OPEN FACE FOOD SHOP

Another Gem in West Adams Boulevard's Restaurant Row
OCT19openf3webIt’s early evening on a Monday, and chef Lene Houck is in her West Adams kitchen, making homemade croutons. The croutons will accompany a cauliflower soup — a dish for an upcoming catering event.

In 2003, Lene and her husband Mark started a catering company, Food by Lene, but by 2013 they had outgrown their Venice kitchen. A hunt for more room brought them to 5577 West Adams Boulevard, on the corner of Marvin Avenue and West Adams Blvd. Serving food to the public wasn't originally part of the plan, but as the saying goes: "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" and in this case, the squeaky wheel was the plea of locals.

“Our neighbors would see us coming in with our farmers’ market haul — the Harry’s Berries, the gorgeous greens,” said Mark. “And they’d ask, 'Oh wow, are you guys gonna open a restaurant?'

OCT19openF4webWith an established business supporting them and audible interest from the community, Lene and Mark did just what their neighbors asked. Beginning in August of last year, they launched Open Face Food Shop and offered a Danish-inspired menu right from the original window off Lene’s kitchen. It’s a casual affair: order at the window and eat on a stool at the sidewalk bar. But the low-key setting really allows the fresh, delicious food to shine.

Lene grew up in the countryside of Denmark, where you only ate what you grew or raised — "the original farm-to-table,” she told me with a laugh. They harvested their own produce, got chickens and eggs from her Aunt Lily, and bought a whole pig every six months from her uncle, which they’d usually turn into sausage.

“We always cooked,” she said. “We preserved, we pickled. We had large freezers, because nothing grew in the winter. And nothing went to waste. We try to do that here, too.

Her talent in the kitchen shone brightly even as a teenager, when she helped in a family friend’s restaurant and cooked for parties and gatherings. Lene moved to the United States years later and eventually found herself cooking again, this time in New York City restaurants. She and Mark met there, and when they fled East Coast winters for sunny So Cal, they landed in the food world once more. Whenever Lene cooked for an event, more work came her way. Then came Food by Lene, a now successful catering business.

Oct19openF5webLucky for us, we don’t have to throw a party to try Lene’s recipes. At Open Face Food Shop, you’ll get the best taste of Danish dining with one of Lene’s sandwich boxes, where you can sample two different sandwiches.

“This is a good introduction to the way we eat back home. You have at least two or three [small] sandwiches — normally a fish and a vegetarian, or a fish and a meat — rather than just one traditional sandwich.”

She says Box #1 and Box #2 are the most “classic,” and each box costs $12.75. In the first, you’ll sample a house-cured gravlax (salmon) sandwich with mustard dill sauce, paired with an herb-chicken salad sandwich, mixed with fennel, celery, fried capers, apple and lemon zest. Box #2 is a house-smoked Icelandic cod sandwich with potato and dill crème fraîche, next to a sirloin sandwich with blue cheese, arugula, date and pickled onion.

Oct19openF1webFor items that sound a bit more familiar, look over the “Danish-ish” section of the shop’s menu, where you’ll find Lene’s take on a meatball hero, as well as an open-faced burger.

In order to serve excellent quality food for their catering clients, Mark and Lene spend hours each week at nearby farmers’ markets, gathering the best produce from California growers. Open Face Food Shop customers get to enjoy their best finds, too. Most recently Lene was selling open-face toasts with delicious house-roasted heirloom tomatoes, applewood-smoked Danish feta, asparagus and greens — a late-summer treasure on a plate.

“We are privileged that we have access to all of this. And we’ve made a conscious choice to price things so that we fit with the neighborhood. This is about taking care of the community.”

Oct19openF2webMark and Lene are pleased with the local reaction to their shop. Many customers come back and struggle to order something different than their usual which they enjoyed so much.

“It’s a real compliment to see the same faces and to have gained people’s trust,”Mark said. “That’s not lost on us.”

The co-owners are aware that their truncated hours might make visiting a challenge for some West Adams residents. To ease that, they plan to open earlier and serve breakfast dishes in the near future. Sunday service is also in the works.

“Right now, we have a lot of customers who work in the neighborhood. And we love that, but we opened our window to serve those who live here, too.”

No matter the changes and challenges on the horizon, Lene and Mark have every intention of sticking around and becoming a fixture in the neighborhood.

“We’re in this for the long haul. We’re not going anywhere.”

5577 West Adams Blvd, 855-676-3223,

www.openfacefoodshop.com

Open Tuesday to Friday,  11am to 4pm, and Saturdays 10 am to 3 pm.
 
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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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