By Frier McCollister
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer

Foxs restaurant opened in 1956 in the small wooden bungalow space on North Lake Avenue, up the hill in Altadena.

Since 2018, the humble spot has been owned and operated by Monique King and Paul Rosenbluh, who bought it from the stepson of the original owner, Paul Fox.

The husband-and-wife team are talented chefs and seasoned restaurateurs. They rehabbed and opened the nouvelle diner Cindy’s in Eagle Rock in 2016. Before that, they ran the locally iconic fine dining venue Firefly in South Pasadena for 13 years.

“We are only the third owner and the second family,” King said about Foxs’ legacy.

Ken and Lorraine Bertonneau operated the space as a neighborhood diner for 50 years, before opting to retire.

“Ken was the stepson of the original owner, Paul Fox,” Rosenbluh said. “He bought it from his dad in 1967 and sold it to us 50 years later. They come in all the time. Ken is adorable. He’s so tickled it stayed Foxs. He works the room. It’s the cutest damn thing you’ve ever seen.”

King added, “It initially helped us keep some of the original customers. People weren’t as grumpy as they could have been.”

They take the legacy seriously. In conversation in Foxs’ small, tidy dining room, on an otherwise quiet Wednesday morning, a small package arrives at the table. “Chair feet,” Rosenbluh noted. The couple have meticulously maintained the original furnishings of the restaurant.

“These chairs are original. These chairs are ancient. You can’t get these tables anywhere,” King said. “It’s all part of the vibe of the restaurant. They look appropriate for their age.”

Care and attention to detail is one aspect of the couple’s key to success. It also helps that their food is consistently excellent.

King is a native of Los Angeles, and Rosenbluh is from Louisville. The two met in 1997 at the storied Chicago restaurant Soul Kitchen, where King was running the kitchen and Rosenbluh joined the operation as her sous chef. They moved to LA in August 1999 just before their second daughter was born.

“Monique’s entire family is out here, and I had two brothers in LA. Mo wanted to come back out here, where her family was,” Rosenbluh explained.

They worked as chefs in a variety of Los Angeles restaurants. It was when Rosenbluh was hired by two entrepreneurs to open the Bayou Bar and Grill in Alhambra that the notion of owning and operating their own restaurant began to germinate.

“I said, ‘If these two guys can do it, we can do it,’” Rosenbluh recalled.

They created a business plan and, soon enough, King spotted the location on El Centro Street in South Pasadena, which became the home of Firefly in 2002. The couple settled in the Garvanza neighborhood of nearby Highland Park and enlisted King’s father Carl Weintraub as a partner in the new venture.

Weintraub also served as the affably ebullient host at the restaurant, which soon became a favorite fine dining fixture locally.

“People got married there,” King said. “People had baby showers there and christenings, bar mitzvahs. So many happy things happened there. South Pasadena is a very wonderful neighborhood community.”

By 2015, the couple decided to take over the ailing diner Cindy’s in Eagle Rock. Meanwhile, King was serving as executive chef at the W Hotel, while Rosenbluh ran Firefly. Weintraub was itching to retire.

“We ran both of them for almost a year,” Rosenbluh said. “Carl wanted to retire. He didn’t want to do the business anymore. It was me trying to do both (Firefly and Cindy’s) and I just couldn’t do it. For us, (Firefly’s) time had come and gone.”

The rehab of Cindy’s diner and its menu of familiar comfort food set the stage for Foxs, which in some ways is a canny hybrid of Firefly and Cindy’s.

“Cindy’s has a broader appeal (than Firefly),” King said. “It appeals to everyone. Rich, poor, everyone goes. You can see some of the Firefly aesthetic in the Foxs dinner menu. We still have our craft and our attention to delicious food. Cindy’s is a diner and Foxs is more of a neighborhood restaurant.”

Rosenbluh interjected, “Just be a good neighborhood restaurant.”

May there be no doubt that they have succeeded. Rosenbluh revealed a secret here.

“When you come in, you should be surprised by how good the food is,” Rosenbluh said. “When you see this place, it shouldn’t be as good as it is. Same with Cindy’s. The food shouldn’t be as good as it is. And that’s the fun part, because it’s totally laid-back, easy, but you’re going to get a really good meal that’s a lot better than you think you’re going to get.”

At Foxs, breakfast is from 7 to 11 a.m., with lunch following from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner picks up at 5 p.m. There’s a breakfast plate available on every menu. In the morning, standouts include the Green Goddess omelet ($12.95) with artichoke, asparagus, gruyere and parsley pesto; the avocado toast ($14.25) served with lacquered bacon, eggs fried sunny-side up and a parsley-red onion salad; and the shrimp and grits ($15.95) with tasso ham, mushrooms, scallions and tarragon. The local breakfast burrito cult should consider Foxs’ rendition ($10.25) employing house-made chorizo, stewed black beans and charred cascabel salsa. 

Lunch menu highlights: the crispy shrimp po’ boy sandwich ($15.50) served with spicy slaw and tabasco mayo; the unusual white bean and artichoke falafel ($10.95); and the elegantly simple grilled cheese and tomato soup ($10.50). There’s also always a house veggie burger ($11.50) with changing recipe compositions. The weekly veggie burger is listed on the chalkboard on the back wall.

Dinner at Foxs really shows off the unpretentious genius here. The pecan-coated catfish ($17.50) with andouille-sweet potato hash is a stalwart survivor from the old Firefly menu.

The fish and chips ($15.95) are classically rendered in a light beer batter with malt vinegar tartar sauce. The wild mushroom ragout ($14.95) served on fresh pappardelle pasta with arugula and Parmesan is a truly elevated comfort dish, as is the farmer’s market vegetable pot pie ($16) with rutabaga and pearl onions. New additions to the dinner menu include a crafted turkey burger with goat cheese, sweet corn salsa and lime-cilantro mayo on a brioche bun; as well as the bistro classic, steak frites. Dessert options are dominated by Rosenbluh’s well-loved pies, including a flawless pecan and chocolate Derby Pie, culled from his Louisville upbringing.

Unlike Cindy’s, Foxs serves beer and wine at reasonable price points. The wine list, also on a chalkboard, is limited to basic selections, but it’s all available by the glass, and bottles start at $25 and slide to $35. Rosenbluh curates the unusual selection of beer and cider, all priced between $5 and $8.50. 

It should also be noted that the front-of-house service at Foxs is peerless. The dinner service is led by the genial and efficient Armando Ortega, who is also articulate when describing Foxs’ magic.

“I love working at Foxs,” Ortega said.

“It feels like home to the people who come here. Paul and Monique create an atmosphere of family warmth for the workers and the customers who walk through our door.”

When the pandemic lockdown came last March, King and Rosenbluh shut down Foxs entirely for several months and then began with dinner service for pickup only, led by Ortega.

“He was happy to come back and see what he could do to help build our business back,” King said. “He was ready and excited to take that over, to open and be available to whatever was coming our way.”

By the way, the loyalty to legacy extends to the staff. Two of the regular servers at Foxs — Mary Bowman and Dierdre Grother — have worked there from the time of the Fox family’s original ownership. 

Ortega refers to Foxs as “a neighborhood bistro,” King said.

“We are a bistro, but we would never call ourselves that. But that’s exactly what a bistro is; it’s your neighborhood restaurant on the corner. It’s just easy and delicious.

“We love being part of this community. LA is so huge. To be a part of a community and neighborhood is a rare experience.”