Avocado toast? That was so last year. We are now in the age of the phenomenon I have come to think of as Things in a Bowl, a culinary invention that may depend on rice, pasta, whole grains or legumes but usually includes a poached egg of one sort or another and always, always comes with kale.
The sorrel rice at Sqirl? Things in a Bowl. That grains-and-greens dish at Field Trip? Things in a Bowl. That concoction at Superba, Gjusta, Akasha or M Café that looks like something your yogini might make the morning she decided to clean out her refrigerator? Things in Bowls, all of them. They are healthful. They keep you regular. You could probably survive on them for weeks if you had to, especially if you got to throw in lamb bacon like they do at Little Sister.
The great Eastside destination for Things in a Bowl is probably Lincoln, a new Pasadena brunch restaurant up by the Altadena border, which can sometimes seem as if it has as many varieties of Things in a Bowl as Baskin-Robbins has of ice cream. There is the breakfast bowl, which has the beans, sausage, runny egg, toast and tomato of a proper English fry-up but with baby kale and a lot more herbs. There is the farro bowl, which includes dabs of peppery romesco sauce and a handful of spiced chickpeas along with the grains and greens. There is a spicy shrimp bowl, a more lettuce-intensive breakfast salad, and a bowl of huevos rancheros that may be spicy and vaguely cheesy but otherwise has all the characteristics of a bowl.
When you eat Things in a Bowl at Lincoln, you feel happy and well-served by life, almost content enough to forget about the pumpkin cake, butter-oozing bostock and fruit tarts for which chef-owner Christine Moore and her baker, Cecilia Leung, from Little Flower a few miles down the road, are justly known.
Moore carved Lincoln out of a long-abandoned steel fabricator, stripped it to its bones and refurbished it with acres of glass. A huge, old map of Southern California takes up most of a wall. The music tends toward low-volume indie pop. On weekday mornings, the customers include a broad cross-section of every school drop-off line in the Pasadena area; toward noon, they are replaced by local creative workers. The eatery anchors a neighborhood that is still the spine of the African American business district, and while Lincoln has its detractors (Times columnist Sandy Banks recently wrote about the restaurant’s gentrification issues), you can almost always see local politicians and community organizers relaxing over lattes and Things in a Bowl on the patio. Lincoln was instantly popular in a way no restaurant in this neighborhood really had been before.
So before the Things in a Bowl, there is the line.
The line, which can stretch as long as 45 minutes on weekends, has a few effects, none of which will be lost on veterans of the lines at Kogi or Gjelina Take Away. The first is an overwhelming desire to try All the Things, even if you walked in wanting nothing more than a cup of coffee and a scone. Next is table panic, which usually turns out OK but often seems as if it won’t, especially if you happen to be the kind of person who grinds her teeth when a lone dude spreads out his papers on a table you’d been coveting for your party of five. There is the usual anxiety that results when the last kouign-amann disappears from the pastry case or a cook draws a line through a blackboard special you’d had your eye on.
And then Fear of Missing Out sets in, and you order a cup of drip coffee in case you finish your cortado too quickly, and a crisp, cinnamon-y morning bun to keep you busy until the breakfast salad shows up, and maybe a vegetable tartine too, because who knows when you’re going to make it up to this corner of Pasadena again. (You can always sweat it off on the Echo Mountain trail afterward, you tell yourself, even as you mutter under your breath about Lincoln’s lack of Wi-Fi.)
There are lots of sparkly things to distract you in the line too, not just the adorably excessive holiday decorations but foil-wrapped boxes of sugared nuts, crunchy things from France, and ribbon-tied packets of the sea salt caramels Moore makes at Little Flower. I once got home from Lincoln with a can of salted pistachios, some chocolate eggs and a bottle of the Banyuls vinegar that is a staple in Alice Waters Land up north but hardly ever makes it to Los Angeles. I am easily distracted.
But you serve yourself ice water from the big, galvanized tank near the door. You settle at one of the long patio tables. And the food finds its way to your table — maybe one of those buttery, flaky croissants filled with either chocolate or a mysterious amalgamation of cheese and herbs; a chocolate chunk cookie; maybe a slab of layer cake. There are things that are not Things in a Bowl, of course — tart, house-cured gravlax on toast; a bacon, cheese and egg sandwich on a puffy bun; even a drippy burger.
I like the herb-forward avocado salad with bacon, lettuce and buttermilk dressing that shows up as a special fairly often and tastes a lot like the luncheon salads at the old Campanile, where Moore once cooked. Soups have been a little less concentrated than one might prefer, and the carrot fritter is pretty close to a limp carrot latke, but you can always look forward to the day when the duck confit, usually the basis of a pretty good salad, shows up, without kale, as the filling of a croissant.
Location, prices, details
Little Flower Candy Co.'s Christine Moore puts her second restaurant into a previously abandoned building in northern Pasadena.
1992 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena, (626) 765-6746, lincolnpasadena.com.
Breakfasts $6-$12.50; lunches $8.50-$13.50.
Open Mon.-Sat., 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Credit cards accepted. No alcohol. Lot parking.
Croissant; tartine; breakfast bowl; gravlax; farro bow