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Coffee Shop 101

What struck me first about the 101 Coffee Shop is its lack of irony. It looks like a coffee shop of my youth, right down to the dark wood-grained Formica, the sparkling snow-white cottage-cheese ceiling, the taupe and blue wall tiles, the cream-colored terrazzo floor and, especially, the decorative rock wall. The coolness of the color tones and lighting seems almost eerily authentic. This is no postmodern pastiche, no sentimental re-making. It is a serious, respectful paean to a vanishing style by restaurateur and coffee-shop aficionado Warner Ebbink.

While Ebbink was running some of the city‘s hippest, hottest restaurants -- he worked for Sean MacPherson at Swingers, Jones, Good Luck Bar, Bar Marmont -- he himself ate out at Ship’s. He was a big fan of Armet & Davis, the architectural firm that designed not only Ship‘s, but also Norms and Tiny Naylor’s. Most local examples of the firm‘s work have fallen under the wrecking ball. So when Ebbink decided to open his own coffee shop, he embarked on a three-week driving tour through Arizona and Nevada to study and absorb the Armet & Davis style. He took 2,000 snapshots.

Back home, Ebbink set to work on his restaurant space in the Hollywood Best Western Hotel on Franklin Avenue. The previous tenants, the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop (somewhat famous for its role in the movie Swingers), had recently moved to larger digs on Vermont. Ebbink worked for five months, seven days a week, creating a coffee shop he felt was a worthy example of the genre. And successfully.

But there is far more to a coffee shop than its decor. Franklin Avenue is a kind of cusp in Hollywood: Those south of the avenue, it’s said, haven‘t sold a screenplay yet, and those to the north of it have. The 101 Coffee Shop, like the Hollywood Hills before it, serves that mix of the up-and-coming and the arrived; and in this, the 101 surpasses its predecessor. The prices, the friendly and competent waitresses, the decent food, all make it both a handy neighborhood canteen and a modest but hip power-lunch spot. It helps, of course, that Ebbink’s chef and partner is Brandon Boudet, who came of age in the kitchens of Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse and recently was the executive chef at the Argyle Hotel. If Boudet is overqualified for a coffee shop kitchen, who are we to kick up a fuss?

Boudet‘s Cajun roots are evident throughout the menu, in sometimes unexpected and delightful ways. Who ever thought of eating blackened catfish with eggs for breakfast? Well, it’s a smart, healthy alternative to bacon and other nitrite-soaked breakfast meats, and the large, juicy fillet packs a lot of flavor. Have it with hash browns or, my favorite, grits. Another breakfast sensation is the “No Huevos” Rancheros. I ordered it for its novelty factor -- a restaurant critic‘s duty -- and found myself completely charmed by the steamed tortillas layered with black beans, tofu, sweet corn kernels, remarkably decent “soyrizo,” ranchero and tomatillo salsas and a dollop of fresh guacamole. Overall, the dish is very clear, ungreasy, even light -- health-conscious eating at its best.

Silver-dollar pancakes made me wonder if Ebbink’s tour of Nevada was sufficiently complete: If he‘d cozied up to any dollar slot machine, he’d know that these flapjacks, which are a good 4 inches in diameter, are far too large for the designation.

Luckily, Ebbink‘s focus on authenticity did not extend to his appliances; the coffee and espresso makers and orange juicer are contemporary and state of the art.

Overall, Boudet’s menu is fairly restrained for a coffee shop -- just over 50 items. But the bases are covered, and the food is fresh and served in generous portions. The blackened-chicken sandwich is made with a remarkably large and juicy breast on a good white bun and served with spicy mayonnaise. The veggie sandwich is a bit bland -- mashed tofu, avocado, tomato, watercress on wheat -- but you feel virtuous eating it. The salads are made with leaf lettuce and not just the boring usual mix. I wished the fried green tomatoes (served with greens, corn and ranch dressing) were pan-fried rather than deep-fat fried, but the crunch and creamy white dressing gave a Deep South thrill.

The macaroni-and-cheese is another Southern treat. It is basically pasta and Cheddar cheese baked together till crisp and chewy and gooey -- no bland, soft bechamel in sight. Vegetarians will find enough dishes to hold their interest. I liked the taquitos, fat tortilla tubes of minced wild mushrooms served with that good, fresh guacamole, black beans, and an ear of “Cuban” corn, a cob sprinkled with chile and spices and served with a wedge of lime.

Weekday specials include Boudet‘s own red beans and rice with andouille sausage and corn bread on Mondays and, most popular, his fried chicken on Thursday evenings.

Like any good, self-respecting coffee shop, the desserts are big and flamboyant. I loved the chocolate waffle brownie sundae topped with vanilla ice cream and CC Brown’s fudge sauce. But the big wedges of the large-crumbed, shaggy coconut layer cake or the chocolate devil‘s food are, in and of themselves, classics of the genre.

6145 Franklin Ave.; (323) 467-1175. Breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days 7 a.m.--3 a.m. Entrees $6.25--$13. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

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The 101 Coffee Shop

6145 Franklin Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90028

323-467-1175

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