FOOD / LA Weekly

[LA Weekly] Mario Alberto’s Laurel Hardware Now Open in West Hollywood

By Daina Beth Solomon Fri., Jul. 20 2012 at 2:02 PM

D. Solomon
tomatoes with burrata, plum honey and shiso olive puree

Towards the end of its 62-year run in West Hollywood, Laurel Hardware was known for its personal service, old-fashioned charm, and loyal community patrons. When it closed in 2008, the city welcomed it into the Pop-Up Art program, and a vacant Laurel Hardware hosted Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre’s “A Gallerina’s Guide to an Exhibitionist” in 2011. Early this July, Laurel Hardware marked another reincarnation — as a restaurant and bar. The new owners kept the name in tribute to the homey spirit of the original store. “We want to make it a neighborhood restaurant and keep that history going,” manager John Rankin tells us. The name is also an excuse to once again light up the vintage sign thatWest Hollywood News has called “iconic neon.”

D. Solomon
beets with fennel, figs and hazelnuts

Who are the players in this new venture? You’ll find chef Mario Alberto, most recently ofFreddy Smalls, in the kitchen. Cole Apodaca is mixing up cocktails such as “The Gangster”with watermelon juice and cucumber-infused vodka. The owners? That’s a trickier question. Rankin said the two don’t want their names revealed, and that this is their first L.A. project. One is Phil Howard, according to several media sources. Could it be the samePhil Howard who’s won Michelin stars for London restaurants The SquareThe Ledburyand Kitchen W8? Public records name Irish real estate developer Dean McKillen as another owner.

But what matters most is who’s cooking, and what’s hitting the tables. Before joining Freddy Smalls, Alberto won a dedicated following at Chimu, a short-lived “Peruvian soul food” eatery at downtown’s Grand Central Market. He’s also cooked in the esteemed kitchens of Gjelina, the original Mo-Chica and the Lazy Ox Canteen.

Alberto calls the Laurel Hardware menu New American accentuated with L.A. flavors. That includes salads, sandwiches and pizza for lunch, plus entrees for dinner, and a couple of desserts. Hours run 11:30 – 2 a.m. weekdays, and beginning this weekend, 9 – 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The brunch menu may include egg scrambles, oysters and fried chicken with biscuits, and hanger steak with a 64-degree egg.

D. Solomon
pizza with eggplant, squash and burata

Look out for the abundance of farmers market ingredients. The zucchini blossom salad combines artichokes, radish and mache. Note the merguez pizza with dandelion, ricotta and little yellow specks of fennel pollen. Alberto serves delfino, a fragrant type of cilantro, atop a Hatch chile pizza with smoked goat cheese and anchovy.

Laurel Hardware has imbued a fresh vibe into the old shop. The 3,500-square-foot-space is airy and elegant with a rustic tinge thanks to the discerning eye of Sam Marshall, who also helped design Gjelina. The front room, with an open kitchen, counter seats, and a handful of tables, has a view of Santa Monica Blvd. with wide windows that nearly reach the ceiling. Delicate vines rooted in indoor planters climb up the interior walls. In the back, you’ll find a spacious bar flanked by communal tables, and booths under vintage-inspired floral wallpaper.

Take a moment to look down, too — the floor boards come from Coney Island, and probably date to the ’40s. The material, a hardwood called “ipe” from now-endangered Brazilian rain forests, is especially durable and handsome. Coney Island stripped it off the boardwalk in 2009, and now remnants can be found around the country in homes, stores, museums, and restaurants. Keep walking to discover a lounge area and patio with olive trees. Laurel Hardware seats 130, and is already packing in crowds for dinner. Best to call for a reservation.

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