It was the day after Christmas and the whole of Venice seemed hung over from the holiday build up, the making of lists, the checking them twice. Hazy and slightly irritable, the town moved at a sluggish pace wearing their colorful Christmas cashmere beanies and scarves.
I’d been to Gjusta. Moreover, I’d had a highly memorable, actually meaningful and memorable meal at Gjelinas. Years ago, walking around Venice, an Abbot Kinney becoming much different than the one I grew up in, hungry, I walked into Gjelina’s. Hadn’t heard of it. Hadn’t been open long. It was fairly empty and I didn’t have a problem getting a table. It’s hard to imagine this as an Angeleno now, but when my lamb sausage pizza came with its civilized dishes containing pinches of parm, chili pepper flakes and oregano, and my vegetable side of grilled broccolini were all set in front of me, it felt like a food revolution. This incredibly delicious, elegantly simple food was focusing on quality ingredients first. Served in an unpretentious way, Gjelina’s felt very California and though a throwback to the roots of Alice Waters, fresh and new. By the time the beautiful chef brought me a complimentary (and now much imitated) butterscotch pot de creme with sea salt, I was so enamored I sent a text to my best friend that she had to try this place immediately. We’ve since been back many times. Us and the whole of Los Angeles.
As Gjelina became a defining restaraunt in the thriving LA food scene, its portfolio of restaurants grew. One addition, Gjusta, also in Venice, opened with the intent to serve as the city’s go to bakery, all made in house every morning. Croissants, buckwheat loaves, fruit pies, tea cakes. There’s also a mouth watering case of prepared foods sure to make your contribution the star of any pot luck. Always at the ready are a couple Gjelina pizza’s and a varied menu of great sandwiches.
The place is kind of a pain in the ass. The tiny parking lot does not accommodate the restaurants popularity. And as we walked in, I had the kids and mom, Zay and Maria with their three hungry kids, we grabbed a number and eyed the line warily. It was not so much a line as a mob of aforementioned post holiday, hungry, discerning patrons.
Still feeling cloudy and subdued, we waited about 45 mins to order. Once at the counter, the lady that took our order was refreshingly helpful, accommodating and patient. Between us, cappuccinos, hot chocolates for the kids, cheeseburger (Laz), Reubens, Banh Mi Americano, veggie sandwich, multiple orders of fantastic french fries with shaved parmesan, slice of sausage pizza to share, and to finish a fantastic idea, the lady like combo of tapioca with passion fruit.
We sat at a hard to score table outside, ate contentedly and took in the multiple Euro accents around us. Apparently, there’s been an influx of europeans (french specifically) settling in Venice. Safe to assume they’re appreciative of one of the countries best bakeries in their new hood.
Before leaving I grabbed a couple items from the prepared case and while waiting to pay heard the cashier greeting the handsome couple in front of me as if they were old friends. “Your regular loaf?” he asked them. “yea, two today please, family still in town.”
What Gjusta heralds back is a trend that I hope becomes contagious enough to be supported in smaller suburbs through out the city (ahem, Agoura). Local bakery’s, butcher shops, wine and cheese experts sharing their prized creations, their oversea discovery’s. The after shocks of mass consumption, of big box and convenience can be diluted with quality purveyors if we support them. LA has some of the best farmers markets in the world our local produce does cartwheels around New York, and yet this city sprawl has made it a challenge in most markets to find these great independents.
Our reliance on the Amazon experience I believe will pull us back to the craving of human experience as it pertains to what we put in our bodies and on our families table. “I wanna go where everybody knows my name.” Yes, Gjelina’s became the beacon for cool, the latest industry low down, but what Gjusta’s is working towards is an amplified nostalgia, your local spot on steroids who’s success will hopefully herald imitators on a street near you.