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Mar 17, 2009 10:25 PM

Eastside/Westside Maple Bacon Standoff?

A trip to the Santa Monica farmers' market this weekend provided an excuse to drop by the Santa Monica breakfast spot of the moment, Huckleberry Bakery and Cafe. Huckleberry is the new venture from husband and wife team Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb. Other Chowhounders on this board have noted that the Rustic Canyon brunch became so popular, they jumped at the chance to open a nearby breakfast joint when the right property became available.

Now, I plan on writing a longer post on Huckleberry in the next day or two, but I wanted to write up something ASAP on the a emerging Westside/Eastside maple bacon battle.

As many have noted, the Nickel Diner in downtown LA has garnered a lot of well deserved attention for a delicious maple bacon doughnut.

Well, Zoe (the pastry chef half of the Huckleberry team) has thrown down the gauntlet with the maple bacon biscuit.

Whereas the Nickel's doughnut is in-your-face sweet, smokey and salty all at the same time, Huckleberry's biscuit is much more nuanced and refined. The biscuit, despite its maple-y promises, is really a savory breakfast treat with only a hint of bacon.

Could it have something to do with these two restaurants respective neighborhoods? We all know that the Historic Core runs up against Skid Row. Santa Monica, especially the North of Montana set, is well quite the opposite.

The Nickel was tailor-made for its neighborhood and Huckleberry fits in perfectly at its location. Maybe the doughnut and the biscuit are just natural extensions of their respective identities.

But that doesn't solve the initial dilemma. Whose pastry is better? I am curious LA, what do you think? Maple bacon doughnut or maple bacon biscuit? Downtown or Santa Monica?

If you are a visual person and need photos of each product to help you make your decision, click here:

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  1. Just curious where the term Historic Core came/comes from? Is that a nice way of saying Downtown LA or Skid Row?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Burger Boy

      I think your second question is partly right. But my understanding is that the Historic Core is north and west of Skid Row. I would say that the Nickel is right on the border between the two. Go one or two block east and one block south from the Nickel and you are close to the heart of Skid Row. Go one block north and one or two block west and you are on Broadway right next to the Grand Central Market.

    2. i haven't tried the huckleberry's yet but the much adored maple bacon doughnut IMO is not that great. The doughnut part is too dry and airy- just didn't work for me. I ended up licking off the sugar glaze and bacon crumbles.. if they could improve the texture of the doughnut it would become a praiseworthy creation.

      1. I can't give a fair answer to this as the maple bacon biscuit at Huckleberry is currently my favorite pastry in town while I have yet to try the maple bacon donut from Nickel (sadly, they were out last time I was there). But if that donut is better, than I'm in big trouble.

        1. Like Mollyo, I haven't tried Nickel's maple bacon doughnut, but I just tried HB's maple bacon biscuit and was pretty impressed. The biscuit itself seemed perfect to me. The texture was flakey yet substantial. The relative heft of a biscuit (as well as this one) does a great job in carrying something strong like bacon. The bacon part is very pronounced - the only way it could be more intense would be for a slice to be pulled right off the griddle and shoved in your mouth. If you love bacon, I mean really love it, then the bacon in this biscuit will not disappoint you. The Maple component was almost nonexistent to me at first, which led me to be a initially disappointed, but as the glob of macerating biscuit agitates in the mouth, the sweetness, then the aroma of maple starts to subtly appear. My thoughts were, "ah, there you are - where have you been hiding, and how did you stay so well hidden?" The appearance of the sweetness and flavor of the maple syrup in the biscuit reminds me of when a toddler plays hide & seek with mom or dad. Mom or dad ducks behind a corner, munchkin is frantically looking, getting a little flustered, and dad slowly peers his head from behind the corner with a big smile on his face and little, "boo!" That afterglow from the little hunt is what I sensed as the sweetness and aroma of maple lingered. It's a well-crafted piece of pastry. Great call, Mollyo.

          8 Replies
          1. re: bulavinaka

            Nice description, b. Enjoyed the writing, and feel like I really got a sense of the thing. Because that's all I anticipate in the foreseeable future, because no matter how good, I just don't see myself driving, parking, fighting the crowds, and most of all paying for a biscuit that is nearly four dollars, twice as much as the cost of a big, satisfying crispy delicate Amandine croissant, which recently rose from $1.50 to $1.95 (carry-out). These are fun, tasty baked treats, not full meals or even menu items. Stay sane. Don't let the powers that be let the prices adjust here as they have for alcoholic drinks, which for ages edged just over $5 and then shot up past $10 to as much as $14 -- not long ago you could get a DOZEN donuts for $3.75 -- we can't let the same kind of insanity occur.

            1. re: nosh

              Thank you, nosh. I found this "biscuit" to be a true highlight at HK (not that I've covered the whole menu) - and they know it as well. Yes, it's all about supply and demand I guess, but I see the maple bacon biscuit in a couple of slightly different (and maybe skewed) ways.

              The price is a little hefty if you perceive this as a basic biscuit. Go to Pann's and get arguably the best biscuit and country gravy to boot for two bucks and change; the googiness is thrown in for free. It may be hard for some to justify the price for HK's iteration of this American staple, but maybe just consider the price as a governing device to prevent one from eating much much more than any sane person should. I am guessing that this biscuit is full of fat - butterfat, shortening, and bacon drippings for texture and flavor. I know in some circles, these three things are respectively considered dairy, vegetables, and meat, thereby adhering to a balanced diet, but I think most of us know better, right? So consider the price as telling you, "Nosh, keep it real, bro. One maple bacon biscuit won't kill you. Get another one for later since I've been standing in line for ten minutes - I deserve it. Hmm, almost at eight bucks already - enough biscuit action. Ooh - bread pudding loaded with bananas - bananas are fruit, and fruit is good for you. I'll have one of those as well, please. Good nosh, smart nosh, healthy nosh, financially sound nosh."

              HK's biscuit does a wonderful balancing act between sweet and bacony; fluffy and heft. To me, I just can't decide whether it's a part of my meal, or something I should snack on or include as an option for dessert. My first biscuit was a great snack yesterday. The second was split between my two kids, along with HK's plain croissant (don't worry, Amandine's IMHO is better). They too were quite enamored by this quaint looking disc. This morning, I had two left in the box. I decided to gently warm them in the toaster oven. I also had some of Harry's exquisite strawbs from yesterday's FM on Arizona and 3rd. A pint container of Trader Joe's cheese yogurt was in the fridge, just waiting to be slathered inside of the split biscuit. Just a light sprinkle of powdered sugar to get the halved strawbs sweating a little bit and they were ready for some serious lovemaking on that fresh laid bed of creaminess on that insanely naughty biscuit. Was it good? No. It was great. Meal? Snack? Dessert? I don't know - it could have put on any one of these hats and it would have fit well. I think it's the bacon-thing. What doesn't bacon go with? :)

              1. re: bulavinaka

                So glad you enjoyed the maple bacon biscuit, bulavinaka! I enjoyed reading your review almost as much as eating one. As for price, there's no quibbling with the fact that it's a pricey biscuit. And I'll admit that there are other baked goods that I've tried from Huckleberry that I doubt I'llbe able to justify the price enough to buy again (chocolate croissant, I'm looking at you), but that biscuit was worth ever almost 400 pennies to me.

                p.s. also really happy you loved Harry's berries! Also pricey, but they really do grow the sweetest, most beautiful berries I've found at any of the farmer's markets. For westsiders, they're at the SaMo promenade market on weds and sat, and at the main street SaMo market on sunday.

                1. re: mollyomormon

                  Thanks, Mollyo, and thanks again for posting about this incredible "biscuit." I still have a hard time calling it that.

                  I was a little underwhelmed with the plain croissant. Nothing wrong with it -but I think I was expecting great things from it after being entertained by the star of this particular stage. Having Amandine way down the street doesn't help either.

                  I mentioned this on another current thread, but I think that besides the fact that Harry's knows what a strawberry plant needs in order to make great berries, I'm guessing they are willing to let them ripen an extra couple of days on the vine at the risk of losing them to all the things that love to attack ripening strawbs. That extra time on the vine makes all the difference in the world, and that's why they can and deserve the premium.

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    bulavinaka, another inspired bit of writing. Through your pen and memory, I got a "taste" of the experience without the drive, the line, the cost, or the calories. Thanks. OK, one day in the late morning I'll brave that lot and give Huckleberry a try and stick my nose into the remodeled Santa Monica Seafood as well. I'll bet that bacon maple biscuit would make a great prelude or dessert to a cup of clam chowder on a chilly, cloudy day.

                    1. re: nosh

                      >>What doesn't bacon go with? :)<< I think you'd do very well with that combination. Go on your own terms - I don't think HK is going anywhere - but up.

              2. re: nosh

                I love your posts when you focus on value in a positive sense. I think it's an important element to include when reporting on the dining scene.

                But there is something to be said for paying a little extra for an item made with the highest quality ingredients. Since these items still follow the law of diminishing returns, it becomes exponentially more expensive to make small, yet appreciated, improvements. Amandine's croissants are great and I consider them a cheap thrill. But the biscuit at Huckleberry is a completely different item.

                To wit, I can certainly still get a $5 drink. It'll be Wild Turkey on the rocks. But if I want a Manhattan made with Michter's Rye, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, House-made cherry vanilla bitters, and a Luxardo Marasca Cherry mixed by a bartender who takes the time to make the drink properly, I'm going to have to pay more. If the bar is also in one of the highest rent districts in the city then it's really going to get expensive.

                And sometimes it's worth the indulgence.