Grand Central Market | Press Coverage | The New York Times | By Jeff Gordinier LOS ANGELES — One thing becomes clear when you go out for breakfast here, whether you join the hordes waiting in line at Sqirl, République and Eggslut, or linger among the regulars sipping cold brew and fi.
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The New York Times
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Los Angeles: City of Breakfast
February 23, 2016

By Jeff Gordinier 

LOS ANGELES — One thing becomes clear when you go out for breakfast here, whether you join the hordes waiting in line at Sqirl, République and Eggslut, or linger among the regulars sipping cold brew and finessing their Instagram still lifes on the patio at Gjusta, in the booths at Jon & Vinny’s, and up and down the white picnic tables of Trois Familia:

People sure have time on their hands.

Breakfast for much of the country involves random bland calories shoved down one’s gullet in a mad dash to work, but breakfast in Los Angeles — particularly for those engaged in creative, flexible-schedule pursuits like acting, screenwriting or shamanic healing — qualifies as both a day at the office and a day at the beach. Fact is, a Los Angeles breakfast lasts all day long.

That has been the case for decades — it’s no accident that downtown’s ancient war horse of the pancake griddle, the Original Pantry Cafe, stays open 24 hours. But in recent years, the chefs of the city, realizing they’ve inherited a captive audience, have seized the opportunity and spiced up their menus.

Right now, the first meal of the day in Los Angeles is arguably one of the most interesting and satisfying meals, of any sort, in the United States. If the nation has a capital of breakfast R&D, this could be it.

“At the moment, L.A. is the best restaurant city in America,” said Phil Rosenthal, the New York transplant who created “Everybody Loves Raymond” and now stars in his own globe-spinning food show, “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having.” In his mind, better-quality breakfasts are an outgrowth of that, and of the city’s daylight-relishing culture.

“I went to République the other day, and there was a line down the block at 9 a.m. on a Saturday,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “It’s all delicious and it features the produce that we have.” And chefs aren’t reluctant to experiment, he added. “It’s almost like an artists’ colony is making you breakfast.”

Restaurants here are “getting away from just a plate of fried eggs and bacon,” said Travis Lett, the chef and baker behind Gjelina and Gjusta, both in the Venice area. “It has to be something more than that — without it turning into a precious, highbrow thing.”

For anyone who frets that the American breakfast is defined (and confined) by monotonous yolk-and-starch limitations, a trip to Southern California provides a bacon-wrapped bite of boredom elimination and consciousness expansion.

Here is Sqirl, where Jessica Koslow delivers sorrel pesto rice and a “Home on the Range” tartine that makes bedfellows of sturgeon, romesco sauce and apples. Here is Trois Familia, a brunch-hours-only box in a Silver Lake strip mall where Ludo Lefebvre joins forces with Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook for wake-and-bake mash-ups like a tostada crowned with deep purple beets, tongue-tingling “chilaquiles” made with hash browns, and French toast that conjures the flavor and texture of churros.

Want a time capsule of Los Angeles gastronomy circa 2016? At Trois Familia on a recent Thursday morning, a server offered a special that involved “a side of French onion soup to dunk a quesadilla in.”

And why stop there? There’s the breakfast burrito with smoked potatoes and chorizo at Cofax. The Korean latke at Leona. The braised short rib with eggs at Post & Beam. The warm quinoa bowl “with roots and flowers,” as the menu puts it, for brunch at Willie Jane.

“Chefs all over town are having fun with brunch — the borders have truly come down,” said Brad Johnson, the restaurateur behind Willie Jane and Post & Beam.

Then there are the eggs fried in olive oil and paired with grilled kale, crispy potatoes and ’nduja at Jon & Vinny’s (run by Mr. Dotolo and Mr. Shook). The fresh bread and smoked fish at Gjusta, a place that feels like an East-West fusion of Russ & Daughters and the “Good Vibrations”-era Beach Boys. The kimchi fried rice, adobo fried rice and mushroom toast at République. The yolk-gooey sandwiches at Eggslut in the Grand Central Market, and a few steps away, the breakfast raviolo with ricotta and the polenta porridge with Santa Monica honey at Knead & Co.

At Moon Juice, Amanda Chantal Bacon’s avant-garde juice bar of the moment, a rainbow-hued panoply of elixirs, milks and powders is said to aid with “anything you’re looking to achieve energetically or physically,” as Sean Brennan, an employee in the Silver Lake branch, recently explained.

The place also serves bullet-size shots of ocean minerals that another employee described as “unicorn’s tears.” There are putative boosts for the brain, the skin, the spirit, the libido. “If you want to do a date shake and mix in the Sex Dust, I can do that for you,” Mr. Brennan offered.

It’s all a far cry from a bacon-egg-and-cheese scarfed down on the F train. If a frantic workday in New York City often starts late and careens toward the catharsis of a late and boozy dinner, Los Angeles clicks along to a different clock, in which pitch meetings and yoga sessions and calorie intake cluster in the sunrise portion of the day.

“L.A. — we’re an early city, in general,” said Mr. Dotolo, of the duo behind numerous spots like Animal and Jon & Vinny’s. “People are up and about. We see a lot of this in our restaurants.”

“Early” can be a relative term. Many restaurants here have been willing to break away from traditional schedule restraints by serving their wake-up calls well into the afternoon.

 

And now they are testing culinary restraints. “Breakfast has always been big in L.A.,” Mr. Shook said, “just not always done by chefs.”

What the chefs are bringing to breakfast and brunch here is what they aspire to bring to any meal: fresh ingredients from the farmers’ markets and careful technique, for starters. “We cure the ham ourselves,” said Walter Manzke, who runs the kitchen at République with his wife, Margarita. “We bake the bread that morning. The butter’s from France.”

Chefs also come with an aptitude for turning traditional recipes upside down with a jolt of imagination. Jon & Vinny’s serves a breakfast pizza. So does Leona, which stands about 100 yards from the beach in Venice.

“It excites me to shake up breakfast a little bit,” said Nyesha J. Arrington, the chef at Leona, where her morning dishes appear on the weekend brunch menu. “I think of things that I want to eat and kind of work backwards from there.” Consider her “adult Frosted Flakes,” a bowl of brown-rice pudding laced with dark rum and top-layered with cereal that has been toasted in brown butter.

At Sqirl, Ms. Koslow has pioneered day starters that come across as simultaneously comforting and disorienting, on purpose. “I see something like shakshuka, and I’m like, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do shakshuka,’” she said. “I have to figure out a way to make it Sqirl-y.”

The presence of all this captivating food — and a striking regional tolerance for table-hogging — has fostered the growth of a new kind of commissary for creative people. “Not only is the coffee waking you up, but the buzz of the place is, too,” said Mr. Manzke of République. “It’s a meeting place. Everybody’s got their laptops.”

And if they run out of material to muse on, there’s always breakfast itself.

“There’s usually an over-easy egg on top of pretty much every dish,” noted Zach Brooks, the man behind the Midtown Lunch blog and the host of the Food Is the New Rock podcast. “A runny egg probably increases your Instagram likes by 87 percent.”

 

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