In covering the local restaurant scene, I do my absolute best to apply compassion and context to my experiences. On one side, a negative write-up can hurt an already struggling small business. On the flip-side, if readers go to an eatery I’ve reviewed and find glaring issues, I lose credibility. I choose my critiques carefully, without intent to harm, only inform.
With that said, I recently visited The Cloudy Garlic in Eagle Rock, the fast-casual spot still in its infancy offering Asian-inspired takes on sandwiches, burgers and bratwurst hot dogs. While the initial concept of The Cloudy Garlic and menu options are inspired and sometimes well-done, the execution of the month-old restaurant is a bit flawed. Fortunately, as The Cloudy Garlic is only a month old, they have room to adapt and improve their shortcomings to better compete in the already crowded world of Eagle Rock eateries.
Consumer complaints of long waits are usually a misnomer used by diners who are spoiled by chain restaurants that use pre-made and prepared food that is nuked in a microwave and plated. Fresh food takes time. More importantly, good food takes time.
Ordinarily I do not comment on wait times for food, especially for restaurants that are essentially brand new and working out the kinks of a new kitchen and fresh staff. The Cloudy Garlic did something so peculiar to accommodate the longer wait time it bears mention here. Rather than serving all of my party of five’s orders simultaneously, our plates were interspersed with the customers who had ordered after us as they were ready from the grill. Our kid’s hot dog for my 5-year-old buddy came first, followed by our other meals coming out one at a time, staggered in five-minute waves. A 15-minute gap between the first and the last plate being served left for a strange lunch experience. It seems that there’s only one line cook and items are cooked to order which results in some awkward waiting.
The already quaint and compact restaurant that seats maybe 20 has done itself no favors in making the dining room comfortable with the choice of silver industrial kitchen prep tables and backless aluminum stools. Corrugated tin paneling and old fashioned soda bottles line the walls. I’m still not completely sure why, but there are a variety of homemade organic soaps on display and for sale as well.
The attempts at gourmet plating send a message more of confusion than confidence or culinary arts. The bratwurst comes served in a cast iron baking dish that sits atop faux newspaper set in a frying pan. With tables just large enough to sit four people, the added struggle of maneuvering around oversized frying pans is more inconvenience than artistic expression.
At the foundation of The Cloudy Garlic’s menu are imaginative and unconventional stylings that, for the most part, work well. The San Diego DogHolic ($7.50) is bratwurst in a housemade bun with spicy mustard aioli, caramelized onions and spicy mayo, all topped off by a fried egg. The egg yolk adds a richness to the spice of the mustard and sauerkraut, and for the less than $8 price and large portion it gets my seal of approval.
The Korean Beefaholic ($9.50) is an imaginative take on a Philly cheesesteak, made with a Korean barbeque beef, melted provolone cheese, bean sprouts, onions, green and serrano peppers. The bulgogi flavor of the Korean beef and bean sprouts add a new dimension to the concept. The textures and flavors of the ingredients make for a great sandwich. The Korean Beefaholic comes wrapped tighter than a Chipotle burrito which is a bellwether; unwrap as slowly and cautiously as you can. In keeping with Cloudy Garlic’s unintentional theme of uncomfortable and awkward dining, no matter how neat and clean you attempt to be, the Beefaholic falls apart worse than Kavanaugh giving testimony.
The burgers go from the more tame and aptly named I Am a Normal ($7.50), a basic cheeseburger with spinach, tomatoes and onions, to the over-the-top I Am a Legend ($14.50), a burger patty with slices of thick-cut corned beef doused in barbecue sauce and chunks of pineapple. The sheer size of the beast alone makes up for the slightly higher price. Standing about four inches tall, served whole with nothing more than a plastic knife in sight, it also falls under Cloudy Garlic’s list of items that taste great but are difficult to eat. The burger was juicy and flavorful, and again the combination of ingredients came together for great flavor but it was difficult to keep it intact before even taking one bite.
The bread for the sandwiches, burgers and hotdog buns are all made in-house and available for purchase. The bread is eggy, soft and fresh speckled with poppy seeds or golden onion bits depending on the menu item served.
Sides are served separately (in their own cast-iron baking dishes and another skillet) and while entrees are definitely served in shareable portions, the sides are just enough for one. The fried zucchini are crisp and savory. The sweet potato tots are friend crisp and dusted with powdered sugar. Plus, neither of these friend sides were greasy, and both had fresh flavor.
There are smaller, straightforward offerings for children not mentioned on the menu: a simpler meatball sandwich and a kid’s hot dog. While they are pared-down, the meatballs are served whole, which isn’t quite amenable to small hands and mouths. And the bratwurst, as it is described, is actually a hot link which turned out to be way too spicy for my young companion who incidentally downed 24 ounces of water while eating.
Surrounded by countless new eateries and a plethora of favorites, we have infinite choices when it comes to dining in LA. The real evaluation is whether I’d return. In this case I’d say provisionally, yes.
In some time the servings will become easier to plate and thereby hold by practice alone. Sliced pineapple on a burger might stand up easier and keep the huge burger from falling apart. The speed of service is awkward but the friendly, hospitable staff was apologetic about this, noting they are aware. If they recognize the dining room is small and place an emphasis on take-out and order-ahead options, the less than comfortable dining room won’t be as much of an issue. The sandwiches, burgers and wraps don’t require any avant-garde skillet-on-pan action to improve their presentation. I’d prefer the food packed in containers to go where I’d be free to use a fork and knife, extra napkins, and sit comfortably to enjoy.
Beyond the missteps, The Cloudy Garlic, can right the ship and be a go-to for people looking for fast-casual near Eagle Rock Plaza. The caliber of the menu options are present with a few adjustments to the style needed for long term success.
The Cloudy Garlic
2750 Colorado Blvd., Suite 4, Eagle Rock
Major Cards/No Alcohol