I work on a movie lot. Those of you who don’t probably envision it as one nonstop MGM-type glamourganza – hundreds of extras in black tie and tails doing the Lindy down the street, while gladiators and nuns hang around outside soundstages, smoking Chesterfields and reading the racing form.
It’s pretty much never like that, although one sixty year old grip did point out the area of the old Love Boat stage where everybody used to do coke. Other than the occasional outdoor shoot by a Modern Family or House, or a Tom Cruise or Robert DeNiro whizzing by in an electric golf cart driven by a nervous p.a. (which reminds me of one of my co-workers, Jason, who, years ago as a p.a., was driving John Goodman to the Roseanne set, when John politely suggested, “Could you maybe quit driving like a f***ing moron?”), it’s pretty much like the campus of any large company across America. That is, in an effort to avoid any pesky downtime while you attend to your personal necds, they offer a wide range of onsite services, including dining.
And while the restaurants here on the lot are actually quite good, there is the rare occasion when my co-workers and I can actually spare the time to flee the premises.
When we do go out, usually to celebrate someone’s birthday or adult circumcision (don’t ask), we go to one of the large number of establishments that dot the boulevard in front of the lot. One such restaurant is a place called The Milky Way. And, until recently, I’d never been there. For a reason.
It’s owned by a billionaire’s mother.
I’d been invited by a co-worker from another department to go to this restaurant numerous times, and I kept stalling. After all, “celebrity”-owned restaurants can be notoriously bad, famous more for their owners and their hilariously absurd prices than for the food or service. I fully expected the famous mother – if she was there at all – to whisk by in a bejeweled gown as gay minions fanned out behind her, barking orders on Madonna headsets and instructing diners not to look her in the eye.
But after much hounding by my co-worker, I finally relented. And to my great surprise (and a wildly inappropriate level of delight from my co-worker), I was WRONG.
The place could not have been more homey. A hodgepodge of dark pleather booths, carpeting, oak trim that has seen better days, and memorabilia from Steven Spielberg’s movie empire, The Milky Way is a kosher diner that is, to put it kindly, unassuming.
And the food is surprisingly good, and ridiculously reasonable, which, given that you may, at any time, spot a superstar or two, makes it downright delicious.
Most surprising of all, though, was the owner. Leah Spielberg, Steven’s mother, was a total freaking delight. This tiny, 91-year-old woman who could buy and sell me a hundred times over, greeted everyone in our group like prodigal sons and daughters. (Wait, she’s Jewish, do they believe in that story?) She hugged us, flirted with us, and made us feel as if we were the most important people in the room – which, given that Steven Spielberg and Sid Sheinberg (former head of Universal Studios) were dining two booths away, was quite possibly not true.
Sure, you could argue that when one of your offspring is the most successful director of all time, you don’t have a lot to be stressed out about. I mean, the story goes that when the landlord of the building that houses The Milky Way was gonna sell it (meaning Leah would lose her restaurant), Spielberg just wrote a check and bought the whole block.
But come on, she’s NINETY-ONE. She could lie around on a chaise made of platinum and puppies and count her son’s money. But there she is, every day, charming the patrons and chatting up her admirers with a twinkle in her eye.
I guess I should reserve judgment on celebrity restaurants. Sure, most of them will still be obnoxious and overpriced. But every once in a while, maybe I’ll stumble onto another Milky Way.
Although I’m sure the owner won’t be as hot.