When chef Maire Byrne opened Thyme Cafe six years ago, she filled a gaping culinary hole on Santa Monica’s Ocean Park Boulevard. Further down the street near Bundy Drive, there’s a smorgasbord of lunch hour haunts servicing a cluster of office parks, but closer to Lincoln Boulevard, the choices become sparse. And they were even sparser before Byrne moved in with her cafe and marketplace, which serves a breakfast through dinner menu, a grab-and-go selection of ready made meals, and, incidentally, one of the best chocolate chip cookies in town.
“I opened in the great depression of 2009. It was a little bit crazy, but I guess I just put my head down and worked, worked, worked, and it was fine—we had a line out the door,” says Byrne. “This neighborhood just needed this.”
Byrne’s menu of simple, seasonal sandwiches and salads, plus a full case of baked goods is similar to the fare offered at Huckleberry Cafe, which opened just a few miles away that same year. But while Huckleberry has enjoyed plenty of fanfare and food media attention, Thyme has quietly become a staple among local residents who make up its clientele of regulars, some of whom visit many times a week or even many times a day. “I have customers who eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner here,” says Byrne, whose family has a long history in Santa Monica: Her Swiss grandfather immigrated to the beach town in the 1880s and purchased what would become Edgemar Farms on Rose Avenue. He later become mayor.
The chef, who developed her passion for seasonal ingredients via an internship at Chez Panisse and learned the finer points of seasoning while working at three Michael Mina restaurants, is hoping that her upcoming spot Local Kitchen & Wine Bar will also become a neighborhood mainstay. Set to open later this month, just a block away from Thyme (inspections and a liquor license are the main hold ups) in the former Marty’s Liquor space, the restaurant will again bring something new to this sleepy section of Ocean Park: a date spot.
With Stephen Murray running the kitchen—he was most recently Michael Chiarello’s sous chef at Bottega in Napa Valley—the focus at Local will be wood-fired Neapolitan style pizzas. Small and shared plates, like bruschetta and crostini, cheese-stuffed olives, and lamb meatballs, will round out the menu along with handmade pastas. Murray says he’s most excited about his Orecchiette Milanese with saffron, charred chicories, bone marrow butter, and gremolata. The clam pizza with nduja (a spicy Italian sausage) and dandelion is another Murray favorite.
The space itself is a departure from Thyme’s family-friendly atmosphere. Reclaimed wood, brick-lined walls, and communal tables provide some rustic flare while a zinc bar keeps the space sleek. There’s also a covered patio for al fresco dining. While Byrne says families will certainly be accommodated especially during daytime hours, she’s excited that her new restaurant is more of a grown-up place.
Local will hit the ground running with brunch (yes, there will be bacon-and-egg-topped pizzas), lunch (there’s a porchetta sandwich to be had), and dinner service to start. Along with focused lists of wine and beer, Local will also serve craft cocktails, including updated takes on a margarita and old fashioned. The Prickly Mule is made with a prickly pear spirit, ginger, lime, and apple.
Local Kitchen & Wine Bar, 1736 Ocean Park Blvd., 310-396-8009. Opening soon.