No reservations. Loud. A gastropub from the Counter owner Jeff Weinstein and a consulting chef known for his vegetarian cooking. In theory, Freddy Smalls didn't sound all that appealing. Plus, it is small, making it almost a guarantee that you're going to have to wait, except on an especially slow night. And my dining crew is generally more impatient than I am.
I finally risked it on a weeknight. We had to wait. I didn't mind, entertained by the hoard of photos pinned to a board in the entryway, all Freds and Freddys. Actors Fred MacMurray and Frederic March. Comedian Freddie Prinze. Fréderic Chopin. TV character Fred Mertz. Fred Astaire, of course.
Once we were seated, though, Freddy Smalls won me and my guests over with its energy and verve. Service is friendly and the small menu offers much more than clichéd gastropub fare. Nothing runs on autopilot. You get the sense that the kitchen and wait staff care about creating a haven on this generally uninspired stretch of Pico Boulevard.
The place has a great sociable vibe and an understated, time-worn look. The designer paid attention to small details: the pattern of the penny tiles on the floor, the classic barstools, the ribbed metal lampshades that hang like silver moons over a row of roomy booths that hold six or more.
The food is roomy too. Most plates, even those dubbed "smalls," are big enough to share. I suspect at this point that the menu is more the young chef Charlie Parker's than consulting chef Jeremy Fox's. Parker is the former chef of Daniel Patterson's Plum in Oakland and is into making his own pickles and charcuterie and smoking everything in sight. His cooking is much more polished than you'd expect in such a place, less about heroic quantities and nose-to-tail eating than about sparkling fresh produce, seductive flavors and graceful plating. The place has a nice lineup of craft beers and a staff that knows its suds, plus a short list of wines.
For those who've stopped by for a cocktail from former Seven Grand mixologist David Fleisher, Freddy Smalls has snacks to accompany that Stumbling Cowboy (Old Overholdt rye, house-made sarsaparilla, candied ginger and lemon garnish) or house G&T made with celery bitters and house tonic.
While you're there, you might as well delve into some of Parker's "smalls." Namely, Buffalo deviled eggs, the yolks creamed with Point Reyes blue and CP's hot sauce and piped into a pert frill and served nice and cold. Or a highly addictive bowl of lightly smoked fingerling potatoes with a dip accented with chives, scallions and Espelette pepper from the French Basque country. Small wonder I see them going to table after table.
Halved fried Brussels sprouts are among the best in town. A cider apple glaze adds a lilting note of sweetness to their earthiness. You wouldn't want to eat an entire bowl by yourself, but to share, it's delicious with an ale.
Bruschetta is do-it-yourself, a platter heaped with burrata, baby artichokes in an olive-parsley vinaigrette and thick slices of grilled bread. I could easily make this dinner, possibly with his flash-grilled steak tartare. The beef is just slightly pale on the edges and comes with a smoked egg yolk on top, the better to mix in with the anchovy and Worcestershire. Slurpers can get a bowl of steamed Manila clams scented with vadouvan (French curry), another terrific dish with a dark beer.
House-made charcuterie, the Baller Board, arrives with several mustards and a stone fruit mostarda. It could be rabbit mortadella, an excellent head cheese or oxtail terrine.
The menu is original and lighthearted. Instead of asparagus, Parker sometimes lavishes a fried farm egg on patty pan squash and tempura-fried squash blossom. But my favorite dish here may be the chicken panzanella, a slow-roasted bird presented with crayon-bright carrots and very green peas, along with ricotta and sprigs of mint.
Who ever imagined a bar with such appealing food? Isn't this what every neighborhood needs? And no problem here getting the neighborhood in the door after work or late at night. Freddy Smalls just isn't a place to eat; it's a place to go and spend some time with friends.
Besides, where else could you get a gently peppered tongue pastrami? Or a Belgian waffle with bacon butter, bourbon-dosed maple syrup and grilled farmers market strawberries?
Freddy Smalls is the complete package — hip but not so much that it's off-putting, with polished cooking from a hard-working young chef and good drinks whether your preference is beer or cocktails. In short, a kind of happy dream, best enjoyed early in the week when the place is less crowded and you can actually hear the eclectic soundtrack playing.
An inspired gastropub with friendly service, cocktails and a concise menu of generous, polished small plates including housemade charcuterie.
Location: 11520 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 479-3000; http://www.freddysmalls.com
Prices: Snacks, $4 to $8; "smalls," $14 to $20; salads and vegetables, $9 to $16; boards, $18 to $26; desserts, $8. Cocktails, $9 to $12.
Details: Open 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday to Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Happy hour is 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday. Corkage fee, $20. Valet parking, $5.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times