Food with a side of art [restaurant review]
Stripe Cafe has a hidden location and eccentric hours, but it's worth a visit.
A relatively new food service in Rancho Palos Verdes has a name that is the linguistic equivalent of a Russian nesting doll. Shady Grove at Stripe Cafe at the Palos Verdes Art Center is the majestically long moniker for a little cafe tucked in the upper level of the building. They’re open only for breakfast and lunch midweek on a regular basis, but they go beyond the usual sandwiches and coffee with some items that offer the distinctive flavors of Louisiana.
To unpack the name, Shady Grove Foods has been catering in the Long Beach area for some time, but moved into this location in January. The small room with its mural of paint dribbling down the wall hasn’t changed since the previous incarnation of Stripe Cafe moved out, and it retains the arty, modern feel with polished steel furniture in a bright environment. The little terrace is the most pleasant place when the weather permits, and at the moment when you sit there, a giant mural of the Rat Pack complements the view of the urban landscape at the bottom of the canyon.
The menu changes on a daily basis but always includes some items with a taste of Louisiana. On one visit I tried a very spicy chicken and sausage gumbo that was served with good homemade cornbread. The gumbo had a bit more bell pepper than I like but it worked with the zippy stock and spicy sausage, and the cornbread was made the way they do in the South, not the sweet stuff you often get that tastes like someone accidentally dropped some corn in their cake mix. A generous cup was quite enough for a light lunch, but I could have easily eaten a bowl.
The other Southern item I tried, blackened catfish, was surprisingly timid by comparison. The fish had a spice crust that was heavy on herbs and paprika and light on chili and garlic. While it was a decent piece of fish it lacked the punch I expected. Several side options were offered, and I picked very good home fries tossed with herbs and parmesan and a salad that included pickled onions and orange segments.
Shady Grove’s catering operation is noted for their smoked and grilled meats, although they can’t have their outdoor grill here because of concerns about the smoke blowing into the art center. That doesn’t mean you can’t try some of them, and when I saw they make their own pastrami, it was a must-try. Traditional pastrami is pickled for a period ranging from hours to days before being slow-smoked and then steamed. When it’s done right you get the tenderness from the curing, a slight smoke flavor, and the juiciness from steaming. There are a variety of recipes including the Romanian version made with lamb, and some are very peppery while others are mild. Shady Grove’s is mild and very moist, without the heavy pepper coating that is typical of most commercial brands. Compared to those, this is like a cross between pastrami and corned beef, and if you like to taste the meat rather than the spices you’ll love theirs. It was served on a good French roll with a little mustard barbecue sauce and some pickles. For the side I picked an asparagus salad with arugula, almonds, and a sherry gastrique. That’s not a side you’re going to find with the pastrami in a traditional deli, but it complemented the flavor remarkably well.
On my return visit I tried another item with their smoked meats, a club sandwich with four peppercorn ham, smoked turkey, and bacon. The three house-made smoked meats made this the best club sandwich I can remember having ever, and at 11 bucks it was a steal. I’d happily eat a sandwich with any of these meats. All were moist, tender, and different kinds of smoky.
Unless you happen to live along Crest Road or are heading up Crenshaw to the nature reserve, Shady Grove at Stripe at the Palos Verdes Art Center isn’t between you and anything else. It may be a bit out of your way, but it’s a worthwhile detour. They’re operating occasional popup dinners so those who have distant day jobs can sample their remarkably good idea of what the well-fed gallery goer should be having for lunch.
Shady Grove at Stripe is open 8:30 a.m – 3 p.m. Mon. — Fri., occasional special events in the evenings. Parking lot, wheelchair access OK via art center. Beer and wine served, some vegetarian items. No online menu. (310) 541-2479. 5504 Crestridge Road in Rancho Palos Verdes. Pen
by Richard Foss