One of the great things about the city of Los Angeles is that it’s not a city at all. It’s a hodgepodge collection of enclaves and neighborhoods that happen to fly the same banner. In L.A., if you drive 25 minutes in any direction you’ll find yourself in a whole new world. From Boyle Heights to Brentwood, from Echo Park to Eagle Rock, Los Angeles encompasses a kaleidoscopic range of communities that each have their own personality, much like children in a large household.
And, like those children, the personalities tend to change over time. Some sink into depression and despair, while others rise from humble beginnings to find strength and character.
Which brings us to Highland Park, home of Cafe Birdie. Back in the ’80’s and ’90’s, Highland Park was known for being troubled by gangs and guns. But the Great Recession left affluent young people looking for affordable housing, and many flocked to Highland Park. Upscale bars, boutiques and eateries followed (along with gang injunctions), and now Highland Park has been transformed into one of the greatest neighborhoods in L.A.
Cafe Birdie embodies the renaissance of Highland Park. It’s at once homey and sophisticated, old-fashioned and modern. It’s housed in a 1920’s-era building (ancient by L.A. standards), and has the casual elegance of a Parisian bistro. But it’s the food that will bring you back for more.
Chef Joey Booterbaugh’s brunch menu is not extensive, but every item is marvelous. I’d start with the French Toast with seasonal berries, if I were you. It’s as simple, and good, as it sounds–berries, maple syrup, butter, toasted brioche.
There are items like that that you just know are good from reading the menu, like Moroccan-spiced fried chicken or Eggs Benedict with salmon and hollandaise. And then there are sleepers, like the lovely citrus salad with pistachios, fennel and tarragon. The simple fact is, everything is splendid.
Of course, neighborhood renovation has its downsides. The process of gentrification can be devastating to low-income residents and mom-and-pop businesses. It seems, for now, that Highland Park has side-stepped many of those traps, retaining its original charm and keeping rents moderate. In fact, many of the artists and business owners who have restored Highland Park actually live there. Highland Park has matured into something truly special. We can only hope the same for our kids.