Southern Comfort at Spoonful
By Chef Dawn Walker
Teetering between the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood, directly across from the Cahuenga entrance to Universal Studios, a fledgling restaurant is rising to the proverbial ranks of top gastropubs gracing our Southern California culinary landscape. Spoonful, open since November 2012, shouts soul food in a Los Angeles style. Frank Foley, a Southern gentleman whose roots were sowed in rural Georgia, has brought that Southern comfort to Southern California.
The restaurant is organized into several rooms, including a comfortable sitting area high above the bar; a long bar with pickled vegetables and drink adornments tempting even non-drinkers; the front hall with booths and chairs, a high ceiling, and a picture window; and the front room with a huge family table and several smaller tables, and welcomes neighbors and travelers alike. Pictures of spoons, Elvis, and inspirational sayings adorn the walls, and guests can peek in the kitchen and say “hi” to executive chef Victor Calderon on their way up the ramp to the sitting room and restrooms. Spiritual songs serenade diners before, on “Soulful Sundays,” professional singers from stage, screen, and houses of worship entertain from noon to 3 p.m.
But besides the comfortable atmosphere and the attentive serving staff, Spoonful’s lightened versions of traditional soul food are what keep guests coming back. For the diner looking for more traditional breakfast choices, the fruit, yogurt, and granola bowl laced with honey or the bourbon French toast with bananas are sure to please. But my mouth waters for the braised pork belly, panko-crusted soft-boiled egg, and cornmeal pancake with vanilla gastrique. The pork needed but a fork to divide the layers of melted fat and juicy meat, but what stood out in this dish was the panko-crusted egg, which when split oozed rich yolk goodness over the arugula bed it nested on. The bite that piled the pork onto the breaded egg and the cornmeal cake with a rich vanilla syrup bath was almost too much for my simple taste buds to handle!
The southern fried chicken over grits and collards proved to me that very few Southern California restaurants truly know how to make crispy and juicy fried chicken, let alone creamy grits and saucy collard greens. But the star of the show for me was Spoonful’s version of eggs Benedict, with a crispy crab cake replacing the traditional English muffin, and a lovely ripe tomato and poached egg blanketed with hollandaise sauce. I could not get enough of the crab cake with the smooth and rich egg yolk and hollandaise sauce.
When we sat down, I asked the server if it would be all right to bring us samples rather than just ordering a dish for each of us. To my surprise, they brought us samples of five of the 10 meals on their Sunday brunch menu. The pulled pork hash was not my favorite but not because it was not good; I am just not a huge fan of hash-type dishes.
I would be remiss if I weren’t to talk about the delicious drinks we sampled while waiting for our meal. Ace had his usual: a Bloody Mary. He has consumed Bloody Mary’s and variations thereof at every brunch we have ever attended, and his comment when he first tried Spoonful’s Scarlett O’Hara Bloody Mary was that this was the best Bloody Mary he had ever tried. The Scarlett was a mix of Stoli vodka and house-made Bloody Mary mix. The rim coated with chili and bacon framed the house-pickled okra and green beans floating atop. My libation, A Streetcar Named Desired combined vodka, house-infused lavender syrup, orange juice, angostura bitters, and Champagne. The slightly bitter and savory yet refreshing morning drink complimented our meal.
Spoonful’s dinner menu includes luxurious choices such as beef and andouille sausage chili, Buffalo shrimp, shrimp po-boy, spaghetti squash (a staff favorite), short ribs, and fried chicken. I am sorry I didn’t get to try the macaroni and cheese or fried green tomatoes. I’m sure they are delish! And what Southern restaurant doesn’t include pecan pie and southern sticky toffee pudding. Oh … next time….
Spoonful is open for dinner and late-night Monday through Friday, and from 9:30 a.m. through the evenings on Saturday and Sundays. The restaurant has earned four stars with 40 reviews on YELP and has 356 “likes” on Facebook; I am excited to watch the hype grow.
I really enjoyed our brunch at Spoonful. The prices seemed reasonable for the portions and quality of ingredients. Simple versions of Southern dishes combined with a light So-Cal style are proof that at Spoonful the two can coexist in a sweet harmony, not unlike the soulful singers who serenaded us during our meal.