"Who are these guys?" asked one of my dining partners. Her eyeballs were popping out and I could see she was moving in to give me a high five. In the dozen or so years I've known her, I'd never before seen her give a high five to anyone.
Then again, I'd never before seen her bite into the incredibly juicy and explosively delicious Porchetta sandwich made by the brand-new restaurant called Skillet.
Skillet, which calls its food "Rustic Urban" (and with sandwiches this good, they can call their cuisine style "Worldwide Pants" and it'd be fine with me) has set up shop in the tiny spot on Whittier that housed the original Banana Bean Cafe.
By the time you read this, Skillet will probably have expanded its hours (it wisely started tentatively with limited lunch-only service) as well as its currently minuscule menu. With this inevitable growth, I only hope it won't undergo growing pains, because the sandwiches I tried there (as well as a great roasted beet side dish - a steal at $3) were pretty special.
When I originally read Skillet's sandwichy menu online, I was impressed with its relative sophistication and curious if it could deliver on its promising combinations.
When I stepped into Skillet, I felt a measure of confidence based on its understated yet tastefully appointed artsy Americana style of decor and the two busy cooks behind the counter (Skillet is order-up-front and seat yourself) in serious-looking starched white chef's outfits.
Turns out seeing was believing, and the proof was in the Porchetta. That knockout sandwich ($7!) was layered with warm slabs of outrageously succulent pork literally dripping with deep flavors derived from a long and slow roasting with garlic, perfectly tuned Italian-style herbs and wild fennel pollen. Its textbook crispy toasted ciabatta roll provided an embracing and juice-soaking crunchy contrast.
Another round of wonderfully warm and unctuous meat arrived with the fabulous Braised Beef Short Ribs and Greenfield Farms Organic Smoked Gouda sandwich ($9). That jaw-dropper came with contrapuntal fiery fried "goat horn" peppers, a side of sublime horsey sauce and on crispy grilled brioche.
If the Shrimp Po'Boyger ($9) - a sort of crabcakey sandwich - wasn't quite in that league, it was still damn good. Dressed with a big bunch of fresh arugula, a Creole mustard-like sauce and an inspired slice of battered and fried lemon, it came on another roll worth finishing every bit of.
So who are these guys? Well, they're a father-and-son team of obviously intelligent cooks related (by marriage, and not in business) to the owners of the Banana Bean Cafe. And they've gotten off to such a great little start with me that I plan on watching them closely as Skillet's ambitions - and menu items - increase.
So far, though, it's two huge, fat-glistening thumbs up!