Clifton’s Brookdale, Los Angeles

And the recipe for their moist, tender zucchini cake

Complete with towering faux redwoods, lifesize mural, waterfall, stream, and taxidermy, Clifton’s Brookdale resembled a nature lodge and could seat 600 in the three-story room.

Legendary restaurateur Clifford Clinton created a chain of seven theme cafeterias that drew customers by the tens of thousands, including this one, (so evocative of today’s Rainforest Cafe, isn’t it?!) the famous forest-themed Clifton’s Brookdale which opened in downtown Los Angeles in 1935 and continued in business for 76 years.

Clinton was in business for much more than the revenue. His mission was to make an impact on world hunger. He set out to feed the hungry, whether they could afford to pay for a meal or not. Many ate full meals of his homemade comfort food without paying (including, it is said, science fiction author Ray Bradbury) — creamy macaroni and cheese, fried chicken with buttermilk biscuits, turkey and dressing, cranberry jewel gelatin, and so much more, according to George Geary in his Legendary L.A. Restaurants. Many others ate his 5¢ “Multi-Purpose Meals”, high protein, nutritious meals he created in cooperation with the California Institute of Technology.

The Clifton’s experience also included having a costumed photographer take diners’ pictures for a lovely souvenir of the outing.

Last of the chain to close, Clifton’s Brookdale reopened years later under new ownership and after a Herculean renovation. Here is the original recipe for Zucchini Cake from Geary’s book, with my compliments. It is delicious.

Zucchini Cake

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 cups zucchini, shredded and packed
1 cup finally chopped pecans (I used a mix of pecans and walnuts)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Using a mixer, blend the sugar, oil, and eggs at medium speed for 3-4 minutes. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon and set aside. Fold the zucchini and pecans into the egg mixture. Fold the egg mixture into the flour mixture and add the vanilla, blending thoroughly. 

[Note: I simplified the method. In one large mixing bowl, I blended the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla; then added the soda, salt, and cinnamon; then added the flour. Then I folded in the zucchini and nuts.] 

4. Pour into prepared 10-inch tube pan. [I used a bundt cake pan.] Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 60-65 minutes. [I tested at 45 minutes, cooked another 15 minutes, checked the temperature with a digital thermometer that read 194 degrees, and it was done.] 
5. Cool — completely if in a tube pan, or briefly if in a bundt pan. Invert onto a cooling rack or plate.
6. Top with Cream Cheese Icing. 

Cream Cheese Icing
This recipe makes enough to thoroughly cover a cake at a rich, luxurious depth. I used half or less. Also, I thought it needed salt, so use whatever butter you have.

3 cups powdered sugar
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons unsalted* butter, softened
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Mix all ingredients until thoroughly blended, then whip to make fluffy. Refrigerate until needed. 

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