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Kiss Their Grits 

Square One and the most important meal of the day

Wednesday, Aug 2 2006
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There are many ways to enjoy bacon at Square One Dining, which, if it didn’t have so many vegetarian-friendly options on its menu, might almost be a bacon-specialty restaurant. There are bowls of stone-ground grits flavored with Cheddar and studded with tiny cubes of bacon; frittatas of bacon, tomato and cheese; a kind of deconstructed Egg McMuffin with bacon, scrambled eggs and aioli on toasted brioche; and bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwiches made with superbly ripe produce. When you order pancakes, you have the option of a thick caramel sauce whose buttery qualities have been further enriched by a bit of bacon fat, whose subtle smokiness you probably couldn’t trace unless somebody let you in on the secret.

It is hard to go wrong with bacon, but Square One, a cheerful, brightly painted breakfast place in the L. Ron Hubbard district of East Hollywood, may have the city’s best, bacon you can enjoy while drinking strong coffee and eating freshly baked muffins, guzzling orange juice and observing the platoons of sharply dressed cadets pouring into and out of the Scientology Center down the block. Everything goes better with hickory-smoked hog belly. This morning’s horoscope probably told you that.

But even without the bacon, Square One is a pretty good place — big salads for lunch made with roasted beets or house-cured salmon; pressed ham-and-cheese sandwiches; fragile chocolate-chip cookies as big around as dinner plates. The chefs shop the same way you do, or at least the way you would like to think that you would do if your life was devoted to cooking breakfast rather than to such unimportant concerns as work, television and sex.

click to enlarge Here's the beef: Steak, grits and eggs.
  • Here's the beef: Steak, grits and eggs.

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Square One

The grits are the heirloom, stone-ground kind from Anson Mills in South Carolina; the beef from Harris Ranch; the eggs from Mike and Sons; the fruit, lettuces and vegetables from other farmers-market stars. Produce of this quality needs little embellishment, and Square One doesn’t tinker much — a midsummer fruit salad included pluots, white nectarines and a handful of berries: no sugar, no sprinkles, not even a sprig of mint.

Still, breakfast is the one meal where ingredients and technique tend to matter less than the ability of the cook to prepare things exactly the way you like them. No matter the perfection of a soft scrambled organic free-range egg, if you’d prefer it over hard with broken yolks, you aren’t going to be happy. I don’t want to oversell this restaurant — the aesthetics are not quite my own. I tend to like pancakes that are thin, a bit rubbery and magnificently sour; Square One’s are big, thick, fluffy creatures, perfectly round, the kind of pancakes I would rather see on the cover of a food magazine than on my plate. If you are a partisan of bland, creamy oatmeal, Square One’s steel-cut variety, aggressively flavored and nearly al dente despite a long cooking time, will not be to your taste.

Or if you insist on browned, airy French omelets, Square One’s tasty-mat-of-egg omelets may not be what you are looking for in the morning. But those flat omelets may be stuffed with jalapeño, onion and spicy chorizo sausage, or with arugula and cave-aged Gruyère, or with the makings of a spectacular bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, and it is hard to imagine anybody able to resist the baked eggs with a fava–wild mushroom ragout over grits. And if you’re in the mood, that oatmeal can be tempered with real maple syrup and bourbon-toasted pecans.

And as I’ve said, there’s bacon. Square One custom-slices Nueske’s bacon, the well-regarded artisanal product from northern Wisconsin, into what resembles small steaks, lays them on a rack, and slow-roasts them until they become crisp but pliable, sweet and deeply smoky, dissolving under the teeth into gushers of fragrant juice. I have enjoyed house-smoked Chinese bacon that approaches this intensity, and my American Express card has long-standing relationships with smokehouses in three or four mid-Southern states, but I am not sure I have ever tasted bacon cooked with the obsessive care that Square One brings to its slabs, and I am even prepared to pay the high tariff it asks. A buck fifty may be a lot to pay for a single strip of bacon, but it is a bargain price for happiness.

 

Square One, 4854 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; (323) 661-1109, www.squareonedining.com. Open Tues.–Sun. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Lunch for two, food only, $15–$25. Recommended dishes: bacon; baked eggs over grits with fava, shiitake and oyster-mushroom ragout; cured-salmon salad with lemon-dill vinaigrette.

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