A self-described pumpkin enthusiast, Edward Allen has spent years seeking out every variety of seasonal squash-flavored product, from body scrubs to bubblegum to beer. We asked him to be Los Angeles magazine’s official holiday pumpkin correspondent, and lend his gourd-spertise to some of the season’s most outrageous pie-spiced goodies. (Note: He’s also one of the founders of local PR firm Urban + Allen; unfortunately for him, none of his clients are pumpkins.) We sent him on a treasure hunt of sorts, with a mission to find the best pumpkin foods in L.A. Here, he lays out his most delicious finds.
1. Pumpkin Tart, Gadarene Swine
I heard that Margarita Lee was making a pumpkin tart at the Gadarene Swine and I knew I had to head there right away. Her vegan desserts at this restaurant are always spot-on and this was no different. It comes with a lemon sugar cookie base, topped with rosemary caramel, pumpkin moose, kaffir lime pumpkin seeds, candied pecans, sweet potato chips and whipped cream. This is a smart dessert with flavors not typically found in most pumpkin dishes. Also, I could eat a bag of the sweet potato chips everyday.
2. Smashing Pumpkin Burger, Daily Dose Café
To be honest, I had low expectations for this one. Last year I tried a pumpkin burger and thought it was awful. I am happy to report, though, that the version at Daily Dose works and could—nay, should—be eaten year-round. The chef explained to me that the pumpkin is roasted with spices, chilled and pureed with a little bit of crème fraîche, cassis, and brown sugar. A grass fed chuck, oxtail, pork-shoulder meat blend is rubbed with spices and then marinated for a day. Then it is ground course and made into a patty, layered with the pumpkin, blue cheese, and grilled. The end result is served on a brioche bun with onions, radish, micro greens, and lemon aioli. The pumpkin mixture oozed out every time I took a bite and paired perfectly with the earthy flavors of the burger.
3. Pie One On Cocktail, Gracias Madre
This is the best pumpkin cocktail I have ever tried, and trust me I’ve tried a few. Made of tequila añejo, port, housemade pepita pumpkin butter, lemon, demerara, and house aromatic bitters, it’s a complex sipper to be sure. Pumpkin-based cocktails tend to be too sweet to have more than one—not here. The drink is well balanced and doesn’t scream pumpkin so loudly that non-pumpkin fans—sorry as they may be—wouldn’t enjoy it.
4. Wildcraft, Pumpkin Ricotta Bombolini
Desserts like the this are the reason I am so obsessed with pumpkin. Chef Wigger takes my favorite ingredient and creates an Italian-style doughnut with creamy ricotta and Cinderella pumpkin purée. A few of them are served with spiced vanilla sugar and yogurt mascarpone for dipping. Pumpkin, as an ingredient, just works so well in desserts because it makes them moister and I find that to be key.
5. Pumpkin Blue Corn Tamale, Chavela
Full disclosure, my PR firm represents Chavela, but the pumpkin blue corn tamale would lure me to chef Rachel Carr’s Hollywood vegan spot regardless. It’s a spicy, organic blue corn tamale stuffed with sugar pie pumpkin, and served with Anasazi beans, roasted red pepper-tomato sauce and sautéed market vegetables. This was my first time trying a pumpkin tamale and I’m really not sure why these aren’t offered more often. It’s one of those savory pumpkin dishes that makes you really appreciate (or long for) fall.
6. Pumpkin Whoopie Pie, Brite Spot
These are an easy win. One handheld pie is the perfect size to enjoy as an afternoon treat (or you could eat five and hate yourself later). The cake part is super pumpkiny and just begs for a smidge of the vanilla frosting. I’ve had other pumpkin whoopie pies in the past but they have been dry or don’t hit hard enough on that pumpkin flavor. Brite Spot gets it right. Job well done, guys.
7. Pumpkin Cheesecake, The Cheesecake Factory
I haven’t been into the Cheesecake Factory in who knows how long, but for reasons I won’t get into here I recently found myself back in its clutches. I guess because it has been around so long, and it is a chain, people tend to dismiss just how good their cheesecakes are. The name is for a reason, folks. The pumpkin cheesecake here is exceptionally creamy with a primo crust that really showcases a strong pumpkin flavor.