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All that's missing is the sand

October 04, 2006|Susan LaTempa | Times Staff Writer

IF you're offended by the aesthetics of fast food -- the mass-market, lowest-denominator execution and packaging -- but you've got some affection for potentially noble foodstuffs such as hamburgers, hot dogs and fries, then grab the kids and head for West L.A.'s Colony Cafe. It's a pleasantly freakish anomaly for this city: a tastefully appointed, preppily cheerful burger joint.

The Colony Cafe seeks, with its name and decor, to evoke not only the Malibu seaside celebrity enclave, but also the Hamptons (all this is pointed out in its promotional material -- yup, a burger joint with a press kit). Strangely, though that's the roar of traffic, not ocean waves, just outside the white-painted patio railing, it succeeds.

For one thing, this 4-month-old cafe is such a pretty place that you become a willing co-conspirator the moment you step in. The mother-daughter owners, Lily and Calla Tartikoff, have converted a former Maytag appliance store near Westside Pavilion into a charming, quiet oasis. The patio dining area, with half a dozen tables and comfortable wickerish chairs, is an airy two-story mini-atrium situated under a soaring sky-lighted ceiling. The facade imitates white clapboard, and the interior is white with marine blue accents.

The patio stretches across two side-by-side storefronts. Inside one, there's a counter staffed by fresh-faced young counterfolk ready to take your order for burgers, sandwiches and fries. Next door, there's a coffee and dessert bar called Papa's Porch that's furnished with elegant high-backed beige banquettes, black pedestal tables and a bright white counter. The window for peeking into the ice cream and frozen yogurt freezer is low, so a 3-footer can easily see which Dr. Bob's flavors are on offer; the music is a breezy mix of standards so baby boomer parents and grandparents are drawn to linger over coffee.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 05, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Lilly Tartikoff: In Wednesday's Food section review of the Colony Cafe in West Los Angeles, co-owner Lilly Tartikoff's first name was misspelled as Lily.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 11, 2006 Home Edition Food Part F Page 3 Features Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
The Find: In the Oct. 4 review of the Colony Cafe in West Los Angeles, co-owner Lilly Tartikoff's first name was misspelled as Lily.

But the beachy feeling only goes so far, of course -- there's no taking your to-go bag and heading for the sand. Happily, the food is so good that it doesn't need an ocean vista to satisfy. And the operation irons out all those little annoyances that can get in the way. Here, you can get your burger the way you want it; you can take your time deciding on your cookie choice. Your sandwich won't slide apart in your hands.

Sandwiches, burgers, dogs and such arrive at your table on retro-chic aluminum trays in stylish white cardboard serve ware -- no gaudy wrappers or environmentally unpleasant foam. Best-quality ingredients are the rule; pea shoots are on the sandwiches, burgers are made with hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, buns are toasted. Board specials offer changing soups and weekly special drinks such as pomegranate lemonade.

Colony Cafe's sandwiches set the pace. As listed on the menu, they sound like something you'd get anywhere: a grilled chicken, a tuna melt. But because such attention is paid to the details -- not just red onions but pickled red onions on the roast beef, for example -- they're quite luxurious, completely pleasing as packages. When you bite through crusty sourdough to juicy grilled chicken topped with roasted red pepper and spicy arugula, you feel like Dagwood at the kitchen table -- why would you ever want anything else to eat?

The veggie sandwich is a dream of smooth garlicky hummus, bright pea shoots, Swiss cheese, avocado, cucumber and more on a thick slice of multigrain. All the breads are fresh from La Brea Bakery and happily matched to their fillings (the BLT is on brioche; tuna with cheddar and grilled onions is served on corn rye).

Burgers and dogs are shown the respect they deserve too. It's not the kind of place that treats a hamburger as if it were a pizza with everything, but chef Mary Cleary has a handful of variations that fulfill classic cravings -- a chili cheeseburger, a veggie burger, even a two-patty lettuce-wrapped (no bun) version. Nathan's hot dogs are steamed and presented in buttered buns toasted on the griddle. Go plain or pick from a list of toppings that includes sauerkraut, chili, pepperoncini, avocado and roasted peppers.

Soups vary daily; a superlative spicy bean soup had plenty of body and a rich cumin-garlic flavor. Chopped salad is terrific here, with just the right balance of lettuce, beans and cheese so that every bite offers that heady mix of flavors and textures.

Settling back with an oatmeal cookie that really tastes homemade -- not too sweet, with the nuttiness of the oatmeal coming through -- you might reflect on how it's often harder to get the simplest things to be just right. The menu may be modest, but at Colony Cafe, you can tell that someone cares.



The Colony Cafe & Papa's Porch

Location: 10937 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 470-8909.

Price: Burgers, $6 to $8; hot dogs, $3 to $5; sandwiches, $7 to $9; salads, $6 to $9; kid's menu items, $3.75.

Best dishes: Veggie sandwich, chili cheese dog, chopped salad, roast beef sandwich.

Details: Colony Cafe is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Papa's Porch is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Some parking behind the restaurant, also street parking. Major credit cards.

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