What do you get when you combine a renovated 1912 Fire Station with Chef Christopher Hora’s unique sweet and savory fare? A winning combination that fits in beautifully with the renewal and renovation of Downtown Los Angeles. This little gem of a restaurant was once a 1912 Firehouse replete with fire engines, extinguishers and a brass pole for fire fighters to slide down. Today the historic setting at 644 Figueroa St. is home to the cuisine of Chef Christopher Hora. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and native Californian, Chef Hora inherited his appreciation of fresh food and savory ingredients from his Italian mother and Czech Father when he was growing up . That influence carries over to the hearty menu at Engine Co No. 28. The restaurant serves breakfast during the week, brunch on the weekends and daily lunch and dinner service. There’s also a well-priced happy hour for those working in Downtown looking for relief from office stress. Other offerings to alleviate stress include wine dinners and beer tastings.
I visited the restaurant on Sunday for brunch to get a feel for Chef Hora’s cooking skills prior to his two appearances at this week’s LA Food and Wine Fest. Brunch is a new addition to the Engine C0. 28 menu, and the fare is literally both sweet and savory. Dishes like the French Toast with Bourbon soaked Orange Marmalade offer a new twist on traditional breakfast fare. The dish is sweet but not too sweet, with just the right subtle flavor from the Orange complimenting the French Toast. “ I don’t like anything to be too sweet, “ says Chef Hora. “If it’s too sweet it just stays in the front of your month and you don’t tastes all the favors.” The Cali Bennie of smoked salmon, avocado, spinach, poached egg and sauce cherone is simply a revelation. It’s just the right twist on the more traditional eggs benedict with a cherone sauce that is more robust than a hollandaise offering hints of tomato, spices and shallots swimming in a rich sauce of egg yolk. A less subtle dish is the Chicken and Waffles served with a heavy sauce that updates southern “red-eye’ gravy. While the Cali Bennie tickles the taste buds with delicate flavor, the Chicken and Waffles is pure comfort food that assaults the mouth with a heavy cream sauce laden with bacon and hints of coffee. It’s delicious, but it’s difficult to each too much of it, at least in one sitting. It goes without saying that you won’t find this dish on any menu of recommended healthy diet foods.
Other menu highlights include rich desserts like Bananas Napoleon, cream pies and a rich Cheesecake served with fresh fruit. Brunch at Engine Co. No. 28 offers everything from Porridge with toppings to Omelets, plus Bread and Butter Pudding. The simple ingredients don’t prepare the visitor for the deliciousness of the dishes. “Anything is good if you begin with great product and sound technique,” said Executive Chef Christopher Hora. His dishes are proof of his culinary talent for skillfully combining what might be considered unlikely ingredients. Who else would conceive of Hamachi Ceviche complimented with blood orange,grapefruit and cactus? (This will be one of the the Chef’s dishes at the LA Food and Wine Fest this week.)
If you work in Downtown Los Angeles, or you are going downtown for the theatre or a sporting event, put Engine Co. No. 28 on your list. Shuttle service to the Ahamanson theater is offered and the Staples Center and LA Live are within walking distance. Prices for Brunch start at $11.00 with bottomless Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s (with the Chef’s own spicy mix)offered for $20.00. There’s nothing pretentious on the menu, just simple ingredients and delicious fare that’s reasonably priced, served up in a historic setting.