Take Out Reimagined [restaurant review]
The history of commerce is full of companies that leaped boldly into a new business, with unfortunate results. The Enfield rifle company’s excursion into making lawnmowers was successful compared to Colgate’s attempt at selling frozen lasagna, and both were lucrative compared to the Bic pen company’s foray into women’s underwear. These strategies must have made sense to somebody in management, but it’s hard to figure out why.
In the last six months many restaurants have been jumping into new businesses, though generally not as odd as those examples. Some opened bodegas and bakeries, and almost all changed their menus. The ones that started as take-out specialists had an obvious edge, as did those serving popular cuisines like pizzas, roast chicken, and tacos. It is therefore surprising that one of the most successful transformations is from an establishment that rarely served a to-go order prior to being forced to shut down their dining room.
Baran’s 2239’s was famous for beautifully presented contemporary tapas, which suited the way we dined until just about a year ago. That came to a screeching halt when restaurants went to outdoor service, because Baran’s tiny frontage had no space for tables. The Baran family and chef Tyler Gugliotta eventually decided on a novel strategy: a weekly multi-course to-go dinner featuring not contemporary American food, but on their take on food from everywhere. Their offerings have included Greek, Indian, Italian, Thai, French, Mexican, and Cuban meals, each with Chef Tyler’s slight variations and modernizations.
For their Indian dinner, for instance, they offered a lentil dish with garam masala – not a groundbreaking flavor combination, but in India it’s not served as a salad with apples, with the masala in a vinaigrette. They enjoy mango pastries there too, but not usually with a yogurt frosting and garnish of pistachios. That’s the aesthetic Baran’s is going for – a representation of a different culinary culture every week, with some items faithfully executed, some with a subtle and original twist. The effect, for people who are fans of the restaurant, is to entice customers to come back every week to see what Tyler will do next.
The experience is further enhanced by the fact that when you come by the restaurant to pick up your meal, wines and beers that enhance that week’s offering are available. It’s not quite like the restaurant experience because they don’t supply the glassware and open the bottle for you, but it’s as close as we can get these days.
The meal also is particularly enjoyable because of the way the food is packaged and presented. Every week’s bag of goodies includes a menu with instructions on how to serve each course. In the case of a Southern dinner, for instance, you are instructed that the blackened pork chop may be served with or without the included sweet potato puree and redeye gravy. The black-eyed pea and zucchini salad includes crisped onions for those who enjoy them, while the maple-apple crisp and the separate container of candied pecans can be eaten at room temperature, but the ice cream that comes with it should be kept in the freezer until the last minute. It takes extra time and expense in packaging to keep these ingredients separate, but it’s an important step that most of Baran’s competitors don’t take.
That southern meal was one of the most successful of the many take-out meals I’ve had from Baran’s. It began with that black-eyed pea and zucchini salad, which I had never heard of before but is apparently an idea from the island of Cyprus. The flavors fit a Southern meal, particularly thanks to the buttermilk dressing with just a hint of dill. The roasted brussels sprouts in a bacon and honey Cajun cream sauce aren’t traditionally Southern either but fit the flavor profile perfectly, balancing of spicy, sweet, and smoky to accent the vegetable.
The pork chop, redeye gravy, and sweet potato were straight out of a Creole grandma’s recipe book, a reminder that Tyler knows when to stop tinkering and show off a classic. The apple crisp followed the same model, simple and delicious. It was a meal designed to be slowly savored, and the bottle of Domain Fevre Chablis that was recommended as an accompaniment suited it to the last sip.
Baran’s offers a pescatarian or vegetarian option every week and can handle a limited range of changes for dietary needs, but this model of service is necessarily limited. With the tiny kitchen here pumping out 300 five course dinners over the course of four days, plus lunches three days a week and breakfast burritos on weekends, there’s only so much custom cooking they can do. If the menu doesn’t suit your needs this week, you can come back next week when they might be cooking Columbian, Bulgarian, or Indonesian specialties, or even, as occasionally happens, items from their pre-pandemic menu.
Jason Baran says that they’ve learned a lot in the last six months and are likely to have a slightly different business strategy when things fully reopen. Their lunches, which have included meatball sandwiches, banh mi, and their high-style reimagining of a Taco Bell chalupa, have been so popular that they will keep serving them. They may also continue offering take out dinners even when they don’t have to, because so many people enjoy the experience. For now, they’ll keep refining their offerings and surprising their customers, who check their website every week to see what culinary tradition is inspiring Tyler now.
Baran’s 2239 is at 502 PCH in Hermosa. Open We-Fr 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., Sa 9 a.m – 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., Su 9 a.m – 1 p.m., parking lot, wine and beer available.
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