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Lyric Café: A Labor of Love on the Eastside

A home cook and urban gardener teams up with a caterer and playwright to create an eatery whose food and atmosphere are reminiscent of the Left Bank.

When the original Coffee Table in Silver Lake was torn down last year to be replaced by one of those ubiquitous apartment complexes, it was as if the soul of the Eastside had fluttered its eyes shut and drifted away. Yes, I know the ’s twin sister is open and flourishing in Eagle Rock (and how I love idling over a latte and reading a novel on the new back patio), but there was something perfect about grabbing lunch on the shaded patio of CTSL and then heading to the reservoir for a long meditative walk among the herons and die-hard joggers.

So when a friend, Glassell Park chicken sitter Anna Goeser, invited me for a cup of coffee at Lyric Café on Hyperion Avenue, I felt strangely resentful—not toward Anna but toward fate, progress and the onward march of property development that had felled my favorite restaurant. I was glad she couldn’t see me roll my eyes as I wrote out my email reply: “Well, okay, but don’t you wish we could still go to the Coffee Table?” I had driven by Lyric Café a million times on the way to Sunset Boulevard, and the Lyric Café was no Coffee Table. Or so I thought.

It was a gray and windy afternoon, which meant we would not idle on the Lyric’s expansive patio, a place where Lyric Theater goers wrap their Missoni scarves around their necks, light up cigarettes and chat gaily about Acts One and Two. I headed toward the pocket-sized café with a reasonable attitude—I mean, how badly could someone screw up a cappuccino?—opened the doors and . . . stepped into another world.

Taken on by a new team in fall 2011, the Lyric Café has been reborn, with walls now painted a deep blood red, gilt-framed mirrors and the menu scrawled on a blackboard, a la a Left Bank eatery. A tall lanky man with a kind face worked the counter, while a pretty European woman with a broad smile and a dancer’s figure flitted from toaster oven to espresso machine. Kevin Bone, a playwright and long-time caterer, and Angela Dowling, a former art teacher and devoted home cook and urban gardener, decided to take over the café when the theater owner offered them the space.

Angela pulls all the herbs used in the sandwiches, salads and omelettes from her back garden. On Monday morning, she hand-mixes the vinaigrette for the week. Born and raised in France, she grew up with great breads and pastries. And that might explain why she drives across town—to La Brea and Beverly—to pick up what she considers the only acceptable croissants in town.

On my first visit to Lyric Café, Angela made me a vanilla latte—piping hot with a heart drawn into the foam. Then she brought me a homemade brownie topped with sliced fruit and a fresh cream sauce. It was all so delicious not only for the way it tasted but for the way it appeared on the white china plate and in the French café-style cup.

I told her I would bring my husband back for lunch and so, a few days later on a sunny afternoon we took a seat at a patio table under a striped umbrella and looked through the food menu. As we did, a screenwriter tapped away on his MacBook at his latest project while a few acting students pored over scripts and sipped Mexican cane-sugar Coca-Cola from glass bottles. We noticed that the sandwiches took classic café fare a step further, featuring an element or two that might well transform something expected and just good enough into something craving-worthy.

I ordered the Turkey Too—a toasted roll with melted cheddar, sliced roast turkey, chopped bacon, arugula and a balsamic drizzle ($8.25), and my husband, a vegetarian, asked for the Tita’s, a French baguette brushed with garlic-herb olive oil, mozzarella, fresh basil and Kalamata olives and sprinkled with oregano from Angela’s garden ($7.25).

Angela made each sandwich to order, going as far as frying my bacon on the spot so that it would be sizzling when it arrived at my table. I rarely finish an entire sandwich in one sitting—but I devoured this one. I then turned my attention to my husband’s meal, hoping I could beg a bite, but he had already gobbled it up.

In the café’s kitchen, which is little more than a counter, Angela works only with a toaster oven and a microwave—there’s no hood, so by law she can’t have a stove. But that hasn’t stopped her from coming up with a comprehensive menu. She’s even figured out how to make a perfectly delightful omelette (two organic eggs, Havarti, bleu or feta cheese and freshly cooked bacon) in the microwave.

Angela has become so au fait with those two kitchen tools that she’s even devised a recipe for a tarte tatin and a pineapple upside down cake that she can cook in the toaster oven. What’s more, all this innovation has sparked in her a grand idea: To write a toaster-oven cookbook.

Up next for the new and improved Lyric Café: a sophisticated beer and wine menu and a locally made pretzel shaped in a beautiful knot—created by a friend especially for the Lyric.

As we sat on the patio and savored the little plate of organic blueberries and cream that Angela had brought out for us, I mentally calculated the distance between the café and the lake. It was walkable. And suddenly I realized I miss the Coffee Table Silver Lake just a little bit less.

Lyric Café, 2106 Hyperion Avenue, 90026.

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