If the name of Gjelina's to-go annex, now open three weeks, is simply Gjelina Take Away, then we should expect it to be an absolute reflection of chef Travis Lett's Venice restaurant Gjelina, the only difference being that its food is made to be taken away. Wonder of wonders, GTA is just that. Three weeks after its opening, we find that its food is just as fresh, its servers just as hip and its prices just as high.
There's the same squash blossom pizza. The blossoms are left bare, free from the stuffed and fried confines of most other restaurants, resting alongside cherry tomatoes and mounds of melted burrata. When we find a bite that combines zuchhini, tomato and cheese, we inevitably regret not shopping at the farmer's market enough.
The roast beef is cooked on-site to a true medium rare, sliced thinly, nestled on homemade bread alongside homemade pickles. With arugula, thinly sliced red onion and what is surely a freshly prepared mayonnaise, it tastes like what ours mom would have made for school lunch every day if she had just had three hours to spare.
The servers, just as they are next door, exhibit a nonchalance that might appear cold. Sure, there isn't a telephone yet, and no, they don't know when they'll their expand their hours of 7 to 4 by another three hours. If they're not too worried about it, then neither should you, the thinking goes.
But they share our passion for the food, patiently helping us pick our squash blossom pizza because it's their favorite, too. It takes three days for that dough to be ready, they say with some pride. The “Omissions granted, substitutions declined” policy is serious though.
The prices are surprisingly reminiscent of the sister restaurant as well, dishes often only a few dollars less than their counterparts next door. For that slim margin, you stand over wooden planks that jut out from the walls like old-school ironing boards. Purple potted flowers add warmth, but the walls — exposed as if the construction crew left midway — and the blasting music don't exactly entice us to stay.
This is GTA's lure. GTA is designed for someone who doesn't mind paying $12 for a good roast beef sandwich and doesn't want to plan a meal weeks ahead. Because yes, the reservation line for Gjelina warns us that weekend nights are booked five to six weeks in advance.
GTA offers us the Gjelina experience in a manageable form. We wait in line a few minutes, we wait only a few more to get our food, we eat a lunch we enjoy and then we get on with our lives.