We were cruising across the vast flat lands of Orange County, the GPS app set to avoid toll roads and freeways, as the setting sun tinted every surface with that magical liquid gilding that can’t be painted or bottled, but is best captured in passenger window cellphone snaps.
Our destination: Le Mirage, a French bakery in Anaheim’s Little Arabia district, which we learned from Gustavo Arellano’s 2018 article also does an off-menu trade in booza, an ancient, taffy-like Syrian ice cream and pistachio confection textured with orchid root and tree resin.
We arrived at the mini-mall at dusk, just as the intersection of Brookhurst and Lincoln lit up with dancing incandescents and the warm buzz of neon. For just across the road, delightfully, was a perfect time capsule of mid-century suburbia: Linbrook Bowl, a bowling alley, coffee shop, bar and gaming center, open 24/7 (except on Christmas Eve) since 1958.
In fact, we learned upon stepping in, this weekend is the 61st Anniversary of the family-owned establishment, and guests are encouraged to doll up in 1950s attire to enjoy such Customer Appreciation specials as $2 beers and $1.50 hot dogs from 11:30am-3:30pm.
We resisted the urge to settle in on a bar stool and trade tall tales with the regulars, even though our new friends in the bar urged us to stay and toast the loss of other Southland bowling centers and Linbrook’s remarkable survival.
We explained our culinary mission across the road. “Ice cream, by Granny’s Do-Nuts? No way!” It all seemed most unlikely there beneath the mica-flecked sunken ceiling of The Kopa Room, and mention of an article in The New Yorker did nothing to convince them. Besides, one insisted, it couldn’t possibly be as good as Thrifty drug store ice cream. Well, we’d be the ones to go find out about that.
And after promising to return some day with the answer, we trundled back across six lanes of traffic, crossing from the old Orange County to the new in the length of a green walk signal.
A little small talk at the register was followed by some mysterious banging sounds in the back of the bakery, and the booza bowl was delivered, pale greenish petals studded with nuts and glistening with a splash of syrup.
And what a strange and lovely treat it proved to be! We’ve never had fresher tasting pistachios, or anything cold with such a texture. It wasn’t too sweet, and didn’t melt to a liquid like churned ice cream does, but was quite creamy and refreshing. The ladies waiting for their cake started laughing, because Richard just kept saying “Wow… wow” and smiling at everyone.
To Anaheim’s Syrian community, booza is the taste of the diaspora, its sweetness tinged with sorrow and loss. While the flavors didn’t conjure up such feelings for we two native Angelenos, it did remind us of our dear grandma Cutie the foodie, and make us wonder if she would have recalled this treat from her early girlhood in Cairo.
A detour to visit Le Mirage is highly recommended, along with spending a little time talking with the friendly folks to be found on both sides of the street. It’s evenings like this one that make us grateful to live in Southern California, where so many different worlds and delicious flavors exist side by side, even if they don’t always mix. But when you’re ready to explore something new to you, all you have to do is look both ways and cross with care.
As grandma Cutie always said, quoting a beer billboard of her youth: “Lucky when you live in California.” And we are!