Aviation Curve oasis [restaurant review]
Georgia’s Lounge offers simple food and complex drinks in a chill space
In some of my reviews I have made a distinction between a bar that serves food and a restaurant that serves alcohol, and I think some people took the former designation as a negative thing. Some bars that serve food don’t have their heart in it and base their menu on how fast things can go from freezer to fryer to table. But for every one of those there’s a place that sends out a burger or wings that can make your toes curl with pleasure. If you’re in the mood for bar food, go for it, but head for a bar that serves the best.
I knew Georgia’s offered excellent cocktails, having visited a few times since they opened in late 2018. It wasn’t my favorite hangout due to a cramped interior where tiny tables were jammed as close as they could possibly fit. As good as the cocktails were, and they were exceptional, I wasn’t willing to endure such close quarters. These days neither is anybody with half a brain, so I rather expected them to follow the strategy of some other small bars and remain closed until things change. It was therefore a surprise when a friend told me not only were they open with much nicer surroundings, the food from their limited menu was actually worth the trip.
The environment was the first surprise. What had previously been an awkward and dangerous parking lot was now a spacious patio with fire pits surrounded by the type of midcentury chairs that make you look like you’re sitting in a cross between a spiderweb and a snow cone. These aren’t particularly comfortable, but fortunately pillows are provided. A portable music system plays eclectic pop and indie music, and blue sunshades add a bit of color to a landscape in which everything but the shrubbery by the street is white or black.
Menus aren’t provided, and diners are advised to access the online list on their phone by scanning a QR code. Since the list is short, not a lot of scrolling will be involved, even on a phone screen. Your choices are limited to three sandwiches, a tuna bowl, chicken or vegan tacos, a burger, and fries with three choices of sauces and seasonings. The drinks menu is considerably longer and includes some ornate concoctions. I’m going to talk about those first because they are why most people come here for the first time.
Wine and beer aficionados will find plenty to enjoy by the glass, tap, or bottle, but the creativity here is in the mixology. There’s a distinct house style that emphasizes items flavored with exotic bitters and amari, the tinctures that started as health tonics and are characterized by complex bitter and herbal notes. Southern Europeans enjoy these as after-dinner digestives, but on this side of the Atlantic they are cherished for the way that even a few drops will add depth of flavor to a mixed drink. At Georgia’s these include slight variations on the classics, like an Old Fashioned made with both rye and peated scotch along with sugar and bitters. At the other end of the spectrum are remarkable potions like Poseidon’s requiem. This mix of gin, chartreuse, lime, agave, absinthe, egg white, and a dash of salt is among the most remarkable drinks I’ve ever tasted. It’s a slow sipper, because so many things are going on in such harmony that it would be a tragic error to drink this quickly. On one visit I started chatting with the bartender, and after assaying my preferences he invented a cocktail to suit them. There aren’t many places where the bartenders have the skill to do this, but this is one of them.
One of the attributes claimed for bitter herbal liqueurs is stimulating the appetite, and whether that enhanced our enjoyment of the meals or not, they were surprisingly good. On one visit I tried a burger along with the fennel salt fried with harissa aioli. When I returned with my wife we ordered sea salt fries, crispy chicken tacos, a grilled rosemary ham and cheese sandwich, and a steak. (Yes, they serve a steak here, and for some reason haven’t put it on the online menu. Had I not asked whether there were any specials, I wouldn’t have known about it.)
If you’re there with someone else and feel like splitting an appetizer, those tacos really hit the spot. The chicken is battered and fried, then chopped and added to a mix of pickled red onions and avocado-cilantro coleslaw, with just a dash of sriracha mayo. They’re street taco size so even though they’re generously filled, two would be a light meal, but they’re a great starter.
On the days I was there it looked like just about everybody ordered fries, either as a starter or to accompany a sandwich. The base model with ketchup are perfectly good bar fries, skin-on and crisp, but I recommend the ones with fennel salt and harissa aioli. The fennel is used sparingly so it is an exotic background note rather than an out-front flavor, and the spice compliments some of the herbal flavors in the cocktails. That appreciation for herbal flavors is front and center in the rosemary ham grilled cheese too, and as simple as that idea sounds, this is something worth ordering. It’s something anybody could do with a toaster oven or panini press if they had the ingredients handy, but if you’d have to get the balance just right as is done here.
When it comes to the burgers here, they fit at one end of a spectrum that either focuses on the meat or the sandwich as a whole experience. Some bar burgers are all about a half-pound or more of ground critter with only the most minimal of accompaniments, typically some American cheese and a lettuce leaf or two. This can be good and is enduringly popular, as can be proved by the line at Ercole’s just about every night. Georgia’s goes another route, with a six-ounce patty topped with higher quality ingredients: caramelized onions, white cheddar, bourbon ketchup, and pickles. It’s the same set of ideas about flavor, but with the condiments and vegetables given equal billing with the meat. You may prefer one or the other and still enjoy both, and that’s just fine.
The hanger steak is also on the small side at about six ounces, and mine showed up at the table medium rare, as requested. It was topped with chimichurri sauce and arrived with arugula salad, and along with an order of fries was an excellent full meal.
When it comes to desserts… order another cocktail, because they don’t have any. It would be nice to have some options here, because something velvety and rich like a chocolate mousse would go great with the spicy and herbal drinks. It would be nice to have some other things that work as shared appetizers too, but the kitchen here is apparently small so these options are likely to remain limited. That consideration taken into account, they serve exceptional bar food and great drinks, and that will make Georgia’s a destination for connoisseurs of both.
Georgia’s is at 1500 Aviation Boulevard in Redondo. Open Wed. — Sun. 4 p.m. – closing. Price moderate, $15-20 for food only. Parking in adjacent lot. Some vegetarian items. Reservations recommended. (424) 398-0436. Menu at GeorgiasLounge.com. ER
by Richard Foss