For his brand-new Santa Monica restaurant, Birdie G’s, chef Jeremy Fox has teamed up with Colby Goff and partners Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan—the duo with whom he opened the award-winning Rustic Canyon and the Mexican-inspired Tallula’s. This latest concept, which is named for Fox’s daughter, is the chef’s most personal restaurant to date.
We sat down with Fox—following the spot’s preview series The Making of Birdie G’s—to discuss his inspiration; the dishes he’s been conjuring since before he even landed in L.A. (and before he won awards at Manresa and Ubuntu); and the experiences that reflect his journey—watching his grandmother cook in Pennsylvania, working in professional kitchens, and being a husband and a dad.
Resy: What’s your elevator pitch for Birdie G’s?
Jeremy Fox: It’s a classic American restaurant seen through my lens. I put together a menu and an environment that’s kind of been living in my head forever. It’s just all the things I want to eat, in a space I like. I don’t care if it doesn’t read as a cohesive thing. The cohesiveness is not being cohesive. I want people to tell me what it is to them.
The term “Midwestern food” has already been bandied about. Maybe it’s more a Midwestern sensibility. What’s that mean to you?
Everyone in the Midwest eats something different. The sensibility I’m capturing, it’s not just Midwestern. Yes, there are some things that are inspired by the Midwest, but [the menu is] all over the place. You know, it’s Mongolian tri-tip, tomatoes, and burrata. There are pastas. There’s grilled chicken, matzo ball soup, caviar service and steak, pork ribs and a chicken Caesar, crab cakes and crudo—all on the same menu.
It sounds perfect for L.A.—perfect for right now.
I don’t find it all that revolutionary. It’s a place that has a lot of variety, a lot of craveable food. There are dishes that are made or inspired by friends, people I worked with, places I’ve eaten, places I haven’t eaten. I don’t think I’m reinventing the wheel—[I’m] just putting together a list of hits that I love.
A lot of chefs look to their family for inspiration—childhood is almost always the first time they thought about cooking and learned to love food. Birdie G’s is an homage to your own grandmother. What was Gladys like?
Gladys is my grandmother on my dad’s side. They lived outside of Philadelphia, almost near Trenton, New Jersey. I grew up in Cleveland, and I’d see them for winter break and pretty much the whole summer. I just thought they were the greatest. And they were grandparents, [so] they [though I was] the greatest thing too. She cooked a lot; I think every memory I have of her is in the kitchen. I can see that kitchen in my mind more than any other—even [more than] the one in the house I grew up in. [Gladys] cook[ed] matzo brei, chicken and dumplings, stuffed peppers, fried flounder, beef tongue, kasha, chopped liver.
We see that personal history reflected on the Birdie G’s menu. What are some highlights?
There are five Texas toasts, and all but one [is] served on the bread. The sweetbreads—which are like [the ones at] Jocko’s [. . .]a steakhouse in Nipomo, California—they’re charred on a wood grill, chopped into pieces, and served on [a] plate with Texas toast. You get toothpicks and a side of sauce made with meat drippings, brown butter, and Banyuls vinegar. It’s rustic and primal.
The Hangtown Fry is already getting some buzz. It sounds positively diabolical.
It’s a melding of matzo brei, which my grandmother would make, and a classic Hangtown Fry, which is popular in Northern California, where I worked. I wanted both on the menu, but I realized they’re both egg dishes, and brei and fry rhyme, so [I decided to] meld them. The eggs are fried in schmaltz with matzo, plus grilled bacon, fried oysters breaded with matzo meal, and hollandaise made with our own hot sauce. It’s definitely an over-the-top dish. I’m just going for it. Of course, as always, I’ll pay attention to what guests are saying. If I have to adjust, I will adjust. My job is to make people happy. But I feel like you have to make yourself happy to make others happy, and this dish makes me happy.
When you first moved to L.A., you talked about some of these dishes—like Texas toast and scrapple—for another restaurant before you settled at Rustic Canyon.
Some of these dishes have been notes in my phone from way back then. There was food that I wanted to do, and Rustic Canyon just didn’t seem like the venue for that. . . I didn’t want to change it.
How is your personal style reflected in the design of Birdie G’s?
The space feels urban, hidden; it’s at Bergamot Station. . .. It’s a few hundred feet from the train tracks, and that feels perfect to me. We spent a lot of money on the buildout of this restaurant, but it needed something less perfect, less planned in the space. There’s a bookshelf. . . I bought it for $16. The architects and designers hated it, but I asked the construction guy for some help. We papered it in my favorite cookbook, Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli, and we put these pie tins with Birdie G’s logo laser sketched in them. I love it. . . it ties the room together.
How does Birdie G’s differ from your other restaurants?
The menu changes all the time at Rustic Canyon. At Birdie G’s, I want people to know that the dish they had last time will still be on the menu [next time]. That’s how I go out to eat. I go to the same places in my neighborhood, like All Time, Sqirl, Bestia, Petit Trois, and eat the same thing.
Whose style inspired you most as a leader in the kitchen?
There are parts of my leadership style that I got from other chefs along the way—cooks that I worked with. But I think Josh Loeb has been more formative than any of them. So many chefs strive to be Thomas Keller or Daniel Boulud, but I’d be pretty happy to be Josh Loeb.
What’s the key to forging strong partnerships with the right people?
As with most things, it comes [down] to trust. Josh [Loeb] and Zoe [Nathan] earned my trust pretty quickly. I felt like they were really great people. Eventually I earned their trust. . . , and that’s why we started working together. But their expectations [of] me were never extreme, never more than my own [were]. I didn’t feel like I had to go overboard and work myself to death for their approval.
Speaking of Rustic Canyon, congrats on the star from Michelin! How’s the team handling it?
What an honor and also a huge shock for us. We’re a neighborhood restaurant. We were not expecting to be grouped in with a pretty short list of one stars, so it was very surprising and amazing for the team. They work so hard. I’m 100 percent at Birdie G’s now, so they’re the ones that earned it. It’s a huge shot in the arm and boost for the Rustic Canyon team. Chef Andy Doubrava bought a suit, went up on that stage, got a chef’s coat and got to hang with some of the best chefs in the state. It was a true dad moment for me.
Will you still have a hand in the other restaurants?
I’m still involved—still an owner [of] Rustic Canyon and Tallula’s. My job is to mentor and guide. It’s a different job than what I’ve done for the last 20 years and I’m still learning.
You have to be in a certain place, in both your private and professional life, to open a restaurant that’s so personal. How’d you get there?
When I went to culinary school, I didn’t plan on being a chef. I wanted a restaurant, but I went to have a more well-rounded experience. What I wanted then was a nicer version of Applebee’s. I just wanted a place with crab cakes, steak, grilled chicken, salads, and stuffed artichokes. But you know, then I worked in some fancy places, and eventually there was a certain amount of success, and I almost felt like I wasn’t allowed do [unrefined] of food anymore. [My journey] is kind of full circle now. I just want people to love Birdie G’s, come in all the time, bring their families, and have it be a place that’s special for them.