O'Groats has been about for nigh on thirty years, and the Valley edition is a couple of years old, popular with the Encinoan locals. I'd often passed it by, thinking it either a marmalade-infused, privileged abomination of fennel and foofery or a sportsbarian Valhalla of bros and brewery specials, and I would have been prone to sneer at this big blue oval logo that might have been yanked from a designer suitcase, but it's just not so. It's honest, and friendly.
The Ventura Blvd. location sighs beneath glum bank buildings like Encino eateries often do, with a massive gravel-and-pavement patio. Inside it's as airy as the day, predominantly blue and cream with a silvery tin ceiling overhead. They seem to know most of the folks who come in here.
Naturally I gravitate toward any dish called Latino Heat. This does not (necessarily) reflect my typical clubgoing pursuits.
This is a scrambled affair, but as I also am attracted to any option that says "make it a burrito," I do. It's packed with spicy, rich turkey sausage and a coat of sharp cheddar, and not quite enough jalapeño peppers to make it threatening. It's a hot and velvety jumble of yellow and russet yet holds itself together. A side dish of sour cream, melty avocado slices and pico de gallo waits patiently.
This is the Quesadilla O'Groats. What makes this a "huh!" creation is the much-lauded biscuit dough tortilla, which makes it less papery and more pitalike; pleasantly dappled with griddle marks with a buttery sheen, it's layered with steamed spinach, mushrooms, black beans, and is spot-welded by sharp cheddar.
While the vegetarian Qo'G is noteworthy, they make a dangerously good Corned Beef Hash here, a perfect pink-and-beige balance of salty chopped meat and mouth-filling potatoes.
Get this as a communal dish for the table; it's not greasy as might be expected, but it carries a real risk of post-brunch tummy-holding because you've eaten too much.
While John O'Groats is beloved for breakfast, do not, despite your tummy-holding, neglect lunch. On a lighter day I like the personality-laden Tostada Marie, where a crunchy-thin biscuit dough tortilla is piled with layers of warmth and coolness, with no one element bossing the others around. Home fries, chopped Gardenburger, spinach, salsa and cheddar are saturated with the juice of black beans, with the crepe-like sweetness of the tortilla adding interest.
The Encino location has a large parking lot in back with lots of grumpy bank-customers-only signage, but it is relaxed on evenings and weekends.
* A little detective work here, if only because the restaurant's website won't explain it: the road sign-cum-coat rack is a replica of the one at the very tippy-top right point of Scotland, in the village of John o'Groats. Conversely, Land's End is on the very bottom left of the Cornish peninsula, so the two are about as far apart in the UK as you can get. Dining in L.A., folks, is where you turn for party trivia.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, The Valley, Mid-City/Crenshaw/Jefferson Park )
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