For answers to more of your burning questions, visit the Ask Chris archive.
Q: Is it true that the cheese bread at the Smoke House is made with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese?
A: “That’s the number one question we get,” says manager Manny Munoz. “I think it’s the color, but I tried doing that copycat one at home, and it doesn’t taste anything like ours.” The Burbank restaurant’s comfort loaf includes sourdough, garlic, Parmesan, and two mystery cheeses. The top-secret recipe was created by the original owners in 1946 and covertly passed on to generations of chefs. Online sales have spiked since COVID hit our shores, and the restaurant now ships 300 vacuum-wrapped loaves across the country weekly, each filled with mouthwatering neon-orange cheese, sans Kraft.
Q: How long has the Twin Towers Jail been around? How many people are held there?
A: The Twin Towers Jail is part of L.A.’s biggest big house, which includes the Men’s Central Jail and administration and infirmary buildings. The county built the complex on the site of an old cement factory a block from Union Station in 1963 to replace the decrepit Jazz Age cellblocks at the Hall of Justice. The 3,300 beds at Men’s Central Jail were joined by 4,100 bunks in 1997 when the Twin Towers opened. The perennially overcrowded facility had an average daily population of 14,949 at the end of last year, almost enough inmates to fill the Hollywood Bowl.
Q: What is that burned-out trolley parked across from Paramount Pictures?
A: “It’s an eyesore!” says Fidel Paniagua, owner of Theatrical Auto Body, located next to the Parisian-themed bar Pour Vous, where the vintage trolley once served as an outdoor dining room. “It was their—air quotes— ‘smoking section,’” says Paniagua. When the steering system failed, the oak-and-brass behemoth was beached outside the shop, famed for customizing the cars of Paramount bigwigs in the ’60s and ’70s. During the bar’s COVID closure, someone moved in and set the trolley on fire. “Now,” Paniagua says. “It’s a Porta Potty for the homeless.”
Q: Does Goodwill siphon off the good stuff before donations reach stores?
A: While some goodies sneak through to build buzz around the “treasure hunt” appeal of the shops, Chanel bags, Rolex watches, and fine art usually end up on eBay, Amazon, and shopgoodwill.com. The charity’s L.A. district received 13 million pounds of donations last year, 98 percent of which made its way to store shelves. But since 2013, a team of 50 eagle-eyed experts has been employed at the Atwater Village store to hoard plunder. An Ed Ruscha print recently fetched $5,000 online, which helps the charity’s employment programs a lot more than my $5 would.