The Grilled Cheeses of Little Bear- 01.29.12
Exploring the culinary side of LA ~ our Tasteologie editor, Jackson, had a fun chat with Chef Andre Guerrero about their variety of speciality grilled cheeses and beer director Ryan Sweeney about their Belgian brews over at Little Bear. Here’s a look at his latest adventure:
I love grilled cheese. It is the combination of two of humankind’s oldest food products. As it is about ten thousand years old… we’ve had lots of practice in eating and making this comfort food staple. Little Bear, a new bar in downtown L.A., offers a quartet of interesting grilled cheeses to go along with its amazingly well curated selection of Belgian Beer. It is a fantastic addition to Los Angeles’s Arts District and fits into the growing local network of lofts, artists, artisans, film shoots, factories, and restaurants. Little Bear brings nuance and great attention to detail raising otherwise straight forward food and beer into a warm comforting embrace. I couldn’t resist sampling their entire grilled cheese lineup! See more pics on the next page!
Little Bear is defined by its beer. It is the odd restaurant where beer comes first. The menu is built around the beer selection which contains nothing but Belgian and Belgian style offerings. Belgium is a beer lovers dream come true. The region avoided the restrictive German purity laws, allowing for a long history of innovation. It also housed numerous Trappist abbeys full of monks dedicated to the twin passions of God and brewing a better beer. Hops generally took a back seat to the transformational powers of yeast, and varieties of sweet, sour, high and low alcohol beers began to flow. Belgians started their radical beer revolution so long ago, that their early efforts have now been codified into traditional styles. They are the Santa Cruz of beer. A place where old radicals retired and started to rejoin the establishment.
The menu respects this history and offers nothing which would clash with the beer. The entire concept was designed for people to be able to pop in for a pint (or three) and grab a bite to eat while catching up with friends and neighbors. The grilled cheese selections pair exceptionally well with beer, which makes sense considering that they are both made with some of the same principles. Chef Andre Guerrero, of The Oinkster and Maximiliano fame, starts all the grilled cheeses with a fantastic sourdough bread from Bread Lounge. This handmade bread arrives fresh from literally just around the corner and is fermented just like the beer you’ll be drinking along side it. The ester-y yeast flavors and the wild flavors developed from the starter are very similar to what happen to Belgian sours and it provides a great base from which to start.
Right now they feature a Grilled Cheese Brisket…
… a Grilled Cheese Bacon
… Grilled Cheese Stilton.
And a Grilled Cheese Smoked Salmon which I got to watch being made back in the kitchen.
It starts with a generous smear of butter on the sourdough and then it goes straight on the griddle.
Next comes a smear of whipped cream cheese, a generous scoop of their capers mixed with a shallot relish, and a layer of their smoked salmon, which they smoke with applewood over at Maximiliiano’s. Maximiliiano’s uses the salmon for a flatbread with burrata, but here it becomes a fabulous grilled cheese with all the flavors of a New York bagel.
The entire sandwich goes back on the grill to warm through and then…
… it’s on to a plate with a pile of their Belgian fries, which should taste familiar to anyone who has been to The Oinkster. The flavors meld perfectly together, and the capers provide a nice refreshing bite…
… and cleanse the palate so when you take a sip of your Orval you don’t have the taste of smoked salmon lingering on your tongue.
While they are all delicious the two vegetarian grilled cheeses were actually my favorites. I’ll leave it up to you whether or not to alert any herbivores with you that the reason the fries taste so good is that they are first fried in beef fat.
Little Bear is a fascinating (and delicious) exploration of camaraderie. When I talked to the two partners, Chef Andre Guerrero and Cicerone Ryan Sweeney, they had nothing but praise for each other. Their food and beer echo that same spirit of collegiality. Little Bear just works. Grilled cheese and Belgian beer belong together.