Trendy restaurants are looking south and finding fertile ground across the county line.
Reality star Heather Dubrow caused a ruckus last year when she dismissed Orange County’s dining scene. “There are no good restaurants down here,” the new addition to “The Real Housewives of Orange County” told the Register.
Several people took her to task for making such an uneducated statement. Turn the clock back 10 years and I might have agreed with her. But the local culinary climate has evolved. Food snobs don’t have to fight freeway traffic in their quest for haute cuisine.
Sweet Lady Jane
L.A.-area locations: 8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles,
and 1631 Montana Ave., Santa Monica
Orange County: The shop is taking over part of the John Blom photo studio at 3732 E. Coast Highway. The bakery will open in 2014.
Grocery stores: Sweet Lady Jane baked goods such as lemon bars and brownies can be found at Ralphs Fresh Fare markets, Gelson’s and Bristol Farms.
Orange County’s palate has grown up, and hipster Los Angeles brands are noticing. Many are crossing the Orange Curtain and planting their next ventures here. The latest to break the barrier is bakery sensation Sweet Lady Jane. The West Hollywood institution – known for elegant cakes, tarts and cheesecakes – is opening a shop in Corona del Mar next year.
Owner Jane Lockhart said some of her most loyal customers come from coastal Orange County.
“You’re not second-class citizens anymore,” Lockhart said of the county’s reputation.
Restaurant consultant Randy Hiatt said it’s “nice to see” high-profile concepts choosing Orange County over other tourist destinations.
“There was a trend for the last 15 years when O.C. was overlooked by L.A. restaurateurs (who) wanted to go to Vegas,” said Hiatt, president of Fessel International in Costa Mesa.
A closer look at the L.A. invasion:
Sweet Lady Jane
For years, Jane Lockhart never liked sweets. In her late 20s, she began developing her own dessert recipes – with an eye for taming the sugary treats. With no formal training, Lockhart developed a wholesale business. Restaurants and Hollywood elite soon snapped up her tarts, cheesecakes and cakes. One famous songwriter met her on Sunset Boulevard for a delivery.
She opened Sweet Lady Jane on Melrose 25 years ago.
“We set out to change people’s palates,” Lockhart said.
Today, the bakery is consistently ranked among the best in Los Angeles. Customers drive from Santa Barbara and San Diego to get their hands on her carefully crafted creations, including her top seller, the Triple Berry Shortcake. Wedding cake orders from Orange County are particularly numerous, but delivery is pricey. The shop charges $350 to deliver wedding cakes unscathed and on time.
“It is very risky to send a wedding cake down the freeway,” company President Daniel Mafrice said.
That delivery fee goes away when Sweet Lady Jane opens late next year at 3732 E. Coast Highway, across from the Five Crowns. The 1,800-square-foot bakery will sell the same assortment of baked goods found at Sweet Lady Jane’s West Hollywood and Santa Monica shops.
The shop will serve breakfast and lunch. Cakes by the slice, served on fine china, are also on the menu.
“We’re trying to open a place that has a particular feel. Bring something to the community that is not there – something that’s got a European feel,” Mafrice said.