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Mar 1, 2009 10:56 AM

"My Huckleberry friend..."

Zoe Nathan has a gift... and a winning smile to go with it. This morning as I stood in line for the third day in a row for my morning pastry at Josh Loeb's and Zoe Nathan's new Rustic Canyon off shoot on Wilshire Blvd. between 10th and 11th Streets in Santa Monica, Huckleberry, I marveled at the ever replenishing berry crostadas, the blueberry bundt cake, the maple bacon biscuits and a stunningly red tomato tart with fresh basil. For myself, I ordered a hefty slice of the sour cream crumble coffee cake for $5 and the cinnamon sugar donut for $2.50 to go. It's an infectious place where even the Harbor patrolman in front of me was greeting and smiling at the crowd in line while we all waited patiently to order and pay.

Patience is needed. Like Clementine's in Century City there is an inevitable back log as you peruse the remarkable display case, ask questions, place your order and then wait to pay. Mr. Loeb keeps a constant eye on the floor, retrieving one guest's latte, while Ms. Nathan restocks and answers questions. I've never met either one but on first impression they've joined those select few in Los Angeles who combine entrepreneurial skill with culinary excellence.

To the staff's credit they move you along with great good nature and resolve. They always seem to be two steps ahead, anticipating the lone donut purchase from the green eggs and ham or the delicious Neiman bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich on their home made multi grain bread for $10.50. After less than a week in operation word is strong on the street that the veal meatball sandwich at $12 is a map placer.

American pastry: muffins, bread puddings, lemon bars and the like are deceptively difficult, and when you sample the quality of Huckleberry's, or Clementine's, Bette's Diner in Berkeley, Tartine or Citizen Cake in San Francisco, Stacy McCorkle of Sugarfix, Jan Purdy of Max and The Oinkster or Nancy Silverton in the early days of Campanile you want to rejoice. Mornings have never had it so good.

1014 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

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  1. I went by on my bike (slight detour) at 0400 this morning just to look at it. Very attractive, modern space and conveniently located to Santa Monica Seafood which anchors the west end of the block. Maybe next weekend I'll be able to sample their wares. Thanks for the report.

    1. I've been looking at this the wrong way -- I've been reading about the overflow crowds at Huckleberry and whatever the quality, I've been bemoaning the ridiculously high prices. Now I realize that the big crowds can't be completely wrong -- there is a market for this. Instead of resenting the flashy new kid on the block, I should appreciate my old favorite even more -- after all, if Huckleberry has them lining up for a croissant at $3.25, all the more reason I should bow a token of gratitude for the consistent and superior ones I've devoured and savored at Amandine over the past few years, at $1.50 and only recently increased to $1.95. Maybe it isn't that Huckleberry is a gross rip-off (after all, remember the huge hubbub two or three years ago when City Bakery opened to such acclaim at even higher prices) but even with the recent adjustment, Amandine is the amazing value bargain. What Huckleberry is selling at $12 for eggs or sandwiches Amandine is pricing at closer to $8. I must say, however, that any vehicle larger than a compact should be barred from Amandine's silly back lot with that extra slot of head-ins on the west that makes getting in and out a crapshoot.

      5 Replies
      1. re: nosh

        My office is across the street from Amandine so I can appreciate many of your sentiments about them. A while back I even decried the fact that I could not buy just one mini cupcake at Vanilla Bake Shop when I could buy a single chocolate chip cookie at Amandine for $1 (now a $1.45). But the whipped cream and fresh strawberry topped French toast notwithstanding, the two are quite different each with things to enjoy. For instance, Amandine's delicious desserts are somewhat Asian influenced European based, beautifully crafted when sometimes you just want a gooey bowl of bread pudding. If I want a blueberry muffin or an old fashioned cinnamon roll I'll head to Clementine's while. like you, Amandine satisfies any croissant craving that I might have at any price. However, on Friday mornings you'll find me at Primo's Donuts on Sawtelle near National savoring one of Mr. Primo's warm and ethereal glazed buttermilk bars for 95 cents. It doesn't get better than that.

        1. re: cvc

          Yesterday Mr. Primo had turned out some of the absolutely delectable buttermilk bars with a thick coating of chocolate on top. Still warm. Oh, man. I got home and inhaled it with a glass of cold milk. Nirvana.

          2918 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

          1. re: Servorg

            I share the love and high regard for Primo's -- they have history and a delicate, light style and some unique offerings. But it has been a LONG time since anyone mentioned another standout nearby, Royal Donuts. They are located in the middle of the strip mall on the S/E corner of Sepulveda and Palms, across from the Trader Joe's. A superior big cinnamon roll, the crispy crunchy fried glazed kind (as opposed to Primo's lighter iced), and perhaps their strongest donut is the crumb. Really hsrdworking, friendly Cambodian family owns and runs the place. A hound did a comparison a couple of years ago, and surprisingly Royal beat Primo's, for the donuts and also for the coffee.

        2. re: nosh

          Nosh - I tried to look up Amandine so I could go get a croissant, but I find one in downtown LA and one in Hollywood and one out by the beach. Can you provide a link to the one with the good croissants?

          1. re: rianael1

            You successfully found it yourself in this slightly later post:

        3. Just had lunch there the other day. I'd say skip the sandwiches (good but average and way overpriced for what they are) and go to the desserts. I had the chocolate truffle pudding and the salted caramel square, both were delicious. Had the donut which was so unremarkable that 3/4 of it was left behind. Maybe hot and fresh it would have been good, but so are most hot donuts.
          I'm not in love with Huckleberry. I'm glad it's around, but I don't see myself going back on a regular basis.

          1. I plan on splurging on a pastry there soon. Which is your favorite? Can't decide on my own. The crostata, bundt cake or maple bacon biscuit? I also saw a slice of yellow cake with chocolate icing on another blog that looked tempting.

            7 Replies
            1. re: bruinike

              The maple bacon biscuit really is phenomenal, moist and flakey without feeling like a rock in the stomach. The fruit square is also really good.

              I haven't tried the crostata, but I do have to agree that $9 is pricey.

              1. re: sidwich

                Thank you for that. I meant splurge on a high caloric treat but yes that is a bit pricey. I also just noticed on their menu a lemon cornmeal bundt cake which sounds like a contender. What a decision!

                1. re: bruinike

                  Their tarts are also awesome, my favorite being the banana caramel or salted caramel. Their cornmeal cake is okay, if you like a moister cake. If not, go for their regular coffee cake which is very good but it does have nuts in the middle streusel.

                  1. re: bruinike

                    The blueberry crostada is fantastic, but I still prefer the maple bacon biscuit. mmmm...

                    1. re: mollyomormon

                      Ahhh I don't think I'll be able to decide between the two! Might be a game time decision. Does the crostata have plenty of fruit in it?

                      1. re: bruinike

                        It has tons! both the filling and the crust are really wonderful.

                        1. re: mollyomormon

                          Sounds amazing. Can't wait to try both. I will report back. Thank you much!

              2. I live around the corner from Huckleberry and curse its arrival's impact on the (already scarce) parking...and even more so once I ate there.

                After the frustrating and confusing wait--is there really one line? Why were people cutting? I got a brisket sandwich, carmelized onion flatbread and roasted veggies (cauliflower, sunchoke & butternut squash). While they were all yummy, at $25 for all of them plus tip, I won't be back frequently--and I think that my cardiologist will thank me. All of these items were SUPER RICH! There is no shortage of butter or olive oil--rendering them delicious! It took me three days to work through them all.

                However the hypertension from waiting in line with other like-minded Westsiders make the visit NOT worth the trip--despite living nearby.

                Plus I found the staff to be very unpleasant and more interested in avoiding eye contact than dealing with customers. A $7.50 PB&J?! Rude employees! Crowds on crowds on crowds! No matter how good the food is, count me out!

                10 Replies
                1. re: BunnieBear

                  Agree with this. Outrageously overpriced. Tasty, but not THAT tasty.

                  1. re: BunnieBear

                    Yes, the staff is weird about eye contact!

                    I was easing over to the espresso machine, and a girl was near there, headed in my direction. I catch her eye to acknowledge her, give that little smile (I'm a girl) but her expression was not at all friendly. Very off-putting.

                    1. re: jaykayen

                      My maiden visit was yesterday, and I observed opposing examples of this "rude employee" issue.

                      The group of three dudes ahead of me was served by a young guy behind the counter. The group was busy talking among themselves and not really giving the server the immediate attention he deserved (considering how crowded it was) but finally started to order their drinks. They were cut off by the server, who was insisting that the customers order their food first, as this would take much longer to prepare than their food. The server was a bit more curt than I as a customer would have liked, and this was obvious with the three guys who then cut off the server and told him in no uncertain terms that they weren't ordering anything from the kitchen - they only wanted stuff from the case. The server did seem a little backed up in the corner after that little tiff.

                      The young lady who served me was just the opposite. Very welcoming, ready to take my order, and happy to make any suggestions. Maybe I helped because I always try to be ready to jump right in with my order when places are so obviously impacted with customers. Moreover, I try to be as friendly and polite as I would hope the person opposite me would be in return.

                      I think maybe we tend to be a little unforgiving to folks who are in service roles. The guy in the first observation was obviously just trying to get the group's order going since they weren't feeling any sense of urgency to do so, especially given the congestion. The server looked frazzled - definitely in need of a break. Who knows - maybe he's just not suited for this work. Maybe he had a run of rough customers - the location is conducive to all sorts of folks - old school Santa Monica folks, good. New school Santa Monica folks, hmmm. And given the wait and the congestion, even the best of folks - customers as well as servers - can become a little tense and pensive. As busy as HK seems, I'm guessing they're crazy-busy from opening to close time.

                      I'm one who believes that there are limits to what the human animal can take in terms of input. Multi-tasking is a term that shows we have just gone a little to far beyond what is humane to our own species. So if you happen to drop by HK next time, or anywhere for that matter, be ready, be polite, and show some empathy. You'll know that YOU did the right thing. :)

                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        I just wanted to confirm that this has been my experience at Huckleberry as well. From time to time, certain of the staff seemed overwhelmed, but I've never had anyone be rude like I've heard described in other threads about Sweet Lady Jane.

                        1. re: mollyomormon

                          Not even in the same twisted universe as SLJ. These folks behind the counter are working pretty darned hard. It seems there's no let-up - no time to just gas off and sigh for a moment. Doe-eyed people (like me) who are new to this place make it even tougher, given that the line is blocking the cases, etc. I wonder if they might take a queue from certain eateries that hand you a list to check off what you want to order as you walk in. They already use a combination menu list/tab at the counter - why not at least offer the option to customers who know what they want? Just an idea...

                    2. re: BunnieBear

                      not only are the prices atrocious but rude employees in this economy? how do they get by?

                      1. re: kevin

                        The owner probably read that well known Harvard Business School case study that was done on another highly successful LA area baked goods business - Sweet Lady Jane, and decided to copy their business model. ;-D>

                        1. re: Servorg

                          In that case, they have a good 30 years at least, ahead of them.

                        2. re: kevin

                          I've been there a number of times since it opened and never experienced rude service. In the first few days, some of the servers seemed overwhelmed from time to time, but certainly never rude. Let's not get a SLJ style bashing thread started by folks who haven't eaten there yet...

                          1. re: mollyomormon

                            Agree with molly, I've never experienced nor seen bad/rude service from the Huckleberry folks in all the times I've been.