highly anticipated cafe and bakery from Quinn and Karen Hatfield debuted yesterday, bringing a more casual menu and vibe to a bright, airy spot just a hop and a skip from Hatfield's, their haute Melrose restaurant. On paper, Sycamore Kitchen almost sounds like Huckleberry East, Santa Monica's insanely popular breakfast and lunch spot. And in some ways it's similar, but you actually have room to wait in line. And there will be lines. There isn't really something like it in this particular neighborhood, and judging by the steady crowds, it's just what was needed. Read on for our first peek at one of the summer's hottest openings.
The scene: We knew the restaurant is on the block of La Brea across from Tinga and Cafe Midi, but the sign isn't up yet, so we parked and figured we'd stroll and find it. Look for a colorful geometrically designed fence with some tables behind it - that's the spot. Inside, there's a glass-enclosed counter filled with pastries and an army of workers, everyone still learning the ropes but very calm and capable. There was a fairly long line for a late lunch when we got there, but it thinned out. A staffer quickly told us the set up - order at the register, get a number, take a seat, food comes to you. We could only hear every other word because of the glass partition, but you get the gist.
The decor: Lots of brick, weathered wood, industrial tubing overhead, metal chairs, benches along one wall. With high ceilings and windows, it's very airy and bright. The courtyard out front is a great spot for outdoor dining, especially with the fence blocking the street. Spacious.
The crowd: Neighborhood folks and Hatfield's regulars, at least by our count of how many people who said hello to both Quinn and Karen by name. There were a couple of stylish guys going over a script or something, a few women stopping after shopping at Amercian Rag Cie across the street. A typical Mid-City crowd, but more Tinga than Cafe Midi.
The food: Lots of sweet and savory baked goods, Stumptown coffee, and seasonally leaning sandwiches and salads. Simple and familiar is the theme, with a few twists. We thought we were ordering a BLT, but instead found ourselves eating a braised pork belly sandwich with balsamic-soaked tomatoes, butter lettuce, a thin crisp of bacon. The bread is amazing, the sandwich incredibly rich. The homemade potato chips - tossed in reduced malt vinegar, we're told - are fantastic. The chopped Chinois salad and open-face sandwich our table neighbors ordered looked a little skimpy for the price. We tried a flourless brownie, one of the best we've ever tasted, and a rye chocolate chip cookie. Don't miss that one. There are a lot of other pastries, especially in mini form (bundts, cakes, etc.).
The drinks: No booze (yet?), but having access to Stumptown coffee is a treat. One of the signature drinks is an iced coffee made with lots of milk and cinnamon syrup. Not to our liking (too sweet), but the cinnamon is a nice touch. We stuck with iced tea and left with some Stumptown beans.
The music: We caught ourselves singing along to some indie rock song when we were in line, but don't remember who it was. At some point there was something poppier, and our table neighbors commented on the odd music selection. Didn't seem too odd, just an eclectic mix.
The deets: Sycamore Kitchen is open for coffee and lunch all day from 8AM-5PM. Breakfast will be added in a few weeks, and weekend brunch will come after (143 S. La Brea Ave.; 323-939-0151).