The construction wall in front of 1451 N. Gardner St. came down last week as Gardner Junction readies to open (softly) the week of Sept. 14. Chef Steve Brown fell in love with the location and building three years ago and it’s taken all that time for Brown and the design firm Spacecraft to complete the project.
But it's getting very close now. Brown has been in the kitchen for several weeks working on the menu for the modern American restaurant.
The building, formerly a Rainforest pizza parlor, sits at what was once Gardner Junction, the old Red Car trolley station at Sunset Boulevard and Gardner. There’s a parking lot now where the train tracks once were. And even though it’s been more than half a century since the last trolley rolled into Gardner Junction, Brown and Spacecraft project director Chris Quiles looked to the glory days of luxury train travel from the 1920s to the 1950s for the design of the restaurant. The train theme could easily be a cliché, but Spacecraft mitigates that by using authentic artifacts and quality materials.
The 50-seat dining room has a vaulted ceiling reminiscent of train cars, with lots of brass, mahogany and leather throughout. In the bar, vintage locomotive gauges give the place a retro feel. And the bathrooms are Carrara marble, again with vaulted ceilings and with custom brass hardware.
"The fabricator is a former New York supermodel who turned to welding after a bad breakup," says Chiles.
The entire bar is outdoors and warmed by a coal-burning fireplace made from an old tank found on an airstrip at LAX. "We had the artist and metal fabricator DMari Von Lintel turn it into a fireplace reminiscent of a steam boiler you'd find on an old locomotive."
A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Pasadena, Brown was chef de cuisine at Broxton Villa in La Jolla and at Inn of the Seventh Ray in Topanga and, most recently, executive chef at Monsieur Marcel in Santa Monica.
But he's not doing French. Gardner Junction is meant to be all American farm-to-table. "Every single thing in this restaurant is made from scratch," says Brown, whether it's bread, charcuterie — or ketchup. Actually, it won't be ketchup at all, but smoked heirloom tomato jam made from tomatoes sun-dried up on the roof.
The shared plate format will encompass just 20 items and will change every six weeks. "The menu lists them from lightest to heaviest, like one big tasting menu," says Brown. "We recommend two to three items per person."
Dishes he's planning for the opening menu include seared foie gras on a black Belgian waffle with squid ink, vegan bisque served sake-style in small glasses, watermelon salad with basil vinaigrette and goat's milk ricotta. He'll also be making a 72-hour braised short ribs, crispy Brussels sprouts and sous-vide carrots.
The bar will serve 10 cocktails. Wines will be all California, but the list that comes to the table will be all by the glass. You'll have to wait for the sommelier to tell you what they have by the bottle. Beers will be only local craft beers with six on tap and another 20 in bottles.
Some of the produce will come from an extensive kitchen garden designed and installed by Jimmy and Logan Williams of Logan's Garden in Silver Lake. Brown had already constructed a vertical wall of steel planters welded to a frame, but they're also putting in a series of raised beds. "We'll have a wall of passionfruit, nasturtiums, lavender, basil, tarragon, chives, thyme, rosemary," says Brown.
Once the restaurant opens, Brown is going to open a bakery and cafe across the street on Sunset. Soon after that, he plans to establish the Runyon Brunch Club.
"We're the closest restaurant to Runyon Canyon and part of the friends of Runyon Canyon Foundation," says Brown. "The idea is you'll sign up online and 50 people and I will hike Runyon then come back together for an early brunch."
Gardner Junction: 1451 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles, (323) 450-9021; www.gardnerjunction.com
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