The Ally Goes All In
I nearly choked on my water when a tablemate called his dish of spaghetti with ground beef, bacon and a fried egg "trailer-park food." Since he devoured it and left not a speck on the plate, I knew he meant it in the nicest possible way. But he was right. Once he said it, I couldn't help but imagine Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel shoveling forkfuls of it for his supper. Yet the truth is I've made and eaten similar dishes throughout my life, and I'm willing to bet you have, too. Maybe it was cut-up hot dogs or Vienna sausages or Spam instead of the bacon. Maybe your mom whipped it up after coming home from a second shift at the hospital. Maybe the starch wasn't spaghetti, but Top Ramen. The point is that this dish—and all like it—is inspired not by Marcella Hazan, but by necessity: food you cook and eat because you want something fast, good, hot, cheap and filling.
You know what went into it as soon as you twirl the first forkful. Spaghetti sauce—perhaps homemade, but most likely from a jar—is simmered with some ground beef that was browned in a pot. Then in goes the spaghetti, a sprinkle of the crispy bacon, and finally—proving that all good things can always be improved with a fried egg—the sunny-side-up. It's unnecessary to describe how it tastes; you already possess all the flavor data in your brain to know how it will work out on the plate.
The salty-fattiness of the bacon and the dribbling egg links the ground beef and the sweet-and-sourness of the marinara like a time portal between dinner and breakfast. If something's keeping the Batalis of the world from offering it at their restaurants, it may just be the misplaced fear they'll be laughed out of town. Stranger things have become staples of entire dining regions. Buffalo wings, nachos, even Cincinnati's beloved five-ways chili spaghetti is said to have come from humble, let's-see-what-we-have-left-to-work-with beginnings. I, for one, hope this dish—the Ally's signature meal—enjoys the same kind of national fame. It deserves it.
By the way, I should tell you the Ally is not an Italian restaurant. In fact, I'm not even sure what to call it. It defies classification just as much as the proprietor—Eddie Tana, who also owns OC Tattoo three doors down—doesn't look like a typical restaurateur. The hallway to the restroom is a graffiti-art tunnel. The dining room is lit harshly by buzzing fluorescent tubes. Autographed pictures of UFC champ "Rampage" Jackson feature prominently in the dining room, kung fu movies play silently on a flat-screen, and hanging from a hook behind the register is a signed baseball bat that I'm not sure is just decorative.
For sure, the Ally isn't a place for those who are intimidated by the young and virile. Tana himself appears as tough as a bouncer, but beneath all that ink, he's a loving father of a young daughter named Ally and is just as doting to his customers.
"I'm going to pack you some extra French bread for your leftover bò kho," he said to me, referring to the Vietnamese beef stew of carrots and cinnamon that's a particular favorite of Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano's. "The bread's good for dipping into the stew later."
Earlier, Tana told me how he conceived of the place. He was originally going to open a taquería in the space left behind by a Thai restaurant, but then he decided to go all in. Along with the aforementioned spaghetti, there are Asian stir-fried noodles, bánh mì, French bread pizzas, burgers, chicken wings, paninis, rice bowls, burritos, tacos, breakfast plates and—as if that weren't enough—another 20 items in an "Out of the Normal" section that features tater tots with chopped pineapple, bacon-wrapped dates and spaghetti nacho-cheese fries. The repertoire is overachieving, enthusiastic and a little erratic. Because of it, some dishes do suffer. Avocado with cucumber, onion and tomato stuffed into the hollowed-out rind needed salt. And although the filet mignon in a flat-rice-noodle stir-fry melted on the tongue, the noodles stuck together in clumps, still undercooked by a couple of minutes.
A lot of editing and a little more restraint may allow the things that are great to become greater, even if it only means the customer might be able to find them more easily. There are gems such as a lightly battered fried squid that's wok-tossed with jalapeños and spicy salt. Of course, there's the spaghetti. Order it now so you can say you had it here first . . . that is, if you haven't already been to Cletus' house.
This review appeared in print as "All In: The Ally has an overachieving, enthusiastically erratic menu that includes a killer spaghetti dish."
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