Published : Thursday, February 7, 2019 | 6:33 AM
Too often I dine at restaurants that simply don’t know what they are.
For example, a “locals only restaurant” with a 10-page long menu and $30 entrees. Or a vast gastropub located conveniently on a busy intersection with a small menu that insists on being health conscious.
Fox’s in Altadena knows what it is: a cozy neighborhood restaurant with soul food-inspired fare made from scratch. Chef Paul Rosenbluh and his wife, chef Monique King, bought Fox’s from the family of the original owners in 2017.
The restaurant has served the Altadena community since 1955, and Paul and Monique have worked hard to craft a menu and atmosphere that retains the restaurant’s original intentions. Fox’s might be known to most as a daytime breakfast and lunch spot, but it’s been open for dinner as of Nov. 2018.
As my companion and I walked up the steps from Lake Avenue, Justin (a waiter) opened the door to greet us, and we stepped into a warm comfort zone: several parties talking amicably, a larger group in the back celebrating an 18th birthday, saxophone jazz playing overhead.
The front dining room has a panoramic view of its Altadena surroundings. Large windows on all three walls surround as you eat, the easy pace of the Altadena evening commute matching the cozy, old school vibe inside. Armando served us and was knowledgeable and attentive throughout the meal without being overbearing.
Fox’s dinner menu features several hearty appetizers – lentil soup, chicken posole, a couple of salads. But, when we saw the “butternut squash doughnuts”—well, that spoke to us.
Four doughnut hole squash balls were drizzled with oregano honey and served with a side of walnut curry spread. The dish was conceived as a temporary tapas confection at Paul and Monique’s former south Pasadena restaurant, Firefly Bistro.
When the couple bought Cindy’s, a retro diner in Eagle Rock, in 2014, they sold Firefly.
The squash doughnut tasted kind of like a fritter. It was fluffy and hot. There was just enough oregano honey—not too much—and the walnut curry dip was a refreshing addition. Butternut squash, walnut curry, oregano honey—flavors I did not expect in my appetizer. The doughnut hole itself, though, held all of these in a welcome and tasty balance.
It tasted good. Really good.
Main dishes include a selection of burgers and sandwiches, and soul/southern/cajun inspired entrées. Think shrimp and grits, pecan coated catfish, a hearty stew, meatloaf, that sort of thing. I had the pecan-coated catfish, she had the meatloaf.
There were three lean pieces of catfish on top of a bed of spinach, which, in turn, covered an andouille sausage-sweet potato hash. I appreciated the helping of catfish; too often restaurants focus on the most delicate, precious piece of meat/fish at the expense of feeling satisfied. Not the case here.
The andouille and sweet potato hash was most definitely the highlight. Tender cubes of both absorbed the catfish juice and lemon mustard pan-sauce. If I had to offer a complaint, I’d only say that I couldn’t really taste the pecan in the catfish, which you’d only notice it if you were looking for it.
The meatloaf was juicy and thick, sweet enough that it didn’t require ketchup (but not too sweet). It was served alongside healthy portions of mashed potatoes and green beans.
We ordered a side of brussels sprouts that were absolutely delicious. They weren’t flaky, weren’t covered in a bacon-sriracha whatever—they were substantive, complete, and simple.
The dessert menu was written on a chalkboard presumably because it changes on a regular basis. Our options included a Derby pie, carrot cake, a flourless chocolate cake, and a cinnamon apple bundt cake.
Dessert is made at Paul and Monique’s other restaurant, Cindy’s, by pastry chef extraordinaire Gian Trinidad. He also makes everything from scratch, crusts included. We settled on the chocolate cake. A profoundly dark slice that was surprisingly light and airy.
Chef Paul recognizes the role Fox’s should play in the Altadena foodscape: “We want to keep this place a neighborhood restaurant. If you lose that vibe, you lose this restaurant.”
Paul also takes pride in not shying away from the big, bold flavors that soul food ought to have.
“Most places that do try to do it, in my opinion only, I don’t think do a very good job at it,” he said.
Perhaps diners today are more health-conscious than their parents were. Especially in Los Angeles and Pasadena, there is an obsession with not being too fatty, or too heavy, and that often means less flavor.
But there is no charcoal-infused aioli-reduction balsamic non-GMO plant fed — you get the idea — at Fox’s.
“Most places don’t season anything,” Paul explained. “We season everything.”
Agreed. I’m someone who adds hot sauce to almost everything I eat. It never crossed my mind at Fox’s. And for those that do watch their frame, I was by no means stuffed after my nutritionally complete meal.
Fox’s is a scratch kitchen. “We make everything in-house,” claimed the Chef. “We don’t buy anything frozen. We cure all of our own meats, we make all of our sauces and everything from scratch. We make chicken stock and cook it all down from roasted bones. Everything that we make, we make here.”
In Altadena, the restaurant traffic usually goes downhill. Hopefully, it’ll start coming uphill once folks understand what’s going on in Paul’s kitchen. Paul and Monique understand that when a place has been around since 1965, there’s a reason for it.
They’ve enhanced this neighborhood restaurant into a calculatedly groovy bastion of down-home cooking.
Fox’s is a refreshing dose of confident southern-inspired cooking in a region that could serve to treat itself once in a while. Do so at Fox’s.
Fox’s is located at 2352 Lake Ave, Altadena. For more information call (626) 797-9430 or visit www.foxsaltadena.com.