Isn't it funny that sometimes the restaurants that are the closest to you are the ones you take the longest to visit? Not that Eagle Rock is close, but heck, I've driven to Gardena for ramen and Fountain Valley for 8 Courses of Fish. In retrospect, Eagle Rock is practically a neighboring city to Duarte where I reside. When you also take in consideration that I have a friend in Eagle Rock that I hang out with a couple of times a month, it's a wonder that I still haven't paid a visit to Auntie Em's and took her with me. Finally, we went for brunch and also brought another mutual friend for the ride.
Walking in, I was already liking that the menu was written on chalkboards. What that tells me is that this restaurant probably plans its dishes around seasonal ingredients. Using produce at its peak definitely can make good food great. While waiting in line, I also spied their cupcakes, both mini and full size. Having heard rave reviews, especially from my Eagle Rock friend, about those cupcakes, I decided to bring some home and try them out for myself, but that's getting ahead of myself.
Let's get back to brunch. Catching my eye was their Strata which had layers of Asparagus, Goat Cheese, Bread and Eggs and along it was going to be a bowl of fresh fruit. Doesn't that sound yummy? With no available seating in the main dining area or outside, we ended up in their Cheese Store next door, which had quite a nature motif. There's a fake tree where the hanging branches are made up of interconnecting square cardstock paper. At the foot of the tree, there's a painting of a wolf. You can also look up to see branches sticking out from the wall holding birds nests. I just really enjoyed the quirkiness of the decor.
Finally, our food arrived. When I took a gander at my plate, what really caught my eye first was the bowl of fresh fruit. Inside were plump raspberries and blackberries, along with the usual pineapple, cantaloupe and watermelon. Those berries looked amazing and definitely looked in season. They tasted as juicy as they looked. Then I dug into my strata and oh boy, was it worth getting up early for, especially since I'm not much of a morning person in the first place.
The top of the strata was browned perfectly and had a nice crispy-flakiness to it, but that first bite of an almost creamy-like texture of egg and melted cheese along with the tender asparagus was just an "oooh" and "ahhh" moment. It was just that good. Needless to say, my plate was almost licked clean. How can you go wrong with fresh fruit and a cheesy egg dish? That strata is definitely worth a return visit, although I'd probably would order something else just because I'd like to sample more of their menu.
Finally, we finished our meals and off we went our separate ways, but I had cupcakes with me. Later on that day, I tried their red velvet cupcake and left the others for the family to sample. I liked the cake portion of it, but I found the frosting overwhelming. From the side, it looked almost the same height as the cupcake itself. There was just too much of it and I also found it too sweet for my palate. I told my Eagle Rock friend when I saw her a couple of weeks later that I actually scraped off most of the frosting, to which she replied that the way she eats her red velvet cupcake is to put it in a bowl and mash cake and frosting together and than eat by the spoonful. Hmmm....forget a bowl of cereal when you can have a bowl of cupcake. Now that's an interesting concept.
While I wasn't much of a fan of their cupcakes, what I did like along with that strata dish was the selection of cheeses inside their Cheese Shop. During our brunch there, I chatted with Owner,Terri Wahl, and Jody, the Cheese Monger about doing an after hours cheese tasting there at the restaurant and they were quite agreeable.
About 3 months later, a group of between 20 and 25 joined me for what was a veritable cheese buffet where we sampled 9 different cheeses and each cheese was paired with another type of food, whether it was figs, olives, honey or a type of jam or relish. I honestly can't remember all my tasting notes, but the cheeses and the pairings that Jody put together were awesome.
All of them had the distinction of winning awards at a recent competition held by the American Cheese Society. There were two that really stood out for me. One was made by Capri out of domestic goat's milk and was called Wasabi Disc. The wasabi in this cheese added a little heat that really blended well with the pungency of the goat cheese. My other favorite was the Smokey Blue made by Rogue River Creamery. Cold smoked for 16 hours over Northwest -grown hazelnut shells, this cow's milk cheese definitely had a unique flavor profile - smoky, sharp with hints of a sweet nuttiness.
Overall, both of my experiences at Auntie, brunch and cheese tasting, were just wonderful. I still dream about that strata and it's good to know that there is an artisanal cheese store that's fairly local and is headed by a Cheese Monger who knows her stuff.
To see Brunch pics, go to:
To see Cheese Tasting pics, go to:
Auntie Em's Kitchen
4616 Eagle Rock Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90041