I read about restaurateurs Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb in the July edition of Food and Wine Magazine and was instantly drawn to their expertly executed home-style aesthetic. The piece featured the couple in their home with little snippets of doing what they do in the setting of their own familial world. It was, in a word, beautiful.
West coast Food and Wine correspondent Jennifer Sommer crafted an excellent piece, highlighting the artistry and professionalism of the pair as well as the alluring warmth in the practice of their life with their children. I told Nick as I scanned the pictures and recipes, “I just love these guys.” I found myself inspired and driven to visit their restaurants not only for the food, but also acting on an emotional response to the ever-connecting resonance of food and family.
The couple owns a handful of restaurants in the Santa Monica area. The food they offer is fresh market selection fare baring both the light dishes befitting to the California lifestyle, and hearty dishes and fresh baked breads and treats.
It was practically a spiritual journey I had in my mind to embark on. A milestone. A Mecca. I had decided that considering my dietary parameters, Huckleberry, rather than their other restaurants would be best. I made every attempt to be patient and wait for a chance to visit the little café with Nick or with a friend. But weekend after weekend, something came up – Nick had to work, I couldn’t get the timing right with friends, errands popped up.
Until finally this weekend I spent two full days doing nothing but reading about food and cooking and writing. It’s been absolute heaven! Plans fell through again with a friend to go visit Huckleberry. So I grabbed my new copy of “Will Write for Food” and snagged the bus to Santa Monica.
My nose buried in a book for the hour-long ride, the excitement built as new ideas stated to form and my anticipation for this little café I’d been idolizing drew ever-nearer. In fact, as the bus slowed for my stop, I stood with a sensation of butterflies fluttering through me. Like I was going to see a boy I liked or meet someone whose work I admired, hoping they wouldn’t turn out to be a stinker.
Almost floor to ceiling screens trace the parameter in sections of window, echoing of coming home on a summer evening as a child; only a frail separation between home and the freshly settling memories of running through sprinklers in lush grass and catching lightning bugs. The vague separation making coming home for dinner and ending the fun of a summer day, bearable.
Once inside the Huckleberry, butcher block counter tops and tables sensationalize the air with an amber tone and remain a constant note amongst the many other pleasant smells of baking treats.
I was lucky enough to procure a seat looking out into the street. It sprinkled a bit and I watched it rain as I waited for my lentil ragu with poached eggs and a slice of country bread. I could, and maybe should, have asked them to hold the bread. While is was whole wheat bread, and for most people it would have been a good option. For those on the ACD, yeasted bread should be avoided, and I should have declined it. But… this was a spiritual journey! I wanted the whole experience as much as I could safely imbibe it. So I opted in. Sugar, more than anything, seems to be my trigger for reactions anyway.
The lentils were perfect – not too mushy, not too hard. The tomatoes in the sauce burst with a vibrancy inherent only in the freshest of selections. Clean, crisp basil rang through the acidity of the tomato sauce and the steamed green chard rounded out the dish with an earthy balance.
I was so caught up in the sauce, that I actually forgot that there were poached eggs in there for me to uncover! What a creamy, elegant surprise. I took my time with it. I tasted and dipped and scooped. I must have betrayed my anonymity, as the man at the table next to me asked what I was eating. I was a sitting advertisement for the dish. And now here I sit- an advertisement for the restaurant.
In good form, I went back twice more to try other dishes and see how they held up, or if I just got lucky on my first trip.
On my second trip, I got Mary’s Organic Chopped Chicken Salad. It was an excellent lighter option with romaine lettuce, kalamata olives and chick peas. It was all very fresh, flavorful and I felt satisfied after eating it. Just what I was looking for that day.
Third trip I got what might have been my favorite thus far: Roasted Duck Hash. Oh my. Warming in a way only roasted poultry can be. It was perfectly moist, and familiar senses of sage and thyme enveloped the meat, giving a Thanksgiving-esq tonality. Served with roasted potatoes, spinach wilted to tender without passing into a duller shade of green, and poached eggs, it was an encompassing and deeply satisfying dish.
Every time I visited, it was busy. Even one day when I arrived during a rush around 2 pm on a Sunday. The line was to the back door, but they have several people taking orders at the counter, so it moved quickly. And speaking on the staff, they’re all friendly and well-versed about what they’re selling. I asked several different people varying questions about bakery goods and what was in dishes or if things were sweetened, and they all answered me knowledgeably and pleasantly.
The food always came in under 10 minutes and though the seating capacity isn’t expansive and it seems the patronage is, people are served quickly, enjoy, and then seem to move along reasonably so others can enjoy. The rhythm of the place is impeccable and comfortable.
- Delicate Foodie Rating
- Vegetarian – Vegetarians have the most options including house-made granola, breakfast porridge, poached eggs with pesto and fresh baked English muffin, and lentil ragu.
- Candida Diet – Thanks to the use of local, organic meats and fresh local vegetables, thankfully, this place has some great options for us! However, as comes with the territory on the candida diet, you have to be careful here as I myself gave in to bread (it is a café and bakery after all). But there are definitely options here excluding the bread such as the Organic golden quinoa with sunny side up eggs, roasted duck hash with potatoes, lentil ragu and most of their dishes could be modified slightly with a simple “without the bread” or “without the cheese”. The only item which specifically delineates no alterations is the breakfast burrito. Just be strong and don’t order any of the gorgeous sweets. Not until your body can handle it again one day. For now stay strong, because it won’t make you feel so gorgeous right now.
- Vegan – The most difficult to find here are vegan options as most dishes have either cheese or yogurt, meat or eggs. But again, not impossible. The lentil dish comes through again as a shining star of hope for the vegan diner. And again you can ask them to hold the cheese on a few other options.
I focussed on the brunch menu, but they also have salads, a few other dishes and baked goods available all the time.
Huckleberry lived up to my dreams for it. I’ll be back. I highly recommend you make the trip yourself.
Have you had a chance to get out to Huckleberry yet? How about reading through the cookbook? How did you like it?