The Church Key earned a winning reputation with foodies and locals raving about their unique wheel cart dining service. Celebrating their second anniversary, Executive chef Steven Fretz and General Manager Joseph Sabato decided to introduce the cart service for a creative lunch experience. I invited a friend to join me for lunch last week.
A 1960s Pan Am beverage cart near my table was stocked with carafes of green tea, black tea lemonade, and little bottles filled with different housemade elixirs. Our server, Parker, recommended a eucalyptus elixer to be mixed with iced green tea. There is no alcohol, just pure, thirst quenching refreshment. Other glass bottles contained hibiscus, passion fruit and a Chai that Parker said goes really well with the black tea. “We make new elixirs weekly to change it up,” he said.
Fretz and Sabato started the cart service when they opened The Church Key to offer diners instant gratification. Instead of guests waiting for a server to take a cocktail or appetizer order, the wait staff approaches guests after they have been seated and offers a beverage and a dim-sum small plate. “Diners can sit back and relax while looking over the menu,” Sabato said. “For lunch, we thought an ice tea and lemonade drink cart would appeal to our guests. Arnold Palmers are instantly made right before their eyes.” He said they are thinking about decorating the Pan Am cart to look more like a retro-lemonade stand.
Each meal of the day is a unique dining experience. Chef Fretz graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and joined the Michael Mina Group before opening The Church Key. He earned a reputation for pushing boundaries and making classic dishes more exciting.
His lunch menu, printed on a white paper placemat, looks almost like a children’s menu in an easy-to-read font. A jar of pencils is placed on the table for guests to work on a maze on the menu, or try a word search. “We like to get playful and artistic with our dishes and dining experience,” Sabato said.
Lunch fare includes a Brussels sprout Caesar salad with slices of grilled chicken, shriveled tomato raisins bursting with flavor, crunchy sunflower seeds and Parmesan cheese. You won’t find romaine lettuce in this unique take on Caesar salad.
The avocado croissant toast is layered with creamy avocado, pickled egg, Hatch chilies and layers of smoked salmon with lemon zest shavings and dollops of luscious creme fraiche.
My favorite dish was the bright green English pea falafel patty on a dark pumpernickel and oat bun. Be sure to add the fried egg to the truffled tahini and tomato mixed with parsley relish. A skewered tomato raisin, grilled green onion and clove of garlic accompany the veggie-style patty, making a pretty dish and oh so delicious.
Fretz’s creativity is evident in his French fries, which look like large steak fries, but are actually made from potato gratin. He prepares large trays of potato gratin, cools them, then cuts the gratin into long and thick sticks. Then he deep fries them and serves them with an aioli. They are a heavenly balance of salty, cheesy and creamy potato treats. Don’t be shy about asking for ketchup. I think these are the best fries in Los Angeles.
He also makes a tapioca crusted fish taco made with sea bass that is crispy on the outside yet moist inside. They are enhanced with a Serrano chili aioli, salsa verde, shredded slaw and chips with guacamole.
We had to sample dessert and ordered a plate of Fretz’s winning warm brioche donuts with a brown butter glaze and cinnamon caramel sauce. We each had one donut and took the last one home to enjoy later in the day.
Next time you want to celebrate a special occasion or want to meet a group of friends for lunch, brunch or dinner, reserve a table at The Church Key. The wheeling beverage cart service is one of Los Angeles’ most unique and fun dining experiences. $$ Open Monday through Sunday from from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., for dinner. Sunday Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 8730 W. Sunset Blvd. (424)249-3700.
This review was published in the October 29, 2015 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers.