By Jill Weinlein, 9/06/2012
It was such a treat to meet the owner of Auntie Em’s Kitchen in Eagle Rock, Terri Wahl, a few weeks ago over lunch. My daughter and I have been huge fans of Wahl’s restaurant for almost seven years. When she stopped by our table, Wahl shared the history of her punk rock musical career that led her to opening one of our favorite restaurants in the Los Angeles area.
“One night when a group of us were together, the guys talked about their upcoming music gigs,” Wahl said. “The girls looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s form a band.’” She thought it would be cool to play the guitar and sing. The ladies formed an all-girl punk band, Red Aunts, in 1991. Within seven years they put out five CDs and had music videos on MTV. They toured for almost eight years throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan. Wahl loved playing in Japan. “When we exited our hotel, there would be lots of fans squealing and asking for autographs,” added Wahl with a laugh.
She became interested in food while touring around the globe. “When we toured, we had a driver and a roadie. The band would sit in the back and read cookbooks.”
Most of the clubs they performed in would give each band member a per diem. “We’d opt out and take the money, then we’d go to some of the coolest restaurants in town,” Wahl said.
The years of traveling took a toll on Wahl. She wanted to grow some roots in one place. She arrived in Los Angeles and started a catering business. “I cooked everything out of my kitchen,” Wahl said.
One of her first catering jobs was a three-day music video shoot for the successful rock and roll group, “The Counting Crows”. Soon she became a requested caterer for Hollywood and the music industry. What made her business so popular was her vision of preparing innovative comfort food.
Her boyfriend wanted her to move the business out of the house. “I was preparing dishes for up to 200 people for music videos and commercials,” Wahl said. What really convinced her to move was when she received a knock on the door from the City Health Department. “I guess my 3 vans outside clued them into my business.”
She found a tiny storefront sandwich shop named Auntie Em’s Kitchen on Eagle Rock Blvd. and kept the name. When the store next to her space emptied, she bought that one too. Then another spot opened and she continued her expansion.
“Donna Coppola, my Executive Chef has been with me for ten years since I first opened,” Wahl said. Michelle Risucci, Wahl’s restaurant manager, has been with her for five years. “My staff is so great. Everyone has a creative outlook and we are a family.”
Auntie Em’s Kitchen is near Occidental College in Eagle Rock. Wahl delivers mac n’ cheese, shaker salad cups and cheesy mashed potatoes to the school. When the cafeteria closes around 2 a.m., the Auntie Em’s Kitchen “comfort cart” opens for students studying late or coming home from a party in the wee hours.
We tried some of her seasonal dishes for lunch. The three-salad combo arrived with a delicate peach Waldorf, white beans with heirloom tomatoes and a tasty orzo salad. I thoroughly enjoyed the turkey pesto sandwich and the fig and bacon torte with a blue cheese spread. Both were excellent.
Diners may order off the regular menu or the daily specials written on two chalkboards. “We cook by the season and work consistently with a lot of local farmers. They text me what they are selling for the day and deliver it to my restaurant.” This beats when she used to go to local farmers markets and pile her Honda Element up to the ceiling with produce boxes.
Wahl has her own garden and chickens at her home in Eagle Rock. “I have four chickens that lay eggs. Each lay one egg a day. Some are light brown, others are light blue.” Wahl takes the scraps from the restaurant’s kitchen and throws them into the chicken coop. Later she turns the rich compost into a pile in her backyard and spreads it into her garden.
Breakfast is available until 11:30 a.m. on the weekdays and 2 p.m. on the weekends. I always order the seed bagel topped with Gruyere cheese, grilled tomatoes, scrambled eggs and a side of salsa. The biscuits and gravy, super fluffy pancakes and open face breakfast sandwiches are all winners.
Fresh bread accompanies the soups and salads. Some are baked in-house, others are ordered from La Brea Bakery.
Before leaving we had one of her delicious bite-size coconut cupcakes. It’s a coconut cake with a cream cheese frosting and sprinkled with shredded coconut. In honor of Julia Child’s birthday, the restaurant made a rich chocolate almond torte. We took a slice home to be enjoyed after dinner.
Auntie Em’s offers early dinner specials Mon. through Fri. until 7 p.m. Periodically, Wahl will throw a special farmers market dinner. Guests begin with a starter, choice of entrée and finish with a cheese and dessert course for $45 per person. Go to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about upcoming dinners.
Next time you are in the mood for gratifying food, drive to Auntie Em’s Kitchen. The food is consistently good and the staff are friendly, hip and have a fun attitude.
Open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mon. through Fri. and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. and Sun. $-$$ 4616 Eagle Rock Blvd. (323)255-0800.