Having lunch or breakfast at Huckleberry in Santa Monica requires a fair amount of patience. And some time. Not that you will not be rewarded but the system on which this bright and fancy cafe is built is decidedly imperfect.
First, the queue,typically stretching all the way to the parking lot. While in line, you can squint to read the giant blackboards or grab one of the paper menus – you will have plenty of time to ponder what to order and even more time to admire the cornucopia of pastry cases, where Pastry Chef Zoe Nathan’s creations beckon, inviting. You will then place your order with one of the smiling 12-year-olds who will reassure you the salad you want is indeed available (only to sit down and be told by another 12-year-old that no, they were only kidding and could I pick something else?). Some more waiting and inching along the pastry case until you can order your drinks after the cashier finds your original order, briefly misplaced, pay and finally hunt for a free table (having a friend sit down and reserve the table while you order is frowned upon). By the time you sit down, you are downright exhausted. I can see how the system works for the kitchen by spacing the orders but it’s unfriendly to customers.
But, then again, one goes to Huckleberry for the splendid bread made on the premises (which can be purchased in loaves, baguettes and ciabattas), for the hot breakfast and for the pastries and cakes. Restraining myself to a salad of goat cheese, poached quince and arugula was a plan that didn’t work (all the salads share the same red wine vinaigrette) – I quickly added a fruit square and an eclair.
The fruit square was delectable, on a bed of shortbread and topped with oatmeal, the fruit cooked just right and barely sweetened. As for the eclaire, the pate a choux was a bit thicker than it should have been and the filling was too runny but the dark chocolate glazing was perfect, definitely made with high quality chocolate.
All the sandwiches come on thick and soft bread, too big to eat in one sitting. Ingredients are seasonal, the meat from high-end purveyors like Niman Ranch or La Quercia. But, in the end, it’s Ms. Nathan’s rustic and appealing creations that have me returning: a moist, frosted chocolate layer cake, splendid buttery croissants and pains au chocolat, fruit tarts and on and on, appealingly displayed. The kouign amann doesn’t come close to the one I ate at Bouchon and some of the puff pastry offerings might benefit from a few more minutes in the oven but most of the desserts are worth the fairly exorbitant prices.
Next time, it will be on a week-day, at 10:30 am with a newspaper, a cup of coffee and enough wheat and sugar to put it me in a permanent allergic state. No queue and worth every crumb.