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Downtown's newest cafe dishes up atmosphere and real food

click to enlarge Smiley's homestyle pies are essential to any visit. Other baked goods vie for attention. - BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz
  • Smiley's homestyle pies are essential to any visit. Other baked goods vie for attention.

You know that comfortable stretch of Tejon Street anchored by Wooglin's Deli on one end and the Poor Richard's complex on the other? On it, you'll find breakfast, books, bikes, pizza, microbrews and cozy neighborhood bars. With the recent addition of Smiley's Bakery and Café in between Edifice Gallery and Flavors on Tejon, that comfy-shoes end of downtown has become even friendlier.

Not that you couldn't come to Smiley's for a business lunch. But if you did, you might feel as if you'd popped home, changed into your jeans and sat down at the kitchen table for a sandwich. Walk into Smiley's, and you enter a space a little apart from the world outside. A bit of sunlight filters through windows shuttered with bamboo, lace and banks of thriving houseplants. Order at the counter in back and sit down at one of the dozen or so different antique kitchen tables no restaurant furniture here.

With the Cowboy Junkies playing overhead and fresh flowers, good coffee and food on the table, the small crowd of close friends I brought for breakfast nestled in. Smiley's serves simple fare, but how many people bake the bread for their French toast these days?

My mom did sometimes. I'm forever seeking loaves with that memorable tooth and yeasty aroma. I rarely find it, but Amy Graham, owner of Smiley's, bakes dense white bread that brings it back. With a start like that, you can't go wrong with French toast ($4.95). Smiley's version is custardy, rich and perfect in its homey simplicity.

Pancakes ($4.95) buttermilk or blueberry rate the same. Nice texture and rich flavor. Real maple syrup was the only thing missing on both plates. Why drench such authentic culinary goodness in high-fructose corn syrup?

Non-sweet breakfast options include an egg sandwich (on the same bread) with your choice of crisp, thick bacon or lean sausage, a breakfast wrap, breakfast potatoes and daily house-made quiches (ranging from $1.95 to $5.95). We tried all but the quiche and the wrap, and all passed with flying colors though the potatoes could use more salt.

For lunch, choose a sandwich and side ($8.95), a daily soup with a roll ($3.95 for a cup), a salad or the quiche. We tried cups of tomato crawfish stew with okra and a delicious, brothy barley soup with sweet peas and bell peppers. My companion chose that day's special, a grilled portabella, spinach and Swiss sandwich with macaroni salad. The mushrooms wanted a bit more seasoning, but the vegetable flavors really came through. I chose pepper jack, avocado, tomatoes, red onions and vinaigrette to dress my turkey sandwich a bit of a mess to juggle, but tasty and filling. A half-sandwich and cup-of-soup combo would be a welcome menu option.

If the bread doesn't make you smile, the pie will. I sampled the peaches and cream, with its flaky crust and fresh fruit. A strawberry jam pastry twist didn't move us, but I'd order the blueberry-banana buckle again with coffee. (Each dessert was $1.95.) A thick layer of brown-sugary oatmeal topping and real blueberries cleverly disguises the healthy serving of bran in this hearty option.

Still, I'll probably go back for the pie. After all, it's nice to dine on such classic homestyle food at a place that feels so much like home.

scene@csindy.com

  • Smiley's lives up to expectations, for breakfast and for lunch.

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