Bread and Porridge on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica serves traditional American food and has two dining rooms decorated with Americana.

Santa Monica is well known as an exotic food destination, despite having no well-defined ethnic neighborhood. There is no Olvera Street, no Chinatown, but you can find cuisines from around the globe sharing the same block – Persian, Indian, Mexican and Chinese right in a row.
This makes the 2300 block of Wilshire Boulevard noteworthy, because there are three restaurants side by side serving an underappreciated cuisine – traditional American. When it’s done right it’s the essence of comfort food; it tastes like home even if you didn’t grow up with it. I pulled over to see what the three restaurants were serving, and on a whim decided to patronize a café called Bread and Porridge.
The two small dining rooms were prettily decorated with Americana but not cluttered and kitschy, and a server greeted me immediately and showed me to a table even though the place was crowded. The server recommended the beef stew or the brisket, which he proudly said had been smoked for nine hours. He mentioned that the entrée portions on both were gigantic, which I could confirm by looking at neighboring tables.
I’m a sucker for slow-cooked meats, so I requested a brisket sandwich, which the menu noted was served with cole slaw. The sides offered were fries, cole slaw, or soup, and since I didn’t want double cole slaw, I asked for soup. Somewhere in this exchange things got confused, and when my sandwich showed up it was with no slaw. When I asked about it, my server looked at me quizzically, went back to the kitchen, and didn’t come out until he was delivering somebody else’s order.
The brisket showed every sign of slow smoking, with flaky texture and smoke flavor, but the details were lost beneath a thick coating of very sweet, almost ketchupy barbecue sauce. I’m a fan of sauces that are less sweet and more spicy, and I think the meat was good enough that I might have liked it best with no sauce at all. If I get barbecue here again I’ll definitely ask for the sauce on the side. The sweet sauce might have been better with some cole slaw as a counterpoint, but that never showed up.
I was interested in the pea soup because there is a lot of latitude in how this is made – some use ham or bacon to add interest; others black pepper, white wine or garlic. The version here was minimalist, pureed peas cooked down to accent the vegetable flavor with very subtle spicing, and I wondered if there was any meat in it. I asked the server and was told, “Some days there is, some days there isn’t.” I was merely curious, but a vegetarian would have been very interested in an accurate answer.
While the meal wasn’t perfect, there was obviously an intention to make serious traditional food, and I gave the place another chance. This time I tried a taster of the homemade chili and, at a server’s recommendation, the turkey salad with a cider-based dressing. That salad had an eyebrow-raising price – $16 for greens, turkey, corn, onion, feta cheese and tomato – so I had very high expectations.
The chili arrived first and fulfilled the promise of the first visit – it was a mild chili with beans, so not for purists, spice fiends, or followers of Pythagoras, but it had the depth of flavor you get from patient, slow cooking. The broth had onion, oregano, cumin, and just enough red pepper and garlic to politely assert itself and I appreciated this one on its merits.
The salad was a massive meal that would have been beyond my ability to eat even if I hadn’t had the small cup of chili first. (I had asked about a half-portion but was told that one wasn’t available.) It was a good salad indeed, everything fresh, with the turkey moist the way it is when fresh roasted, but I could finish only half. I took it to go, but I would have greatly preferred a realistic portion that could have been consumed at its peak. I’d order it again, but only if I’m with someone who wants to share.
It occurred to me as I left that Bread and Porridge had fulfilled the best and worst expectations of American food. The flavors that owe an homage to Scandinavian, Germanic, and British cooking can still be delightful when made with care and patience, but there is a reason Americans now favor tapas and other cuisines that offer variety in smaller portions.
If Bread and Porridge would offer smaller meals at more modest prices, they might attract not merely people who are watching calories, but those who want the chance to sample the whole range of a kitchen.
Bread and Porridge is at 2315 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. Small parking lot in rear. Menu at breadandporridge.com. §

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