Blue-plate specials, steak, matzo-ball soup, and caviar are all on offer at the nostalgia-inducing, long-anticipated restaurant.

By Andy Wang
June 20, 2019
Lucianna McIntosh

Jeremy Fox, one of the most acclaimed chefs in Los Angeles, is sitting in a big, blue-cushioned booth at Birdie G’s and talking about blue-plate specials.

The long-awaited Birdie G’s, which Fox and the Rustic Canyon Family restaurant group will open in Santa Monica on Friday, is a deeply personal restaurant. Birdie is the name of Fox’s three-year-old-daughter. G is for Fox’s grandmother, Gladys. The Thursday blue-plate special at Birdie G’s will be “Gladys’ lengua pot roast,” which is a version of a beef-tongue dish that the Ohio-born Fox ate at his grandmother’s Pennsylvania house when he spent childhood summers there. Fox will serve the lengua with potatoes and carrots. The tongue will be accompanied by fried kasha cakes with schmaltz, gribenes, spring onions, aioli, crispy chicken skin, lemon zest, and chives. This over-the-top blue-plate special, Fox points out, happens to be gluten-free.

Fox will have a different blue-plate special every day of the week. Wednesday’s Mongolian tri-tip with marrow-fried green farro is a nod to how he loved eating Mongolian beef as a teenager in Atlanta. (He had previously envisioned a Mongolian beef pot pie, but he realized the sweet, sticky sauce he wanted worked better for tri-tip.) Sunday will be for sand dabs Grenobloise and fries because Fox won’t get his day-boat delivery of the California fish until Saturday afternoon or evening.

Beyond the blue-plate specials, the Birdie G’s menu has sections for Texas toast, wood-grilled California steak, and much more. Fox’s open kitchen, which faces a 12-seat chef’s table, includes a griddle for the Texas toast and a J&R grill that’s burning almond wood. Given that Fox will have an assortment of sides and steak sauces, he totally understands that a lot of guests might use Birdie G’s as a steakhouse even though it’s not exactly a steakhouse.

Meanwhile, Birdie G’s isn’t a diner either, but the extensive menu of comforting American food does feel gloriously overwhelming the way a diner does.

“I want it to be like a mall,” Fox says. “I want you to get lost.”

Jim Sullivan

Fox doesn’t just want Birdie G’s to be a different place for different people. He wants it to be a different place for the same people, where you can come in for a chopped salad one evening and then return for an extravagant dinner with cocktails and wine a few nights later.

“I want Birdie G’s to either be a place where you can pop in and get matzo-ball soup and fries and a beer and be out of here, or you can come in and get, you know, breads and hors d’oeuvres and caviar service and a big steak and crab cakes and just really go nuts and celebrate.”

Birdie G’s will have its own exclusive Passmore Ranch steelhead roe for its caviar service. There will be a “Hangtown brei” with fried oysters, grilled pork belly, scrambled eggs with matzo, and hot sauce hollandaise. Fox will serve a Dungeness-crab-and-prawn cake with a riff on Newburg sauce that’s “kind of like a sabayon of reduced spot-prawn stock, lime leaves, lemongrass, egg whites, and Madeira.” So it’s very loosely a Newburg sauce.

Chef de cuisine Brittany Cassidy will have a version of her mom’s chicken scallopine on the Birdie G’s menu. Sous chef Jeremiah Lacsamana’s wood-grilled chicken at Birdie G’s started as something he made for family meal at Rustic Canyon (the Santa Monica restaurant where Fox ran for the kitchen for more than six years and recently promoted Andy Doubrava to executive chef).

“Jeremiah tested this out for family meal a lot at Rustic,” Fox says. “He’d pull his pickup truck out back and did this makeshift smoker with hotel pans and worked on his marinade and the smoking.”

Jim Sullivan

At Birdie G’s, the chicken will be served with a “tropical sauce” that might feature pineapple or papaya one day and Wong Farms mango another day. If you want to know what’s in the sauce on any of your visits, just ask.

“Part of it is kind of having these nonsensical names and descriptions that kind of force people to ask questions,” Fox says. “Instead of hitting people over the head with the story, we can answer the question if people are interested.”

You might find out, for example, that the “country club greens” with pepperoncini and provolone  Fox really loves are based on something he ate at a country club in Ohio near the family home of his wife, Rachael Sheridan. For his rendition, Fox is using escarole that Aaron Choi of Girl & Dug Farms is growing for Birdie G’s.

For dessert, the consulting pastry chef is Fox’s ex-wife, Deanie Hickox, who worked with him at Manresa and Ubuntu (where he became a 2008 Food & Wine Best New Chef). Along with a chilled chocolate cake, daily slice of pie, matzo bark, cheesecake in a jar, and other options, there will be a rose-petal pie that’s a hybrid of a stained-glass pie and a strawberry-pretzel pie. The rose-petal pie was something that only existed in Fox’s imagination before Hickox made it a reality.

If the Birdie G’s menu sounds like it’s all over the place, that’s the point. Fox has had a hard time describing this food, but this is the restaurant of his dreams. A lot of these dishes started as ideas in his head. You can call this food American or Americana, but it’s difficult to get more specific than that. Ultimately, it’s the food that Fox craves himself.

“I think the non-cohesiveness is what I like about it,” says Fox, who points out that life itself is all over the place.

So why not cook and eat what you want, whether it’s a spicy tripe-and-tomato stew, charred sweetbreads, or an open-faced “sloppy Jeremy” with beef-and-strawberry Bolognese? Why not make your own pasta, like black-pepper fusilli for a noodle kugel? Why not build a huge relish tray? Why not have a menu that “evokes some sort of nostalgia” and feels “abundant”? Why not create a 150-seat restaurant with a dark, almost divey “bird’s nest” of a bar adjacent to a bright dining room with a beamed ceiling? Why not do all of this on an industrial stretch of Santa Monica, in the Bergamot Station complex with art galleries and a train station, where opening an ambitious restaurant is a game-changing endeavor? Why not celebrate the grittiness of where you are?

Jim Sullivan

“The recycling dump is right outside our patio,” Fox says. “I kind of like the wrong side of the tracks.”

Fox has a sly sense of humor, so one hashtag he’s been using on Instagram is #artsdistrictwest. The Arts District, of course, is an industrial downtown area that’s turned into one of the city’s hottest dining destinations. Santa Monica, of course, is largely a wealthy, ocean-facing area that’s much more established than the Arts District. Fox has managed to find a pocket in Santa Monica that feels like a new dining frontier, where he can hear jackhammering in an adjacent building and the roars of sanitation trucks driving by on the regular.

So here he is now, walking me through his dream kitchen in his dream restaurant. He stops to marvel at the Uline storage he has for spoons, mandolines, and many other kitchen tools. We peek into the walk-in refrigerator that’s overflowing with fruit and many other ingredients. We stop by what Fox calls the  “bookends area.”

“During service, all the breads, hors d’oeuvres, and desserts come from here,” he says. “For private parties in the PDR, we can execute the menus back here without disrupting the hot line.”

Fox is ecstatic to have a space that matches his ambitions. Once things get a bit settled at Birdie G’s, he plans to serve a tasting menu at the chef’s table. But this won’t be a procession of small plates. Instead, Fox might drop casseroles inside Staub cast-iron cookware onto the table. Or he might have nights where a specific cut of meat is the main event for his tasting menu.

“It’s like a family dinner,” he says.

Birdie G’s overall will be a place for family dinners, where adults and children can return again and again for their favorite dishes or to try something new or to enjoy blue-plate specials like Friday’s sirloin tips stroganoff. Fox’s brother and sister-in-law came in for a friends-and-family preview meal, placed their order, and then realized that they had overlooked an entire section of the menu. This made Fox happy. He also liked hearing friends tell him that the menu was so large that they couldn’t order everything they wanted.

Birdie G’s will be open seven days a week and will start taking reservations (via Resy and phone) on Thursday at 10 a.m. Fox’s guests will have many chances to come back.

Birdie G’s, 2421 MIchigan Ave., Santa Monica, 310-310-3616

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