I have a confession to make. It's a really embarrassing one.
Up until a few weeks ago, I hadn't been to Sqirl.
I had been waltzing around Los Angeles, considering myself a "brunch expert," and I hadn't experienced what is widely considered the best brunch in the city. I know! I'm ashamed. And I'm here to say I'm sorry.
When I say that this place is widely considered the best brunch in Los Angeles, I do mean widely. Just about every list of where to eat in the city of angels includes Sqirl at the very top - and I'm not talking about lists of where to have breakfast or brunch or lunch in Los Angeles, I mean where to eat. Period. So that's a little bit amazing, since this is a breakfast-and-lunch-only kind of joint that closes at four o'clock in the afternoon each day. Just about every food critic in the country has written at least a paragraph or two about Sqirl, and the verdict is overwhelmingly positive. Jonathan Gold poetically sang Sqirl's praises in his L.A. Times review, calling founder Jessica Koslow "masterful." For LA Weekly, Besha Rodell said that Sqirl has "some of the most thoughtful, satisfying, beautifully executed food in town." And in what felt more like a love letter than a review, Bill Addison said "Sqirl is literally the neighborhood restaurant of my dreams."
So what was keeping me from brunching at Sqirl? For one, it's basically on the other side of the world (we West Siders are the worst, aren't we?). And if you're going to drive an hour for brunch, do you really want to wait at least thirty more minutes in line once you get there (after, god help you, you've hopefully found parking)? And then there's always that pesky fear that it won't live up to all that hype - that you will have trekked across the city and waited in a line that's the stuff of legends, all for something you could have made at home. I mean, how good could ricotta and jam on toast really be?
Well, friends, I'm here to tell you that I was wrong. Even as a staunch hater of lines (fact: I got out of bed before 6 am while on vacation to avoid waiting in line for donuts), I can confidently say that Sqirl is worth it. Ricotta and jam on toast can be really good, and unless you're Jessica Koslow, you can't make it like this at home.
It all started with jam. Koslow, unhappy in her television production career, returned to a job she knew she loved - working in a kitchen. After some time in the South, learning the ins and outs of pastry and preserving, she returned to Southern California and started to make jam the old fashioned way, in a huge copper pot. Her seasonally rotating market-driven flavors were a hit, and before long, she'd opened up shop in Silver Lake. The jam operation later expanded to a café in the very same space, with the team behind G&B providing delicious coffee and Koslow offering a menu of bright, vegetable-forward breakfast and lunch fare. Koslow's food was thoughtful and innovative, often setting the perfect stage for her much-loved jams and preserves to shine. You can guess the rest: word got out, people started talking, and soon there was a permanent line around the block.
We joined that famed line at a respectable 9:30 on a Saturday morning (as all reports indicate that the line is actually at its worst at the opening time of 8:00 am), and while it was formidable, it was not as ghastly as I had once imagined. In fact, it moved quickly enough that I wasn't quite prepared to order by the time we made it to the register, let alone did I have time to take a moment to appreciate Koslow herself hard at work behind the counter. By the time we were through, a perfect table opened up, and we settled in with our coffees. There's an elegance to how Sqirl operates, no matter how chaotic it may seem from the outside.
As much as we wanted to taste absolutely everything on the menu, we restrained ourselves to four dishes: The Mosca Breakfast Sandwich, the Famed Ricotta Toast, Braised Chickpeas, and the Cauliflower Hash. We also had to sample a cappuccino with house-made almond milk and The “Al Puccino” - a sweetened iced cappuccino.
The coffees were both delicious - just what you would hope from a café that was home to the inception of G&B, one of L.A.'s absolute best coffee shops. The espresso was rich and flavorful, and the house-made almond milk was perfect. The "Al Puccino" will please those who like their coffee on the sweet side. It's also a fun treat to have a foamy cappuccino served cold - it's a rare find here in the states.
The Mosca Breakfast Sandwich has both style and substance. Sure, it's great for the 'gram with a knife dramatically ensconced in its depths like the sword in the stone, a huge slab of griddled halloumi (be sure to add this when you order - it would be a mistake to skip it), a fried egg, and a healthy-sized chicken patty, all topped with a thick sauce of tomato, green peppers, and spices, and sandwiched between a shiny brioche bun. But then you bite into it, and it practically screams with flavor. When these already bold components combine - the savory chicken sausage, tangy halloumi, spiced menemen sauce - there is somehow harmony. Koslow didn't skimp on the fat in this dish, either, which makes it all the more decadent and satisfying.
Served with an impractically long piece of toast (it's kind of comical how they refer to this as "long toast" on the menu - "long" doesn't begin to describe it), the Braised Chickpeas are a heartwarming, stick-to-your ribs breakfast. The stewed garbanzos are reminiscent of the middle eastern breakfast dish ful muddamas, delightfully soupy and flavored with bright lemon and spiced baharat oil. On top, thinly shredded chard add lightness and crunch, and two soft poached eggs make it that much more satisfying. You're going to want to slurp up all this delicious sauce - luckily you'll have enough bread to soak it up.
Sqirl's Hash dish rotates seasonally, pairing fresh vegetables with roasted potatoes, fermented hot sauce, and a fried egg. The current special features tender roasted cauliflower, piri piri, and leeks. The hot sauce, served on the side, is really delicious and offers quite a kick. While simple, this dish was satisfying and felt healthy - especially since it came with a side of greens.
Like the good children we are, we made sure to save our dessert for last: the Famed Ricotta Toast. It's truly the stuff of legend - it's the single-most Instagrammed dish in the world (I have no concrete evidence to support this, but I've got a strong hunch), and there are whole articles dedicated to the art of its construction. And yet somehow, the actual height of that brioche took me off guard. It's massive. But like other toasts you may have eaten since toast took over the world, this one is not a tooth-breaker. Though thoroughly toasted (read: nearly burnt), the brioche remains soft and supple, providing a buttery pillow for the impossibly creamy ricotta and the tart jam to rest on. The flavors are spot on; the play of sweet and tart to salty and buttery is heaven. Do not make the mistake of coming here and not ordering this. Just trust us.
It's hard not to sensationalize a place that everyone in the world seems to love. You want to be a part of the excitement, to be a part of a movement, to eat the best thing you've ever tasted. On the other hand, it's also easy to unfairly criticize something popular just to be subversive. With this in mind, I maintain that Sqirl is great. Not everything we tasted was life-changing, but everything was good, and most was really good. If it weren't so far away, I'd be at Sqirl every week, just to make sure I could work my way through the entire menu. It's worth the hype, and it's worth a long drive - and I'm sorry I didn't experience it sooner.
720 Virgil Ave #4
Los Angeles, CA 90029