A specialty wine-and-cheese shop ups its game with mouthwatering brunches and dinners
By Jessica Koslow
When the boutique cheese shop Wheel House opened four years ago, it seemed a throwback to a bygone era when people bought their food from specialty shops — a butcher shop for meat, a bakery for bread, and milk delivered from a local dairy.
Even though we now buy most of our groceries in one store, there’s something very charming about specialty shops. And so it was that Wheel House hit the ground running in its first year.
Founder Alex Josef, who lives nearby, was out walking one day when he noticed a for-rent sign on his future shop.
“I picked this space mainly because of the location,” he says. “This area is on the grow. I was a little ahead of the curve, but I knew where it was going. Washington is building and growing rapidly.”
A Westsider for 38 years and counting, Josef has seen the storefronts change all around him. And as a natural-born entrepreneur, he decided to embark on a passion project right in his own backyard.
“I like cheese a lot. You can pair it with wine, beer or cider. Cheese is delicious,” he says. “It’s like the food version of wine. It’s diverse, and it has a lot of influence from wherever the milk came from — what animal, what the animal is eating, different times of year. There’s a geek element to it.”
Because Wheel House was Josef’s first food-related business, he had to do his research and rely on his previous business experience and knowledge.
“I read and volunteered and worked at cheese-specific shops,” he explains. “Like The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Santa Monica, and Steve Jones’ Cheese Bar in Portland.”
Josef had to become what is known as a cheesemonger. Now, he can proudly wear that label. At one time, Wheel House even offered Cheese 101 classes. While not up and running now, Josef says they were a huge success and will be returning soon.
“American cheese has come a long way,” he says. “In the last 10 years, it has far surpassed European cheese. California, Oregon, Vermont, Wisconsin — really every state produces great cheese.”
A trip to Wheel House is a culinary experience filled with many unexpected flavors. Leave yourself time to taste the cheeses behind the glass counter. Knowing which cheese to pick presents the same dilemma as deciding which chocolate to choose from the entire box.
One any given day, there might be Manchego 1605 from Spain (sheep’s milk), Chabrin from France (goat’s milk), Red Witch from Switzerland (cow’s milk), or Sternschnuppe from Germany (cow’s milk). Cheeses arrive from all over the world on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Cheese guides stand at the ready to rescue the uninitiated and perplexed. They can help customers match their tastes and recommend wine, beer or cider pairings.
“We let people taste the cheese,” assures Josef. “It’s not as simple as a hot dog or steak. There are so many flavors. People have to experiment and find out what they like.”
What started out as a wine bar and cheese shop that also dabbled in cured meats, crackers and nuts has recently expanded into a restaurant with a kitchen.
Thanks to Brad Miller, chef/partner at Inn of the Seventh Ray in Topanga, Wheel House (now open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays) has expanded its menu, now offering specialty nights like Taco Tuesdays, Burger Thursdays, Raclette Fridays, Fondue Saturdays and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
“I wanted to have working partners who would be here more regularly in the shop,” says Josef.
The brunch menu is packed with picture-perfect, mouth-watering plates. There’s the Black Rice Breakfast Bowl, with poached egg, turkey sausage, avocado, radish, kimchi and bulgogi (Korean “fire meat”) vinaigrette; the Berry Ricotta Toast with whipped ricotta cheese, mint, berries, fig jam and sweet vinegar glaze on seed bread; smoked lox on toast; and a Wheel House Benedict with Jambon de Paris or smoked salmon.
I have often thought of Wheel House as a hidden gem, and even now many locals still may not even know it exists—or that bottomless mimosas are available for weekend brunch outings. Spread the word!
Wheel House 12954 W. Washington Blvd., Culver West (424) 289-9167 wheelhousecheese.com