In 1917 peanut butter makers Ray and Blanche Magee made their debut at the Grand Central Market, selling high quality nut butters. Soon it became a culinary sensation and they moved in 1934 to the new original Farmers Market along Fairfax and 3rd.
With the celebration of Grand Central Market’s 100 anniversary, Christopher Farber, Grand Central Market Director of Development & Special Projects and Kevin West Creative Director of Grand Central Market, excitedly welcome a new gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwich concept. “The introduction of PBJ.LA harkens back to the Market’s opening day in 1917, when local peanut butter maker Magee’s made its debut,” said Farber. “Now we celebrate the Market’s 100 year anniversary, and our history comes full circle with another peanut butter breakthrough.”
While attending a preview tasting of PBJ.LA, I met one of the founders Brad Greenberg, the chef creating imaginative culinary favorites. He shared with me how the idea started at the gym. Trainer Jimmy Franklin, Greenberg and Payvand Salehi discussed new elevated peanut and butter sandwiches made with exotic nuts, artisanal jams and superfoods, while working out together at Sky Sport & Spa. Salehi lost nearly 100 pounds after committing to an organic, vegetarian diet and wanted to offer a healthier version of PB&J to Los Angelenos.
“The first letter of our first names are PB&J (Payvand, Brad and Jimmy),” Greenberg said. His friend Jeff Miller, also a member of the rooftop gym, Sky Sport & Spa, introduced the trio to restaurant industry veterans Adam Fleischman (Umami Burger and 800 Degrees Pizza) and attorney Lee Weinberg. Both Fleischman and Weinberg work out at the same gym, and liked the food passionate trio during their impromptu pitch. They agreed to join them to further develop the concept. The first letter of their names (Lee and Adam) spell out LA, completing the name of the PBJ.LA restaurant.
“We almost secured a spot in Pasadena, yet the owner wanted to tie us down to a long term lease,” Greenberg said. “Jimmy drove by Grand Central Market and reached out to Farber.” Learning there were 240 dining concepts waiting for a space, Jimmy gave them a sample menu of their ultra modern and healthy take on one of America’s favorite comfort foods. He also mentioned Fleischman and Weinberg’s name. Soon he was granted a meeting with Farber and West. “Jimmy noticed they were dressed in suits, while he was in gym clothes,” said Greenberg. “At the end of the meeting, Jimmy was told – Don’t give this to anyone else, we are interested.”
The restaurant is scheduled to open this week with seven different types of sandwiches. Greenberg encouraged me to order three or four off the menu. “All the nut butters, jams and milks are house-made from scratch with organic ingredients,” he said.
I gave my order to the charming Quillan Prenderville. He is very excited to be part of the opening team of PBJ.LA, and recommended I start with an Old School sandwich, before ordering a couple more exotic ones.
My made to order sandwiches were assembled on slices of vegan bread with crust, before placed into a silver press that looks a little bit like a citrus juicer with a handle to pull down. As the sandwich maker pulled down the lever, I watched it cut off the crust and pinch the circular ends to look similar to a Smucker’s Uncrustables sandwich, only larger.
Biting into the Old School made with organic peanut butter and strawberry jam, I asked Greenberg about the fruit spread. “Our jams don’t have any processed sugar,” he said.
I noticed the porous holes from the Wonder-style soft bread (baked at a local bakery in Los Angeles), starts changing color as the nut butter and jam oozes through the air pockets, making the sandwich even more appealing.
They also insisted I taste the crisp and and visually exciting, purple Okinawa potato chips packaged in a clear, cellophane bag. “These potatoes are grown in Hawaii and sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt,” said Greenberg.
Next I was also offered a small clear plastic carton of vanilla lavender almond milk to enjoy with my sandwich. “Does it taste like too much lavender?” I was asked. Actually, I really loved the floral aroma while twisting off the top. Taking a sip, one does get a slight kick of lavender before tasting vanilla, however I found it delightful. I also liked how it gave me pleasing lavender breath.
Other sweet sandwiches include an Old Fashioned made with salted pecan butter, apple jam, orange zest and Angostura bitters. Chocolate lovers might enjoy ordering the Chocolate Haze made with chocolate hazelnut butter and a dark cherry Chianti jam. Greenberg gets very creative with his ingredients.
While biting into two of the International sandwiches, I found the Indian sandwich made with curried cashew butter, spicy mango chutney, arugula and sliced Daikon radish, tasted just like a sweet and savory plate of Indian food.
I was also thrilled with the pleasing crimped round Italian sandwich made with pine nut butter with sage and a basil cherry tomato jam. It was layered with arugula and EVOO (Liquid oil obtained from pressing whole olives) and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. For vegans they place a slice of vegan smoked Provolone. Those not vegan, the culinary team adds some Buffalo mozzarella on top.
The PBJ.LA guys got very ingenious with their beverages. Besides vanilla lavender almond milk, they also created a Peruvian Cacao almond milk made with a hint of coconut sugar that will satisfy chocolate milk lovers. Coffee aficionados will enjoy a carton of the Cafe Au Lait almond milk made with cold brew coffee. Hopefully on opening day they will serve their iced Yuzu Matcha green beverage.
While talking and eating, I noticed visitors at Grand Central Market approaching Greenberg to inquire about the purple and white dining space. “Come back next week for our Grand Opening” Greenberg told each excited individual with a warm smile.
Before leaving, I asked Greenberg about the purple sandwich logo with a slash. “It stands for not your average or standard PB&J sandwich.” He also invited me to return in a couple weeks to experience Adam Fleischman’s favorite sandwich – The Moroccan. “It’s made with organic spiced pistachio butter, organic fig rosewater jam and a little bit of mint.”
The menu will continue to grow and become more adventurous after they open. “It’s a dream come true to open in this location at the Grand Central Market,” Greenberg said, “We feel so lucky and blessed.”
Sandwiches start at $5. Grand Central Market is located between Broadway and Hill Street at the base of Angels Flight. Hours 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. 317 S. Broadway (213)628-3410.