Want a baklava croissant? Gjusta has that and more
Fans of Gjelina and Gjelina Take Away (GTA) have been waiting for Gjusta, the bakery from the same folks, for a long time. After many delays and recurrent dreams of pastries, rye bread and smoked fish, chef-owner Travis Lett and his team opened Gjusta on Oct. 29 in Venice. That sound you hear is the Westside rejoicing.
Gjusta, which is named for the aunt of Lett’s business partner Fran Camaj (Gjelina is named for Camaj’s mother), is essentially a giant open kitchen in the form of a deli and bakery. Or, as Lett put it, “an East Coast deli meets a Balkan cheese shop.” (The Camaj family is originally from Albania.)
At Gjusta along with Lett and Camaj are pastry chef Nicole Mournian, executive chef Matt Armistead, whose wife Shelley Armistead is the director of operations, and sous chef Manny da Luz. In addition, there are many more capable cooks and servers, many of whom sport Gjelina baseball caps.
To clarify: This is not a second Gjelina or GTA, as it has an entirely new menu and ethos. “This space has allowed Travis, me and Matt to explore a different style,” says Mournian, who also says that the team had initially thought of going more upscale, given so much new space, but instead they’ve “gone backwards, towards more rustic and natural.”
Gjusta has a happy, hectic feel, with most people getting items to-go or crowding along the marble bar or into the sunny sidewalk outside.
Lett and Co. gutted what was a ceramic studio and then a post-production office on Sunset near Rose Avenue, a few blocks away from Abbot Kinney and Gjelina and GTA, tearing out virtually everything but the exposed brick walls. Into the 5,000-square-foot space, they built an enormous open kitchen with ovens and a rotisserie that can be seen from the counter, along with all those cooks on the line.
A long counter runs the length of the space, housing breads and pastries, smoked fish and charcuterie, prepared foods and sauces and pickles. Next comes the 3-group La Marzocco espresso machine and long marble counters, which will soon have bar stools but at which you currently sidle up to with your cortado and bialy and oil-cured sardines. The gorgeous thick marble slabs come from a salvage yard in Camden, N.J. — Lett is also from New Jersey — and they make the front part of the restaurant feel kind of like a cross between a bar and a church.
Lett has moved his bread and pastry production into this comparatively huge space, and you can see the bakers forming loaves on the tables between the counter and the ovens. In those counters, everything on display — with the exception of the cheeses and charcuterie — is house-made. This includes pickled herring, oil-cured sardines, pickles and kimchi and za'atar, rabbit terrines and kippered salmon, porchetta, duck leg confit, and jars of red and green harissa.
Lett says that the seating, of which there really isn’t any at present, is coming. There will be bar stools at the pretty counters, and out in the back he’s working on patio seating. (For any of you who think the chef has something against letting his diners sit down, considering GTA also has a certain lack of seating, rest assured that this is a permitting issue, nothing personal.) Although he does point out that Venice is a walking neighborhood, and you can always take your rye bread and gravlax to the beach.
As of now, Gjusta is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Monday, but it will be open later and serve dinner in the future. Also coming eventually is a beer and wine license. And Lett’s first cookbook, probably sometime in the fall.
Gjusta, 320 Sunset Ave., Venice, (310) 314-0320.
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