“That was like fast food, but not as fast,” I mused to my wife as we drove away from Little Gourmet. “And it’s also different because it’s real food. I don’t really think of it as gourmet either – more like solid home cooking. They did get the ‘little’ part right, though.”
The tiny café at the south end on Main Street is the smallest restaurant I know of in El Segundo – it seats eight inside, plus a few more outside when the weather is nice. Little Gourmet owner Juan used to cook at Anthony’s before it was sold to Rock ’N Brews, and he didn’t change the menu much when he opened his own place – if you miss Anthony’s pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and pastas, this is where you can go to get them.
I had heard about Little Gourmet for years but never stopped in until recently when a reader suggested I review the place. I had thought it to be mainly a take-out place, and that’s true to a point – during both visits there was a steady stream of customers who get their food to go. We noticed that almost all of them were greeted by name – this place obviously has a loyal local following.
On the first visit three of us ordered a starter of pizza bread and main courses of lasagna, eggplant parmesan, and cheese ravioli with meatballs. I had ordered the pizza bread because I remembered seeing plate after plate of it being served at Anthony’s, but I had never gotten it. It seemed like bachelor pad cooking – split French bread, lay down sauce, cheese, and toppings, then run in in the oven for a quickie variant on a pizza. And conceptually it is just that, but with good fresh bread and a homemade marinara sauce, it’s quite tasty. The very simplicity of the recipe focuses you on the quality of the ingredients, and in this case the marinara was very good indeed, fresh and herb-scented.
All meals come with a salad of greens with lettuce, cucumber, black olives, purple cabbage, carrot, garbanzos, and tomato, and I ordered mine with the homemade Italian dressing. This had a hefty shot of red wine vinegar in it, and I liked it best with a shake of grated parmesan cheese to balance things out.
When I asked Juan for recommendations he spoke highly of the lasagna, which he informed me is made with both ground beef and sausage. The stack of noodles layered with meat and cheese was indeed good, dense rather than watery as is often the case. I would have no hesitation about ordering this again, though I wouldn’t have it and the pizza bread in the same meal because the flavors are too similar. I was less thrilled with the ravioli because they were a little undercooked; I like al dente pasta, but these weren’t there. Since the other pastas we had were properly cooked, it is quite possible this was a slip-up rather than the way they are usually cooked. The meatball was very good, more than just a ball of meat thanks to herbs, pepper, and garlic, and I’d certainly consider getting a meatball sandwich here.
My wife had ordered eggplant parmesan, a dish that is made many ways, sometimes crisp and light and others deliberately dense and filling. This one was unusual – sliced eggplant fried in egg batter layered in marinara sauce over spaghetti and topped with mozzarella cheese. Most places seem to coat the eggplant with breadcrumbs and deep fry the slices to crunchiness, so this didn’t resemble the typical dish, but to my wife was better – the recipe focused on the flavor of the vegetable and cheese rather than the breading and sauce.
Little Gourmet has no alcohol license, but we brought in a bottle of Vigilance Syrah, a fruity wine that complemented our meals well. Our bill for dinner for three was eleven dollars each – a bargain by any standard.
We decided to go back the next day to order something different – my wife wanted to try one of the sandwiches, and I had noticed a barbecued rib plate on the menu. My wife selected a Sam’s Special sandwich – capicola and two different kinds of salami along with lettuce, tomato, mozzarella, pepperoncini, and Italian dressing. On being told that we were dining in, Jose suggested getting it toasted, which did indeed improve the texture. It was a classic Italian deli sandwich, well balanced and generously stuffed.
I had ordered the ribs with the mild skepticism I always have when I’m not at a barbecue joint – I’m a big fan of slow-smoked meats, which is usually the domain of specialists. These were very good for oven-baked ribs, fall off the bone tender and glazed with a sweet and sour sauce that had moderate spice and a bit of pineapple juice. The ribs here are not serious competition for the Southern traditionalists, but they were surprisingly enjoyable. I’d have liked a bit more spice in the beans that came with it, but the slightly creamy potato salad was a good rendition of the Midwestern favorite.
We paid our bill – once again about ten bucks a person, though we had ordered soft drinks – and departed content. This is the food that fast food places are trying to counterfeit, simple, wholesome items that we’d make at home if we weren’t too busy. Little Gourmet does it for us and gives friendly service while they’re at it – and they even do the dishes.
Little Gourmet is at 117 Main Street in El Segundo – open daily at 10 a.m., close 9 p.m. Su-Thu, 11 PM Fri-Sa. Street parking only, free delivery, no alcohol served. Phone 310-322-6148