Richard Foss

A Home For Homie [restaurant review]

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A challenging downtown Manhattan Beach space becomes a popular breakfast spot

Homie server Aydyn Morgan. Photo by Brad Jacobson

Over the years a fair number of people with eccentric visions have been attracted to a long, narrow space next to the Kettle in downtown Manhattan Beach. Since 2005 this has been an Indonesian restaurant, a French bistro that also served tacos, a cafe specializing in chocolate, and a surf shop that also sold burritos. It’s now a curious cross between a coffeehouse, wine bar, retail store, and casual cafe called Homie.

After a so-so meal shortly after they opened, I would have bet that they wouldn’t last a year, but they passed that milestone and have been packed on two recent visits.

My bet against them was partly based on their location – a breakfast and lunch place between The Kettle and Uncle Bill’s, the two most popular morning joints in a wide radius. The majority of Homie’s menu is breakfast items and sandwiches, though they offer a dinner menu despite the fact they close at 6 p.m. on weekdays. The items on that menu are available all day, something most diners don’t realize.

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Ordering and service here are on the “fast casual” model, where you order and pay at the counter and are served at a table. The architecture of the restaurant makes this a little tricky, because while you’re in line you don’t have a very good view of the menu on the opposite wall. If they duplicated it on the wall next to the line it would be helpful. Once you get to the counter you may be seduced by one of the pastries in the glass case, because they’re beautiful. Several different versions are on the menu, but not all are always available.

Once you get your number you can head for a table or a seat at the small counter that gives a view of Highland Avenue. If you want to converse then head for the back, because the traffic noise and poor acoustics in the front make this a fairly noisy place.

The meal they do best is breakfast, and a close look at their offerings reveals the market they have in mind. These aren’t the down-home beachy favorites or giant portions that their neighbors serve, unless Uncle Bill’s has started serving avocado toast and seared ahi. Uncle Bill’s and The Kettle aren’t offering lattes and cappuccinos either, so the specialty coffee menu is a draw.

On a recent visit we ordered an almond croissant, “kitchen sink” burrito, and their homeskillet, a concoction of corn, squash, onion, and riced cauliflower topped with a fried egg and avocado slices. The flaky croissant by a local artisan baker was marvelous, and the skillet breakfast was the best thing we had here. The vegetable flavors were subtle and well combined, a light, fresh mix of flavors to start the day. If you like hash but don’t want the carbs, this is the thing to get. The burrito wasn’t quite its equal, though the mix of carne asada, spinach, bleu cheese, onion, and mushrooms wasn’t bad. The problem was that the ingredients hadn’t been drained after cooking so that it was almost like a burrito full of soup with a sopping wet tortilla. The chunky pico de gallo that came with it didn’t really fit with the flavors, and a little salad or some other garnish would have rounded out the plate better.

The Homeskillet, left, and kitchen sink burrito. Photo by Richard Foss

The coffee drinks were well made but took a long time to arrive despite the fact that the place wasn’t full. It appears a place that sells a lot of coffee only has one espresso machine with one person operating it, and that’s just not enough no matter how efficient the barista is. Based on problems that I experienced at both of my other meals here, I suspect that the kitchen is also too small, because any time this place is busy the wait time soars, even for simple items.

The caramelized brussels sprouts with fennel started another visit on a high note, but after that things were a bit shaky. A turkey meatball sandwich had very mildly seasoned meat in a sweetish tomato sauce on a chewy bun that hadn’t been toasted. The accompanying fries heavily seasoned with salt and paprika were not a good match. I’d suggest that they give diners a choice between seasoned or unseasoned when they order because I know which I would have preferred. I also tried an item they call “the ace,” carne asada with potato and roasted veggies. On that visit everything was off – the carne asada was tough and the fries (ordered as a substitute for mashed potato) again over-salted. Only the roasted vegetables were decent.

What was worse about that visit was how long it took to get any food at all. Grilling a piece of meat and frying some fries doesn’t take 10 minutes, so after half an hour I asked the person I had ordered from about my meal. He apologized and told me it would be out in a moment or two, but it was almost another half hour before it arrived. During that time I noticed the food runners were apologizing at other tables too, so I wasn’t the only one with this situation. When my meal finally arrived the fries were lukewarm, obviously not freshly made, and once again were over-salted. They comp’d my meal, but it was still aggravating.

Homie obviously appeals to people who appreciate their modern and health-conscious food and coffee drinks. The staff members tries to provide good service despite the problems with getting food and drinks out in a timely manner. If they can fix that then they could have a long run at a location that has lacked stability.

Homie is at 1140 Highland Avenue in Manhattan Beach. Open 7 a.m. daily. Close 6 p.m. Mon. through Thurs., 7 p.m. Fri. through Sun. Beer and wine served. Street parking or adjacent lot. Some vegetarian/vegan items. (310) 546-4663, menu at homiemb.com. ER

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