A fine restaurant, we all know, requires a chef to put it together; a greasy spoon needs a gifted cook. But a good sandwich shop, especially a good sandwich shop in a business district, can more properly be the domain of a curator: somebody with an iron hand on the meats and cheeses, who knows how to keep the dining room comfortable enough to visit every day but brusque enough to encourage quick turnover, who gets the coffee right, the bread right and, if the shop is also open for breakfast, perhaps some decent baked goods. No matter how many people are crowded in around you, no matter how fervently the woman in the bob is hoping you will finish your lemonade so that she can sit down, the sandwich shop feels like yours.
Olive & Thyme, Melina and Christian Davies' new sandwich shop in downtown Toluca Lake, was mobbed from the day it opened, crowds moving through the place in odd yet precise paths, grabbing pour-over coffee made from Intelligentsia beans and chocolate-stuffed pastries imported from Valerie Confections in Hollywood, gathering salmon salad and lemony potato salad and bacon-spiked mac and cheese to take back to the office. There is a Middle Eastern twist to a lot of the food here — the toasted-bread salad fattoush is on the menu alongside the Cobb salad; the chicken sandwich comes with hummus and harissa. You can get a glass of Felsina Chianti or Belgian ale with your short rib sandwich or mezze platter. For breakfast, there's almond butter and jelly, breakfast panini and warm turnovers stuffed with ham, cheese and eggs. Have the Davies reinvented the wheel? Not quite. But they've come up with a damned good place for lunch.