Dining Out: Meeting the checklist at the Wooden Fork

I asked my husband recently what he looks for in a lunch place near work and he prioritized his requirements this way:

  • Can I get in and out fast?

  • Is it a pleasing environment and is there outdoor seating?

  • Is the price right?

  • Is it good quality food?

  • Are the waitresses cute?

Except for the last one, I would agree with his criteria, though maybe not in that order. I tested his theory at a new eatery on Brand, the Wooden Fork, that caters to locals looking for a quick, healthy lunch or breakfast.

Regarding getting in and out fast, the Wooden Fork is more about creating fresh, nutritious meals than it is about speedy delivery. That being said, co-owner and chef Ron Tavakoli is a dynamo of energy and tends to whip up a panini pretty quickly. The sides are all pre-made that morning and on display in big, beautiful bowls so that part goes quickly as well. The only reason you might not get out fast is if there's a long line at the counter (possible) or you feel like lingering in the comfortable environment. Which brings me to point number two, ambience.

The Wooden Fork is a light-filled space adorned with old clocks, vintage bicycles, French brie cartons, shabby chic chandeliers and of course, large forks. It is reminiscent of the south of France with the same relaxed vibe you might find there. A rich sound system plays buoyant world music like Brazilian sambas or African dance tunes. It's definitely a pleasant place to hang out either with friends at long, rustic tables or alone at low coffee tables. And there are outdoor tables on the sunny sidewalk.

The prices are average for lunch. My husband claims you can still get a good $5 lunch but these days it seems more like $10. The popular turkey, brie and apple panini, for example, is $9.25, but it's large and comes with two sides of your choice from a tempting array: quinoa or lentil salad, stuffed grape leaves, red potato or pasta salad, fresh fruit, hummus, eggplant caviar or cucumber salad. The best deal, however, is on the morning menu: a delicious breakfast wrap for $5.99. See the following section ("is it good quality food?") for more details.

I'm still trying to recreate this memorable breakfast wrap at home but without a proper panini press, I'm struggling. Two eggs and cheese are whipped up into a fluffy omelet then folded into a spinach wrap along with huge chunks of creamy avocado and finally panini-pressed into a hot tube of "Good morning!" I figured the fruit salad that comes on the side would be your standard collection of under ripe melon and pineapple chunks but instead it's a thoughtful mix of ripe, seasonal fruits all cut to a manageable size. I felt nourished but not weighed down afterward.

The same was true of the delicious Mediterranean chicken panini ($9.55) with its layers of hummus, onions, roasted tomatoes, garlic aioli, feta, chicken and parsley. I recommend, of the seven breads available (including gluten-free) get this one on the ciabatta bread. I think I made a mistake ordering the roasted eggplant and bell pepper panini on multigrain. It ended up getting soggy, the inside a weird mix of cold eggplant caviar, room temperature tomatoes and half-melted cheese. Perhaps ask your server what bread would be best, especially for delivery.

Speaking of servers, this brings me to my husband's final, somewhat objectionable, criterion. Yes, on my visits, the waitress and the waiter were indeed cute. Plus they threw in a delicious Elvis cookie into my to-go order, a health-conscious cookie with (here's the Elvis part) peanut butter and a banana chip on top. There are plenty of other daily made baked goods, fresh juice smoothies and coffee drinks available, all created with a farm-to-table philosophy in mind.

So it appears the Wooden Fork has passed my husband's test. Come here for fairly quick, good quality food at decent prices in a charming environment with delightful servers. But keep your eyes on your own sweetie.

What: The Wooden Fork

Where: 316 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Prices: Breakfast items, $3.55 to $6.99; salads and panini, $7.25 to $10.25; smoothies and juices, $3.99 to $5.99.

More info: (818) 241-5010, thewoodenfork.com


LISA DUPUY welcomes recommendations at LDupuy@aol.com.

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