers, judging by the number of people we passed in the narrow corridor indulging in said foods. Only there for burgers, we decided not to miss out on the fast-moving chili fries and split a side.

Though few existed, we managed an open table, and waited patiently for our dinner, mulling over the surreal hot dog lust that none of us shared—I guess I would’ve had a blog… A short while later our numbers were called; I picked up some banana peppers and the two cardboard trays, two-handing them to the table. An initial scan of the foods in my grip, left me relieved that we had split our side. With copious amounts of chili drowning the thin-cut fries, and an unsettling amount of American cheese melting slowly; we had plenty on our plates to contend with without factoring in the ample side.

The burgers looked appetizing, folded neatly in their white smocks, the sandwiches were bursting with a fresh ring of tomato, pristine iceberg lettuce, diced white onions and some pickles. There was a healthy glisten to the patty and neat smear to the ketchup that lay under it. For a busy place they paid attention to detail and nailed the little things. The sandwich didn’t back down upon first taste, there was a lot of flavor from the added quartet of vegetables (pickles included). The patty was seasoned in the expected manner and Carney’s was coming out ahead of my initial read of this iconic eatery.

The chili fries proved too much for me. They were lathered in an excess of cheese that was not thoroughly melted, or incorporated, but, I don’t put much emphasis on sides—I am eating for the main attraction. The eatery was also not the cleanest, showing the wear of quickly revolving patrons over the ages… but again those criticisms were not the main focus of my visit. The burger was a cut above many of the other highly touted burger joints in LA and the addition of banana peppers helped put the finishing touches on a nice dinner—even though the scorch they bring drowns out the burger a little, I wouldn’t eat a banana pepper with a burger I didn’t like!

Save for the distance, and possibly the chili fries, everything seemed to be in order at Carney’s. If it were closer to my dwelling I could entertain a repeat visit but alas it is a trek, though I was happy to have made it at least once. We were in good shape for the night’s festivities and I had finally clued in to the charm of that mysterious yellow train.

I had been off burgers for a while, no particular reason why, but I was trying to ratify the alteration to my almost pedestrian routine by throwing a little burger and wine event. I had been enamored with Thai food of late, reveling in the complicated blend of sweet and spice manifesting itself in savory dishes while the majority of my heart-shaped pie graph already belonged to the cuisine of Northern India. With the recent trend of dining out at as many Thai and Indian spots as I could muster, it was time to retarget my attentions on the burger in its most honest form. No gourmet burgers this Friday, just a plain old dive burger. I decided it was time to call on the constituency of the Better Burger Bureau to orchestrate the next outing.

I wasn’t going to make life too complicated, just go ahead and pour a Napa Cab with the hamburgers… at least that was my intention. I had been in the mood for Clos du Val after reading a review in the NY Times where Eric Asimov went into detail about the delicate nature of this wine, especially against its peers. Cabernet Sauvignon is never too exciting to me, save for left bank Bordeaux but then the prices become an issue. I wanted to capture the NYT fervor and so I transferred the seven-fifty of Clos du Val to my trusty flask and made tracks to Inglewood.

Our destination for that Friday—the same day, game five of the Stanley Cup Finals was being played between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks—was Earlez Grille (pronounced Earl’s not Frenchified Earlez). This was our spot, in part, because their hours of operation best worked with our group’s availability, and, it seemed, to be equally out of everyone’s way—a democratic choice. The place had not been on my radar, or my to-do-list but it seemed pretty reliable according to my foodie sources. Had I looked closer at those reviews I would have noticed there were no beef patties served!!! and Earlez was actually better known for their hotdogs. It became the defining moment of the night… in a good way.

We rolled up and spotted the extravagant marquee, a giant beacon on Crenshaw Boulevard promoting chili ‘n sandwiches. We walked in and took the place in, a large size eatery with some special touches like a hefty assembly line for the burger—anything but beef (it didn’t hit us right away!)— curiously; they still serve beef chili (?). Flat screen televisions showing off the hotdogs. There was an unusual array of beverages from Hawaiian to Playaz Punch and as far as ambiance, decorating the walls is a blend of posters of great musicians and advertisements for random services. Earlez has character.

Though there are no beef burgers being served—a mighty inconvenience—we took little time to reformulate a game plan, ordering turkey burgers, chilidogs, pastrami sandwiches and some orders of chili fries. It was a lot of food but we were looking to test the kitchen, selecting our favorites for a possible future visit. Our orders arrived about ten minutes later. Unwrapping them, revealing the copious amounts of chili that covered the fries and dogs, we were delighted by the generosity. While my burger had no chili—that would have been overkill—I had a nicely seasoned turkey patty with extra peppers and all the helpings to make it a classic California dive turkey burger.

I was still having a tough time wrapping my head around the beef chili while not offering a beef patty—it seemed inconsistent. Flawed logic. With the absence of beef patties, presumambly the chili would be made with ground meat too it was a quandary—one I could let slide if, and only if, my turkey burger were good.

Upon the first bite the bun was soft and perfect, the texture of the meat was firm and it was flavorful, the peppers and raw onions added some depth to the sandwich. I was content. Everything else was done well and we had no gripes with any of the food.

When I poured the Clos du Val (#240) and brought the oversized paper cup to my nose; I detected a fragrance of cassis and black cherry; on the palate the full-bodied Cab had moderate tannins—enough to provide structure—medium oak and it was the perfect side to compliment the chili.

Though I had a genuine hankering for a hamburger last Friday, I was happy to discover a new place; Earlez hit the spot and was the perfect jumping off point for the rest of the night; I will definitely pay a repeat visit when I’m craving a chilidog. The night almost finished perfectly (despite Tim Thomas letting in a heartbreaking goal that lead to the downfall of the Bruins) we finished our night at the Daily Pint—my first time at the illustrious pub—to try on some interesting brews until the night drew to a close.

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