Urban Garden – Revitalizing Fairfax Ave.

Joey Gibson-Rivas is the new chef at Urban Garden, cooking up delicious Mediterranean and Lebanese inspired dishes.
Joey Gibson-Rivas is the new chef at Urban Garden, cooking up delicious Mediterranean and Lebanese inspired dishes.

Fairfax Avenue between Melrose and Beverly has become quite the hip destination with popular clothing stores like Supreme attracting a younger crowd

Restaurants like Canter’s have long been a draw for the area, and now Urban Garden can be added to the list of desirable attractions.

This is the sixth restaurant for owner George Abou-Daoud. Urban Garden reflects his Lebanese heritage with dishes he enjoyed eating while growing up.

It’s a fast-casual restaurant with wood tables and benches for those who choose to eat-in. Loyal customers return for their tender and golden rotisserie chicken, wraps and salads. A half or whole chicken comes with pita and choice of sauces. The white garlic sauce is my favorite.

George has been in the restaurant business for seven years. He first opened Bowery on Sunset Boulevard, and now has developed five other restaurants, each with their own concept and personality.

A year ago, George’s sister, Marie came onboard as a manager to help her brother with his dining empire. She joined us for lunch and offered us a glass of lemonade with rose-water. “I love this taste, it’s so refreshing,”  she said, and I agreed.

Marie introduced us to her talented and personable new chef, Joey Gibson-Rivas. Joey has an extensive culinary background. He worked with Neal Fraser at bld restaurant. He also worked with the talented Patina team and was the last chef at Sonora Café before it closed on La Brea.

“Cooking is a roller coaster in the kitchen,” Joey said. “One day is intense, the other day is mellow.”

Joey started working in his mother’s kitchen in his home in El Salvador. “We made tortillas and tamales together,” he said. As a teenager, Joey wanted to be a police officer. As he was getting ready to go to the police academy, he read the best-selling book, “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain. “That book changed my life. I knew I had to be a chef. Chefs are like rock stars. Food, music and art are my life,” he said, showing off his tattooed arms. “As you see, I have art all over my body.”

Next to Supreme is Joey’s favorite tattoo shop, Will Rise Tattoo. “It’s one of the best tattoo shops in Los Angeles,” Joey said. “I get my tattoos done there, and the artists come to Urban Garden for lunch and dinner.”

The service is personable and fast at Urban Garden

Joey prepared an artistic plate of smoked eggplant, traditional hummus, spicy hummus and babaganoush with regular and whole-wheat pita bread. It had just the right amount of garlic and spices.

Of the four salads on the menu, I tried the fattoush with vegetables, and the kale, quinoa and beet salad. Both were lightly dressed, intensifying the flavors of the vegetables. The couscous salad looks like tiny pearls with tomato, feta and cucumber. Each salad is made with mixed greens and not iceberg lettuce.

One of the traditional goodie menu items is a warm stuffed cheese roll. The crust was flaky like a croissant with cheese oozing out after each bite.

The cheese roll arrived on a plate with vegetable kibbeh, made with vegetables, bulgur and potatoes.

Next to the kibbeh were three falafels made with quinoa. Even though they were fried, they were not greasy. All the vegetarian items are cooked in vegetable oil, separate from the oil used to cook the meat dishes. They use lamb shoulder for their lamb dishes, and no blended or pressed meat.

Some of the plate suggestions on the menu include a Spice Trade, The Old School, Dips Ahoy or Lean & Mean.

This block on Fairfax Avenue is changing and becoming a mini Greenwich Village. Joey is the type of chef who knows you by name if you come in more than once and talk to him. He likes working on Fairfax and serving the local community. Stop by, and say hello. Be sure to order a protein chop or vegan glory. Both are delicious.

Parking is available in the back in the green spaces. It’s free, and you don’t have to worry about putting quarters in the meters. Open for lunch and dinner. Closing time is 9 p.m. 446 N. Fairfax Ave. (323)951-0990.

Published May 18, 2013 in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers.

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