Freddy Smalls, the new bar-based eatery that took over West L.A.'s El Serape this week, comes from a chef and management super-group whose individual reputations and accomplishments are towering. Owner Jeff Weinstein is the founder of the popular, ever-spreading burger chain, The Counter, while the chefs, Jeremy Fox and Charlie Parker, are big names from Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurants, and manager David Fleisher is a notable whiskey whiz from Seven Grand. But Weinstein pretty much speaks for the whole group when he tells Grub Street his new neighborhood-focused establishment allows him "to flex a different muscle" than he could at his successful chain.
Freddy Smalls is hoping not to be a cheffy showcase or home to a cabal of tweezer-strapped bartenders trying to fit Mother Nature's every seed into a rocks glass. It is, from our impression, a true neighborhood destination; tiny, moody, transporting but rooted in its Pico place, and at least during its soft-opening, a kicked back place where the bar takes up a third of the room and provides the best perch for Fleisher's non-fussy libations and the chefs' fresh approach to bar food.
When it comes to flexing those different muscles, Weinstein tells us that, as a local, this is the kind of place he wants and that the neighborhood needs. It's hard to disagree, as West L.A. nightlife is heavily collegiate, and unless you've got Mori money or are a Nook regular, the best restaurants are typically on the cheap eats Oaxacan and Japanese scene. Freddy Smalls, named for a previous incarnation of the space found on a sign during renovation, is a small stunner, lined with white subway tiles, patterned tile flooring, and wood beams, wrapped up in an atmospheric glow and hypnotic beats. For now, it is roomy, despite it diminutive stature. There's even a wall of famous Freds greeting you at the door, where Kruger, Blassie, and Re-Run meet fellow Freds, Chopin and Douglas). In a month, we see the place elbow-to-elbow at the bar for draft craft, wine, and the new cocktail list of Fleisher's.
The bar star and manager admits he's excited to flaunt his freedom to create drinks that highlight spirits besides whiskey and is focused on creating simple, easy-to-make drinks that still spark something novel. Tired of bartenders "who take fifteen minutes to get you your drink," most of Fleischer's have no more than four simple ingredients, relying on the strengths found in great labels and pure, interesting additions.
Cocktails include a Stumbling Cowboy, which meets Fleisher's homemade sasparilla with Wild Turkey Rye 101, garnished with a lemon wedge and candied ginger, as well as a martini with potato vodka, French vermouth, and a single stuffed olive and house-pickled onion, and a 5-Star sidecar made with Metaxa, fresh citrus juices, and Jerry Thomas bitters. There's a pisco sour (here called a "Pico" sour), a tequila paloma, rum punch, a Flor de Cana rum papa, as well as a drink made with stone pine liquer, Maker's Mark, and barrel-aged bitters called Whiskey Stones. Uncomplicated and ideally balanced to showcase the specific spirits, the bartenders serve them up fast and stay out of the way of the short list of quality ingredients.
Meanwhile, the famous chefs, introduced to Weinstein through mutal pal Roy Choi, are hoping that their faces or names are not the main attraction, preferring to back the bar with well-crafted comfort plates that echo and innovate on a lot of what we've been seeing amid the town's current affair with all things gastropubbish. It's clear that the new property is giving them the platform to cook how and what they want to cook.
Both chefs were in the house last night and both plan to stay committed to this little local. The menu, comprised of five small plates, three meat board options, eight mains, and three desserts, nicely keeps most of the action closer to the $12-15 range and never vaults over the $19 mark.
To start, there is a plate of Castelvetrano olives dusted with wild fennel pollen and satsuma mandarin, a tiny paper bag filled with spiced BBQ cashews with chewy candied bacon, deviled eggs stuffed with Point Reyes blue cheese and bearing an angular shard of chicken skin, bacon gourgere with aged jack, and possibly the city's most sublime take on brussel sprouts (in a year of strong contenders). The meat board features Fox's charcuterie, with options like oxtail terrine, and a mousse of chicken liver paired with duck rillette with quince mostarda.
Main courses include vegetarian friendly fare like a salad of beets and avocados with fuyu persimmon, quinoa, and pistachio, and burrata-topped bruschetta. But while Fox has long sat atop the vegetarian throne, his different muscle to flex here includes a flash-grilled steak tartar under a slow-cooked smoked egg yolk, a marrow-laden reuben sandwich, grilled Monterrey squid with romesco, house smoked trout, and a dynamic take on a chicken parm, served en casserole, that uses only dark meat, hitting all the right, familiar flavors on this crisp, cheese-blanketed classic, while ratcheting up the pleasure through juicier, more chicken-y meat, confit garlic, and a bursting, fresh tomato sauce.
Currently soft-open and officially opening Friday, the odds look high that Freddy Smalls will become a hit, as it's the kind of well-conceived, casual neighborhood haunt and watering hole with good food that we've long envied our friends' ability to walk to from Highland Park to Brooklyn. We'd recommend you get there before the hit happens to experience the bar in true relaxed fashion.
See the full cocktail and draft beer lists below.
WHITMANS Old Fashioned
Makers Mark, Earl Grey syrup, cherry, bitters, splash soda, orange wedge garnish
Wild Turkey Rye 101, homemade sarsaparilla, candied ginger & lemon garnish
Vodka, dark hibiscus tea, alfalfa honey lemonade, bitters
Zapopan Blanco Tequila, grapefruit soda, Peychauds bitters
Plymouth Gin 92pf, celery bitters, bartenders tonic, lime garnish
Blended Scotch, wildflower honey, splash soda, special bitters, lemon garnish
Aged rum, lemon, orange, pineapple, house grenadine, soda, lime & cherry garnish
Potato Vodka, French Vermouth (thrown on the floor), one stuffed olive, one house-pickled onion
Deaths Door Gin, fresh berries, sage honey, lemon, mint leaf garnish
Metaxa 5 Star, fresh orange, fresh lemon, Jerry Thomas bitters
Flor de Cana Silver, lime, maraschino liqueur, demerara dandelion syrup
Pisco, lemon, egg white, orange blossom simple syrup
Makers Mark, stone pine liqueur, barrel-aged bitters, dolin dry vermouth
Mamas Little Yella Pils(ner) Oskar Blues Brewing. Colorado. 6
Ommegang BPA (Belgian Pale Ale) Ommegang Brewing. New York. 8
Green Flash IPA Green Flash Brewing. California. 7
Black Market Hefeweizen Black Market. California. 6
Turbo Dog Brown Ale Abita Brewing Co. Louisiana. 7
Uinta Dubhe Dark IPA Uinta Brewing. Utah. 8
Pranqster Belgian-Style North Coast Brewing. California. 8
Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout Anderson Valley Brewing. California. 7
Stone Smoked Porter Stone Brewing. California. 8