The blocks between Cahuenga and Highland, Melrose and Santa Monica, are where much of moviemaking magic happens, if you consider the magic to be invisible necessities such as digitizing and dubbing, editing and accounting. It’s not glamorous work, and neither is the area — blocks of boxy buildings, zero retail and unpopulated streets, save for clots of young, overworked production types taking cigarette breaks or a moment in the sun.
Grub is a charming incongruity in the concrete heart of this postproduction country. The homey lunch-only spot on Seward Street is sunny and just jumbled enough to make you feel as though you’re taking a seat in your sister’s kitchen, if your sister lived in a Kansas farmhouse. The walls are pale yellow, there are simple stained-wood tables and chairs, and, even before you’re settled in, the offer of coffee. Get it; it’s a lot fresher than Charbucks. But even better is the homemade ginger ale, a hot ginger-root infusion that is zesty with lime wedges and served in a tall cup rimmed with raw sugar.
A huge part of Grub’s appeal comes from the staff, who all seem to have aced some sort of niceness test. With their easy smiles and untended hair, they are the antidotes to high-wattage Hollywood hostesses, quick and attentive, and seem to have taken as a mandate the maxim on the menu: “Just be happy . . . it’s better than the alternative.”
In fact, there are lots of ways Grub can make you happy, starting with “grubbettes,” first courses that include Love You Long Time Rolls, rice-paper wraps tucked around shredded raw vegetables and served with a purée of peanut butter and coconut. They’re crunchy and vibrant, and make you feel virtuous. More naughty is Mt. Olympus, a platter mounded with wild-mushroom couscous, lemony hummus, a mash of sun-dried tomatoes, crumbled feta, artichoke hearts, and an unseen but powerfully present mass of garlic, all to be scooped with warm, soft, oily pita chips. It is such an involved mound of chews and goos, so much fun to dig into, I imagine eating it at home (perhaps in front of the TV, watching the playoffs) so I can make a big mess.
The rest of the menu is composed of soups, salads and sandwiches, or “sammies.” The barbecue-beef sandwich is brisket that’s been spice-rubbed, slow-cooked, shredded, and sluiced with a tangy-sweet tomato-based sauce. The whole burnished mess is piled on a soft bun, drizzled with a chile-hot aioli, and served with well-roasted, herbed-and-peppered new potatoes. “Joe-Mama”-cita is a Southwestern Sloppy Joe, the ground beef spiked with an undetectable shot of tequila — it tastes like the sort of white-trash taco you make at home with a Lawry’s spice packet, which is to say, pretty good. While there’s no beef burger on the menu, the turkey burger is none the worse for tasting like excellent delicatessen bologna; the roasted-garlic tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil aioli on top make this such a huge undertaking that even my lunchmate, a triathlete, took pause.
The salads aren’t for sissies, either, but big plates piled high. Spinach with marinated shiitake mushrooms (and lots of ’em) comes with a puck of warmed, walnut-encrusted goat cheese. The Ay Caramba! Salad — baby greens piled with strips of grilled tri-tip, crisped pepitas, jack cheese and fried tortilla strips, and tossed with a chipotle-cumin vinaigrette — is a contrast of textures and temperatures that keeps my interest for the 20 minutes it takes to finish.
My favorite meal on Grub’s menu is the After School Special, a grilled cheese sandwich made with Cheddar and Swiss, on sourdough and fried in, oh, maybe a half-stick of butter. The resulting sandwich is crisp, and so oozy and cheesy, I actually eat part of it with a spoon, and am not complaining. The cup of Creamy Dreamy Tomato Soup alongside (on the same plate, the way you might serve a child) is chunky and smooth, tangy with sour cream and fresh dill. The other soup on the menu, however, is for me sort of a dud. While I imagine caramelized-onion soup in a crock encrusted with licks of melted and burnt cheese, what arrives is a spa version of the dish: vegetable broth, too many rings of limp julienne red onion, a few tangles of melted provolone at the bottom of the bowl.
Grub’s menu is a fluid thing, as the restaurant is an outgrowth of As You Like It Catering. Which means that a special dish from someone’s wedding may appear one day, while other items, notably desserts, are frequently no-shows. “We usually only have dessert when we have some left from a party,” our server mentions, utterly nonchalant, adding to the down-to-earth quality and making me think that, while Grub is a restaurant, it’s more in the business of feeding people, which is a fundamentally different thing.
On one trip to Grub, the feeding includes pecan bars — diamonds of shortbread topped with a runny toffee and brown-sugared pecans that are so toothsome, I think about reviving my eating disorder. Offered every day is an ice-cream float made with vanilla Häagen-Dazs and Hansen’s soda, which the menu subtitles, “a beautiful, refreshing cloud of yumminess!” Served, as are all dishes at Grub, with a generous dollop of happiness.
Grub, 911 Seward St., Hollywood; (323) 461-3663. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Entrées $3.95–$10.95. No alcohol. Takeout and delivery. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V.