Carroll O'Connor's Place is an easygoing, relaxed place, with an inviting, well-stocked bar, big high ceilings, propeller fans and about a thousand pictures and paintings and photographs on the wall. There's brass and etched glass and white tablecloths and a young, wholesome staff. In all, it's a vision of the Great American Restaurant personally realized by O'Connor--part private den, part Cheers, part Marie Callender's.
I brought my Uncle Jack to Carroll O'Connor's because I had a feeling he would like it. He is more opened-minded than O'Connor's most famous character, but there are more than a few values that Uncle Jack and Archie Bunker share.
We were seated near the piano player who was playing arrangements of show tunes and movie scores. On this Friday evening, the place was a little over half full with a friendly, cozy crowd.
The waitress took our drink orders and we opened a menu. I peered at Uncle Jack, whose big bushy eyebrows began to fuse together over his nose.
"Archie Bunker couldn't afford a sandwich in this place," he said.
Dinner for two runs from $40 to $75, without drinks, which places Carroll O'Connor's Place firmly in the moderately priced restaurant zone. But Uncle Jack's idea of a moderately priced restaurant is a chain coffee shop. "The prices aren't so bad," I cooed, "for Beverly Hills."
At that point, we received a small loaf of Irish soda bread on a small cutting board with a bread knife. This disarmed Uncle Jack; he promptly sawed each of us a slice. Little is as comforting as hot, fresh bread.
Uncle Jack ordered the burger with much sound and fury: "I've never tasted an $11 burger before," ad infinitum. I ordered appetizers and salad for the both of us. We split some mildly spiced but pretty good curried mussels. Uncle Jack had some onion soup, which was prepared just as he loves it: a bit of soup topped with a big hunk of bread, and sealed with a thick sheet of toasted jack cheese. I had a respectable Caesar salad.
Uncle Jack had to admit that his burger was one of the best burgers he'd ever had. It was the first burger he'd had in a restaurant, he said, that came close to the burgers he and Aunt Peggy used to barbecue in their back yard in Michigan. In fact, this burger might even be better because it came topped with a profusion of crispy onion strings that gave each juicy bite an added shot of flavor and crunch.
I wasn't so lucky with my chicken. A special that night, the chicken was supposed to be grilled and served with red and yellow peppers. What arrived were two boneless, skinless breasts that seemed more poached than grilled, and stewed in a watery tomato sauce with some limp boiled peppers.
Dessert cheered me up. Uncle Jack and I split some profiteroles. Each small scoop of ice cream sat inside a miniature cream puff case; a cluster of these was drenched in hot fudge.
We were about to leave when the waitress suggested we sit back and relax for a few more minutes and hear at least one song of the jazz group that was setting up. We ended up sitting through most of the first set. Uncle Jack grudgingly enjoyed himself. "I guess they can get away with charging so much for dinner, since they throw in all this good, free entertainment."
The food at Carroll O'Connor Place is fairly ordinary as, I believe, it's intended to be. But the cook uses very good ingredients. On subsequent visits, nothing was as delicious as the burger platter, or as awful as that chicken. Snails, a house salad, a seafood pasta, lamb chops were perfectly acceptable.
A few days ago, Uncle Jack called me from an airplane on his way to Florida. "I just ate the most terrible meal," he said. "And all I could think about was that $11 hamburger you made me eat at Archie Bunker's Place. I just want you to know, you've ruined me for life."
Carroll O'Connor's Place, 369 N. Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills; (213) 273-7585. Breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days; jazz brunch Sunday. The restaurant is open to 1 a.m. Live jazz Friday and Saturday after 10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. American Express, MasterCard, Visa. Dinner for two, food only: $40-$75.