If you’re a guest in someone’s home, is it right to nitpick? This is the dilemma I have writing about the Original Cannabis Café, formerly known as Lowell Cannabis Café in West Hollywood, the first place in the nation where a person can order marijuana and food and indulge in both on site. I strongly believe that as the first in the marketplace, this place needs to be the standard bearer.
When it first opened, thanks to its uniqueness, there was a whirlwind of media reports. Most were glowing, but I didn’t feel that way at the press preview. My guest and I found much too much wrong to give a fair and honest review (it’s easy to be dazzled by the mere idea of a Cannabis Café). So I was pleased to be invited back with the same friend, and this time we found that much had improved – but there are still some glitches.
To their credit, they take feedback from customers really seriously. And that’s evident in the improvements they’ve made. A recent name change involves a State of California lawsuit against Lowell Herb Co. for processing without a license; an original corporate sponsor, Lowell apparently is now no longer in the picture.
Their staff is exceptional. Host/maître d’ Feliciano is impeccably fashionable, cool under stress, and with his charming personality keeps a continual eye on the floor to be sure things are moving. Chantelle and Cole (we sat at three different tables during our visit) were terrific waitresses, and another managerial-type gent, William was accommodating to us in every way.
But now the details. We arrived earlier than our reservation time, so we were lucky to get a table during a very busy brunch on Sunday. Brunch is new-ish, the menu’s solid, with an emphasis on plant-based foods but meat is available. The patio backdrop is lovely: a woody, green, vine-entwined wall; the patio action is also fun to watch. There’s also an indoor section but I prefer the patio. Many of the people we sat at nearby tables with were visiting from other parts of the USA and the globe.
If we’d arrived at the correct time, we’d have gotten one of the comfy square tables around the patio rim instead of a small round one under a tree. Service has improved, now the waiter handles both food and pot orders (no alcohol is served). Downside: it took a very long time just to order water, longer to order and pay for the cannabis (you pay as you go), and then even longer to order and receive the food. We think the problem was a backup in the kitchen, and maybe they could use a few more wait staff. Upside: credit cards accepted and you get to indulge at your table.
We arrived at 1 pm and didn’t leave until well past 3:30. OK, when you’re indulging, it’s nice to be leisurely, but we felt it took an unconscionably long time. Meanwhile we watched a number of four- and two-top tables order, eat, finish, pay and go. Mystifying.
DON’T THINK ABOUT THE CALORIES
For me, food continues to be hit and miss. Also, it is NOT cannabis infused. Get your green on with their flower menu and light up before, during and after the meal as you wish.
If you need to satisfy an ooey-gooey, crispy craving, you can’t go wrong with the Mac N’ Cheese bites; cheesy in the middle with a satisfying exterior crunch, and the accompanying jalapeno sauce has quite the kick.
The chilaquiles elicited cries of joy from my dining companion, who desperately wanted the recipe for the sauce—it’s dairy free yet cheesy tasting, spicy but not killer hot. HUGE portion too. It was a complete hit (pun intended) for her and served as both lunch and her dinner later.
My Cobb Salad, however, I can only describe as deconstructed. With all the elements separated and artfully laid out on a plate, including a rim full of garbanzo beans, it made for complicated combining on a flat surface. There wasn’t enough dressing and what there was tasteless. The textbook definition of a Cobb includes chopped chicken (or turkey), but here it was laid out in a solid mass, a little overcooked, and hard to slice. So this was a “miss” for me.
Upon recommendation we ordered the Baked Alaska for dessert. It was impressive to look at, torched marshmallow coating replacing the traditional meringue, but it was tooth-achingly sweet on the outside and on the inside, there wasn’t enough ice cream and too much of a very ordinary chocolate cake to make this one a “hit” for me.
I do want to stress that the environment is lovely, the action is lively, the people watching and open friendliness of fellow imbibers make this a really fun place to go pretty much any day of the week, but especially at Brunch.
Would I return? Yes, the Brioche French Toast looks wonderful, I’d like to try the Smashburger and the fried chicken, and I’d give one of the three other desserts a chance.
It’s easy to justify a review based only on the uniqueness of the venue. But if this café wants to be judged on its merits for food, ambiance and service, I think they’re getting there but haven’t fully achieved their goal.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.