Looking like a fine boulangerie in southern France, Sweetsalt Food Shop is a study in white marble, pewter, vintage silverware and cafe tables. The front window is filled with footed plates piled high with beautiful macarons, bars, bundt cakes and pies. Patrons linger at sidewalk tables and families relax inside in front of plates filled with greens, sandwiches, meats and sweets. In this location for four years, Sweetsalt has become a neighborhood hangout and a top destination for cyclists.
Owner/chef Alex Eusebio is a cyclist himself and it seems his desire to stay fit informs his menu. On Friday mornings, the restaurant is a gathering spot for the Sweet Ride. Before or after the tour, Eusebio's group of cyclist friends come together for sustenance and camaraderie. Orders can be crafted to patrons' specific hankering of the day. If one just wants a bowl of Brussels sprouts, no problem. I saw a cyclist with a baguette slathered with avocado, something not specifically on the menu.
There are a number of other reasons Sweetsalt has become popular. The self-serve model works well here. Ordering is done at the register. Pretty urns of water and ice tea, nice utensils and napkins are all on a self-serve table in the back. Made-to-order meals are a draw as well. Tossed salads ($5 small; $7 large) are built with your choice of gourmet greens, protein toppings including duck and salmon ($2 to $6 extra), vegetarian toppings like roasted beets, grilled corn, fennel, dried cranberries and burrata (50 cents each), and inspired dressings like truffle and pear-walnut. You could come everyday for a healthy meal and never have the same thing twice.
The tossed sauteed quinoa ($5 small, $7 large) is a novel approach to the ubiquitous rice bowl. The protein- and nutrient-rich, gluten-free grain is mixed with toppings of your choice. My friend chose warm, earthy wild mushrooms and roasted Brussels sprouts. Delicious to the last bite, it somehow worked as a breakfast food. I got a more decadent breakfast and have been telling friends about it ever since. Braised short rib meat is not something you think of first thing in the morning but you should. Chef Eusebio's Short Rib and Eggs ($10) starts with a base of spicy arugula with a light balsamic vinaigrette, topped by fluffy scrambled eggs of which Julia Child would approve, topped again by a mound of dark, tender seasoned short rib meat. Placing a little of each on the accompanying slat of grill-toasted fresh bread and taking a bite is harmony incarnate.
The daytime menu favors sandwiches and salads. Nighttime boasts rabbit pot pie and filet mignon ($22 and $24). Never fear — the braised short ribs can be gotten all day long.
Sweetsalt is also a lovely place to drop in for an afternoon pick-me-up. I'm not a big fan of sea salt caramels. They tend to be pricey and stick in my teeth. But Sweetsalt's brownie with salt caramel is quite remarkable. The dark chocolaty bar has just the right amount of crumble. The caramel embedded in the middle is gooey and crackling with Maldon salt. Their coffee is rich and delicious but don't expect a second fill up. Not only do they keep the carafe behind the glass counter, staff members rarely step out into the dining room. I can't say they bend over backward to make you feel welcome here. They pretty much ignore you but they don't hurry you out either. How very French. The prices are midrange but the quality is high so when you consider your long term health, it's actually a bargain.
No need to go to the Tour de France. Just come to Sweetsalt for good food, European ambience and cyclists.
Where: 10218 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake
When: Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9pm; Sunday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Prices: Breakfast $8 to $10; Lunch $5 to $14; Dinner $8 to $24
More info: (818) 509-7790, sweetsaltfood.com