Welcoming café offers simple, creative fare

Robert Downey Jr. stared at me all through my lunch. I was eating at Studio Café Magazzino, a tiny, home-spun café across from the massive Warner Bros. complex, enjoying the homemade soup and sandwiches, when I noticed that Sherlock Holmes himself was looking right through the window, his gigantic eyes boring out from a poster covering a beige stucco building corner.

The view inside the café was less distracting. A distressed, white picket fence covers part of the counter and potted ivy spills over an old metal icebox and sink in one corner. Five small tables and a rustic picnic-style one fill the dining room, with two tables on the sidewalk just outside the large front windows. It’s part French farmhouse, part welcoming café, part Grandma’s kitchen.

You order at the counter and then find a seat, where the unfailingly friendly staff brings your food. Even the guy working the tiny kitchen helps serve. And he’s nice, too.

The café specializes in sandwiches, soups and salad, served in any combination. You can get half a sandwich with soup or salad, or you can order just soup and salad together. One soup — vegetarian and freshly made — is offered per day.

The corn soup is thick, savory and bursting with flavor, and is by far my favorite from the cafe. Nothing distracted from the sweet corn taste, with pureed bits floating in the liquid and fresh, crisp whole kernels tasting like they’d just been sliced off the ear of corn.

The salad is a mix of strips of romaine lettuce, roasted red bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, chunks of tart goat cheese and vinaigrette. On the side, the vinaigrette looks much like thick brown gravy. I dipped my fork in to make absolutely sure it wasn’t. What a surprise. It makes up in rich zinginess what it lacks in beauty. A half salad with a half sandwich is more than enough food for midday. You can add tuna, turkey, ham or smoked salmon to the salad for an additional charge.

Sandwiches can be ordered on olive bread, rosemary bread and ciabatta. The arabo — grilled spinach, brie and the house vinaigrette — should be served with a side of dental floss. But stray bits of spinach aside (was THAT what Robert Downey Jr. was staring at?), the tastes melded well together inside the springy ciabatta bread.

The caprese sandwich is a mozzarella salad between two slices of rosemary bread — ripe, juicy tomatoes, slabs of moist mozzarella and whole basil leaves complemented with just enough of that beautiful-tasting brown vinaigrette.

The chevre sandwich combines goat cheese with roasted red peppers and romaine leaves. The quality of the ingredients shows. No bells and whistles needed here. We ordered it on olive bread, with nuggets of briny, black olives peppering the slices.

My favorite sandwich, very unexpectedly so, is the smoked salmon. The salmon slices are served with tomatoes, romaine, a sprinkling of sprouts and ricotta cheese. Ricotta? I was envisioning mushy lumps of cheese gushing out the sides of the ciabatta, reminding me to move up a level on the elliptical, and overpowering the fish. Wrong. The thin swipe of ricotta on the bread just added a little moisture and depth to the sandwich. I’ll be back for this sandwich.

If you crave a crunch or a bit of spice on the side, the café offers bags of Mama Zuma’s Revenge habanero potato chips, worth the money if only for the artwork of a petulant female bandit with habanero peppers in her leather bandolier.

The café is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and fills up quickly at lunchtime with an eclectic mix of diners. Men with metal measuring tapes clipped to their jeans say their goodbyes to the staff, and wave to the guy in the suit finishing his tea at an outdoor table and chatting amiably with an employee on her coffee break. They walk down the sidewalk toward Warner, past the Starlet Motel’s bleached neon sign and into Sherlock Holmes’ gaze.

REBECCA BRYANT is a contributing writer. She can be reached at berrecca@aol.com.

Info Box

What: Studio Café Magazzino

Where: 109 Pass Ave., Burbank 91505

Phone: (818) 953-7220

Pricing: Sandwiches $6.95 - $7.95; salad $6.50; soup $5.50; any duo of half salad, half soup or half sandwich $9.50; coffees and teas, $1.95 to $4.25

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Website: www.cafemagazzino.com

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