Thursday, January 10, 2013

Messhall Kitchen

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Los Angeles, CA. Here's a game for you: close your eyes, and think of a food trend from the last 6 months. Open your eyes. Look at the menu at Messhall Kitchen, a new "gastro-tavern" in Los Feliz. Bet you found it! Pork Belly? Check. Brussel Sprouts? Check. Something pickled? Double check. Amazing cocktail menu? Triple check.

Corn fritters
Messhall could be faulted for following the trends, if they didn't do it in such a satisfying way.  Smoked corn fritters, studded with spicy poblano peppers and served with an herbal romesco sauce, were crunchy, hot, addictive little flavor bombs.  Oysters are available fresh (a side menu listed four different kinds) or grilled, smothered with tarragon and shallots.  

Billed as "regional American cooking", Messhall veers to the Southern side of things.  Pickled veggies with grilled bread, grits (not one but TWO ways!), pulled pork on brioche, "Hog Chops" - the restaurant would fit right in with the modern Southern cooking happening in Nashville and Atlanta.  The servings are large enough and the prices are moderate enough that you can satisfy that comfort food craving without much guilt.

Pork Belly Mac
A salad of roast beets was brightened with pomegranate seeds and more than a handful of roast pistachios, and large enough to share.  Normally, I refuse to order mac n' cheese that is mixed with anything and costs over $10 (lobster mac, bacon mac, I'm looking at you) but here I caved and ordered the Pork Belly Mac N' Cheese. The top was crunchy and the first few inches were the perfect balance of cheese, shells, and tender pork belly... though as the dinner wore on and we worked our way to the bottom there was more oil than cheese.  A wider serving dish could -and should - help that issue, because my first few bites were pure childhood awesomeness. The collard greens we ordered were braised with a bracing amount of vinegar, but were a good counter to the richness.  All in all it's a warm hug from your Southern grandma, and the ideal meal for this cold spell.

The wine list is short, the beer list is long, and the cocktails inventive.  You could taste the artisinal honey in the Brown Derby (bourbon, fresh grapefruit, honey), and the fist-sized ice cubes were hammered out of an ice block (there's no better way to win my undying love than by giving me a massive ice cube).  

They've mastered the fine line of sweetness in their drinks - sweet enough to compliment the liquor, not too cloying to mimic dessert.  And each time we ordered a drink it was hand-delivered by a plaid-shirted bartender, not our waitress.

Pecan Bread Pudding
Only three desserts are on offer: a banana cream "pie" in a jar, a chocolate bread pudding with marshmallow cream (see: s'mores), and a pecan bread pudding with bourbon caramel and vanilla ice cream.  Sigggghhhh. My dentist will hate you, Messhall.

There's ample valet parking and they take reservations: all in all, a solid neighborhood joint with food to comfort the soul. My one complaint?  The televisions broadcasting the Lakers game.  You're a "gastro-tavern", not a "sports bar".  With an atmosphere this lively and food this good, you don't need to distract us from what we're eating and drinking. We're plenty happy concentrating entirely on THAT. 

Messhall Kitchen
4500 Los Feliz Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
323-660-6377

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