Modernizing the bar kitchen in Studio City – one killer quesadilla at a time
When Jeff Strauss opened a sandwich shop in the back of a Highland Park liquor store in late 2019, his menu inspired a loyal following, even though the restaurant was only open four hours a day, six days a week.
Strauss, a former TV writer and supervising producer of “Friends,” is a self-taught chef who has earned a reputation among friends and family for his home Super Bowl parties. The cuisine of his deli, which he named Jeff’s Table, reflects the flavors of his Jewish upbringing, the Greater Los Angeles area and its employees.
During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeff’s Table’s popularity skyrocketed. Customers have become ardent fans of certain sandwiches, qualifying them as if they were choosing their favorite character from a TV show: among them, the turkey yuzu kosho, brined in citrus fruits and served with a green chili aioli and peppery arugula ; a miso-crusted roast beef sandwich with horseradish cream; and – perhaps the most popular – the Dirty Baby, a melted turkey salad with crispy shallots, crispy chili and shiso-marinated red onion.
Now, Strauss has set his sights on Studio City’s Oy Bar, bringing the Jeff’s Table sensibility to his bar kitchen.
Oy Bar, formerly known as Oyster House, opened in 1972 and remains a neighborhood staple, doing business next to an auto service store in a low-key San Fernando Valley strip mall on Moorpark Street. Walk through the matte black door and you’ll likely notice salty musk permeating the air. Thousands and thousands of oysters have been shucked inside this space, and the ghosts of $10 Boilermakers, spilled booze, seafood and frying oil have created their own ecosystem sustainable.
The wooden railing that lines the edge of the bar is so cozy and familiar that you could, as I imagine many people have, take an uninterrupted nap on it. Deep ramen bowls and large oval plates line the cabinets at the end of the bar, perhaps a sign that portions will be generous. It’s a friendly place to lie down and have a drink, a place where Strauss and his team thought there was an opportunity to modernize the traditional bar kitchen.
Oy Bar was not an unknown space for Strauss; it’s the first place he cooked and sold his food professionally. A friend who had been to a few of the Super Bowl parties “was having a comedy night there, when it was Oyster House, and she threw my name out to start doing pop-ups in the kitchen,” said he declared. Strauss spent two months serving Reubens, salads, chicken wings, crispy chicken sandwiches and pickle platters to bar patrons. It all went so well that the bar owner approached him about another space — Flask, the liquor store in Highland Park where Jeff’s Table operates.
Flask doesn’t have a full kitchen, so Strauss and his team were making the sandwich next door at the Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (now the Kitchen Mouse Cafe). When the pandemic hit, however, the bakery closed and they returned to Studio City to marinate, smoke, brine and braise.
The recent opening of Oy Bar was an opportunity for Strauss to finally open his personal cooking lab to the public.
Salt and grease are the hallmarks of good bar food, and Oy’s dishes stick to your ribs and fill your gut. The yaki onigiri ($8), a grilled rice ball with smoked salmon, fresh dill, sour cream, red onion, miso butter and gravy all, is deliciously hot and dirty. Strauss’ signature pastrami is the star of a killer quesadilla ($17). His beef brisket, brined with Sichuan pepper and star anise (among other aromatics), is stuffed in a flour tortilla with Comté cheese and encrusted on a platter with Gruyère cheese and jalapeño.
The Oy Bar Burger ($16) is thick, not mashed, and comes served with melted Toma cheese, cilantro, cucumber, and hoisin ketchup. Strauss’ pork cutlet, soon to be added to the menu, is breaded with sweet breadcrumbs and served with bitter garlic leaves and pork jus. Even the ice cream cookie sandwich ($7) is seasoned with salt and ground chili.
Strauss developed his menus with chef Kenya Bovey, formerly of AOC, Hearth & Hound, Lindy and Grundy and McCall’s Meats and Fish.
“I was looking for someone with more restaurant experience than me, who was willing to work with someone who had a lot less than them,” Strauss said, and he found Bovey to be the perfect fit. a self-taught chef.
Their sensibilities, Strauss added, have always been aligned. “The first day Kenya came to work at the deli, I asked them if they wanted to play with the burrata. I thought it would be cool to treat it like soft tofu, and that’s when we clicked in. The result was a soft burrata “tofu” dish with soy and shichimi.
“The Dirty Baby was our first official collaboration,” he added. “We’ve been texting all day about smoked turkey salad fondue.”
Like Strauss, Bovey is brimming with SoCal food energy, and the mixed-race, non-binary, tattooed line cook isn’t shy about using bright flavors and incorporating iconic foods from Los Angeles‘ boundless culinary scene. They love to remember the beauty of eating an avocado-stuffed char siu pork burrito from a Mar Vista restaurant when they were growing up. “She was a Chinese woman who fell in love with a Mexican guy,” Bovey said fondly of recalling the owners.
Bovey’s sensibility echoes that of Strauss. They both emphasize imagination and a marriage of Southern California ingredients to enliven sensible, everyday cooking. And they seem destined to text about sandwiches for a long time.
Oy Bar, 12446 Moorpark St., Studio City, (818) 761-8686, open 6 p.m. to midnight Wednesday through Saturday. Follow on Instagram (@oybarla) for menu updates.