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Artists Won't Starve

Cafe Metropol, nestled among creative lofts, serves many tasty variations of salads, sandwiches and pizza. Oh, and there's espresso, of course.


East of Little Tokyo, 3rd Street enters an obscure tangle of streets set at odd angles and dead-ending into each other. There are a lot of disused old commercial buildings around here, and so, by a normal urban evolution, many of them have been converted into artists' lofts. Artists are the hermit crabs of industrial architecture.

And where there are artists, there has to be a place selling espresso and exquisite sandwiches. In this quiet downtown neighborhood, near the corner of 3rd and Garey streets, it's Cafe Metropol, which signals its presence with a red-and-white banner bearing the word CAFE and the image of a coffee cup. It's a handsome place inside, with exhilaratingly high ceilings; its Diva lamps must be mounted higher than any others in the city, somewhere around 15 feet from the floor. (The place doesn't stay open for dinner, so lighting is not crucial in any case.)

The work of local artists hangs on the walls, of course, and half the walls themselves are exposed brick, naturellement. The chair backs look like a neat stack of charcoal-gray barrel staves welded onto metal tubes. A pyramidal structure of galvanized steel bestrides the kitchen/cash register area.


Though there's a breakfast menu, including granola, continental breakfast, bagels and some sandwiches, the main meal at Cafe Metropol is lunch. The only options are salads, sandwiches and pizzas, but the tiny kitchen rings so many changes on a limited range of ingredients that the long menu card is full on both sides.

Partly this is done by recycling ideas. Pan bagnat (tuna, artichoke hearts, green beans, Roma tomatoes and onions) is pretty much the same as the tuna salad, except that it comes on a ciabatta roll, rather than on mixed greens. Ditto the chicken Caesar sandwich.

The style is rather European, though, with very occasional Asian touches. You automatically get a generous salad of organic mixed greens with a sandwich, and you can choose Italian, balsamic or sesame-ginger dressing, but if you don't specify, sesame-ginger is what you get. (This is what you do want, of course, if you're getting the sesame-ginger chicken salad, which is also sprinkled with walnuts and sesame seeds.)

The panini, served on baguettes, are grilled, usually melting some cheese, which is likely to be goat, Jarlsberg or Havarti. Marceaux is made with goat cheese, tomatoes and prosciutto (and cucumber, a nearly universal ingredient here, which gives everything a mild, sweet, fresh quality). Verdure is another panino, this one filled with a very meaty portabello mushroom, augmented with zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes and a subtle pesto mayo. It all melts in your mouth.

Among the cold sandwiches, which come on chewy baguettes, ciabatta or organic wheat bread, there's a good one of chicken with Havarti and another of very thinly sliced roast beef (done medium well--apparently rare is not an option) with Jarlsberg and horseradish cream. The Black Forest ham has a little less character, however, and the muffaletta, pleasant though it is, is not the New Orleans sandwich of the same name. It's just eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes and salami with pesto. The grilled salmon sandwich is flavorful, if a bit drippy (the salmon is still hot).


The pizzas, all thin-crust models, take 20 minutes, and they have the same chaste quality as the sandwiches; they all seem to be made with fresh tomatoes, rather than tomato sauce. The one topped with goat cheese is quite good, and the one called buffalina is made with sweet, freshwater buffalo mozzarella (the menu tends to refer to this as "fresh water mozzarella"). It's sprinkled after cooking with basil so fresh it can be smelled at the next table.

A couple of cakes are available for dessert, such as a Black Forest chocolate cake, which gets served with a couple of dollops of fresh whipped cream, some bundt cakes and a rather fragile lemon bar--take my word, eat it there; you don't want to order it to go.

To drink, there are mineral waters, soft drinks and a wealth of coffee drinks including honey vanilla latte. And pretty good espresso. There has to be espresso.



Cafe Metropol, 923 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles. (213) 613-1537. Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday. No alcoholic beverages. Street parking. All major cards ($10 minimum). Salads, $4 to $10; sandwiches and panini, $6.50 to $10. Desserts, $1.75 to $3.75.

What to Get: verdure panino, marceaux panino, grilled chicken sandwich, roast beef sandwich, goat cheese pizza, buffalina pizza, Black Forest cake.

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