As soon as I heard the buzz (swirling late last year) about a hot new watering hole in my ’hood (Studio City, CA), a few friends and I strolled over to Laurel Tavern one Thursday evening to see what the fuss was about.
Gotta love a pub you can walk to!
We sauntered in around 6:30pm and found the place buzzing and almost packed. Luckily, there were some empty tables right up the back, in the corner. But I was wistfully eyeing the primo tables near the large front windows that open up onto Ventura Boulevard, deeming them perfect for people watching. (There isn’t all that much pedestrian traffic on that section of Ventura, but still!)
Anyway, after we snagged our table and checked out the chalkboard menu, one of us went up to the bar to place our order, in a “Father’s Office”-style – pay as you go.
I noticed it was All-American libations, meaning they have local wines by the glass, spirits available, and sixteen or so beers on tap. I ended up imbibing several glasses of decent Pinot Noir ($9) and my guy sampled a few of the beers ($5-$6), including the Lost Coast Downtown Brown (a little too sweet for his liking) before he settled on the Anderson Valley Boont Amber as being the best of the bunch. His preference leans toward a dark, flavorful ale – not sweet and slightly bitter one.
As far as I can tell, the food items look to be chosen to complement the beers, which fits in to the whole pub ethos.
A brief word about “Gastropubs.” Gastropubs originated in Britain in the early 1990’s and are so-named because the food they offer is a marked improvement over your usual dodgy pub fare of limp fries and soggy pies. Gastropubs have been described as the Anglo-equivalent of the French brasserie or the Japanese izakaya, where the food still takes a back seat to the drinking.
Interestingly enough, in a recent “Los Angeles Times” article, co-owner Will Shamlian appears to be nervously downplaying their menu, saying, “We’re not restaurateurs. We’re not trying to compete with Gordon Ramsay. We’re just doing solid food that goes well with a drink.”
Well, the food is much better than merely “solid” and the vibe is lively and fun. The groovy decor certainly helps with the ambience. Laurel Tavern is a cozy, New York-style bar with exposed brick and stripped-back wooden floors allegedly salvaged from a 1920’s Nebraska industrial warehouse. Exposed wooden beams cross the ceiling and wooden benches line the walls, accented by a chic, dark brown padded-leather headrest (reminiscent of a Chesterfield sofa). The butcher-block tables are accented by metal chairs and bar stools painted a jolly blue.
Anyway, on to the pub grub. All items were priced from $6-$12.
I’d read some rave reviews about the spicy maple-glazed Pork Belly Skewers ($6). The six, succulent morsels were every bit as delicious as expected. Also on the menu, but not sampled this time around were:
Burrata with Roasted Beets ($10)
Roast Marrowbones ($8)
Grilled Artichoke ($10)
Old School Burger ($8)
Hickory Burger ($9)
Of the three burgers on offer, we all ordered the Laurel Burger (aka their house burger, $9), which was beyond perfect. Small in size, the white bun housed a medium-rare cooked beef patty with melted Gruyere, fresh arugula, and caramelized onions. Superb!
We also sampled their Basket of Fries. While they offer standard fries ($5), we went for the ones cooked in pork fat ($6), which were very crispy, delicious and decadently evil! For an additional $3, get a half serve of fries with your $9 burger (recommended). And we tried the Mini Croques Monsieurs ($7). These were mini-baguette rounds, toasted, containing ham and melted cheese (probably gruyere, which is traditional, but possibly just some American cheddar). These too dry, so I wouldn’t order them again.
After such a full meal, our verdict was that Laurel Tavern is really great! We had heaps of fun and it’s a lively, cool place with inexpensive food and drink that is open late, an oddity in the Los Angeles restaurant scene.
*** Insider note: Valet parking for $3.50 is available right next door, at Teru Sushi.
11938 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
Sat & Sun, 12pm-2am
Kitchen Hours 5pm-11pm
[Pauline Adamek is a Hollywood-based film, theater, and food critic who files for “FilmInk Australia,” the “L.A. Daily News,” and the “Sun Community Newspapers” as well as various websites under the “nom du net” Max Million.]