Fried Chicken Meets Street Fruit at the New Brunch at Descanso Gardens

Executive chef Mark Salazar predicts that his fried chicken and beignets ($15) will attract brunch fiends.
Executive chef Mark Salazar predicts that his fried chicken and beignets ($15) will attract brunch fiends.
Chelsee Lowe

Budding horticulturists and nature enthusiasts have strolled the shaded pathways and stream banks of Descanso Gardens since 1950, when the 160-acre site originally opened to the public. As of Oct. 1, all those green thumbs are sure to be joined by foodies, thanks to the debut of Maple, a weekend-only brunch concept by Patina Restaurant Group.

Patina has run the window-service-only Descanso Cafe for some time, and is the caterer for on-site events. Maple ups the ante, providing 90 seats across two charming patios and a rustic indoor dining room. While the setting is certainly lovely — grapevines play peekaboo over the central patio’s brick wall, and minimalist furnishings allow the Craftsman architecture of the venue to shine — executive chef Mark Salazar is betting big on the fare. The menu offers plenty of classic brunch items like eggs Benedict, a smoked-salmon bagel, and brioche French toast paired with house-made whipped bacon butter. There are also noteworthy dishes that reflect Salazar’s love of Mexican cuisine.

Salazar's "street fruit" ($7) is a nod to the fruit cup sold by many a vendor in Los Angeles.
Salazar's "street fruit" ($7) is a nod to the fruit cup sold by many a vendor in Los Angeles.
Chelsee Lowe

The “street fruit,” for example, is his ode to the vendador on the corner. In Salazar’s version, slabs of mango, pineapple, cucumber and jicama lie side by side and are topped with cotija cheese and tajin seasoning. Guests dress it up with a squeeze of lime before digging in.

“You can get some version of this in a number of places,” Salazar said, “but not that I’ve seen in the La Cañada area. We thought we’d bring over a little bit of L.A.”

Other nods to the chef’s culinary past include the huevo ranchero plate — the guajillo-braised short rib is reminiscent of the tamale filling Salazar would eat while waiting for his mother’s tamales to steam — and the hot dog–studded “franks and eggs” dish on the kids’ menu. Salazar says the latter was a childhood staple in his family. Some day soon, the team hopes to feature chorizo in a dish or two.

Salazar clucks like a mother hen about the aforementioned dishes, but he’s also rather proud of Maple’s fried chicken and beignets — a delicious duo he landed on while pondering how to best use his kitchen’s double fryer.

Guests might sit in Maple's rustic dining room or on either of two adjacent patios.
Guests might sit in Maple's rustic dining room or on either of two adjacent patios.
Chelsee Lowe

“We think this will be the dish people drive across town for,” Salazar said. 

When it comes to drinks, Patina mixologist Evan Charest is at the wheel, and he clearly toyed with a garden theme as he devised the venue's cocktail list. There’s a spade-sized tomatillo bloody mary, a Moscow Mule sweetened with Vermont maple syrup, and the “Garden Paloma,” made with blanco tequila, lime, grapefruit soda and basil. With options like these, Maple may become a destination for brunch bunnies looking for the next scenic day-drinking spot. 

Those not as keen on brunch are in luck: From Nov. 28 through Jan. 8, Maple will offer nightly dinner, designed to complement Descanso Gardens’ Enchanted: Forest of Light experience. Reservations for both brunch and the seasonal dinner are recommended and can be booked on OpenTable.

1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada; (818) 949-4200, descansogardens.org.


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