A00s a former professor at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, I always knew Oxy students were exceptionally bright. But I would never have expected one of them (Bryce Rademan) to come home from a semester abroad stint with the outstanding idea of opening a restaurant specializing in the döner (spit-roasted meat stuffed into pita or lavash) he’d fixated on while traveling abroad, an unexpected bonus of Oxy’s cultural exchange programs.
Nor would I ever have expected him and good friend Robert Wicklund to park the idea of law school (one of the most sought after post-grad destinations) to pursue that dream. And, even taking into account the intelligence, determination and ambition of most Oxy students (remember, one became the 44th President of the United States in 2008), I would never have expected these two young men to have expanded from a single small storefront in Eagle Rock to four locations in Los Angeles and offshoots in Salt Lake City, San Diego and Minneapolis. Three cheers for Bryce, Robert and Occidental College!
I can easily understand Bryce’s obsession with döner. As a grad student, I, too, frequented inexpensive carryout places selling gyro, shawarma and döner on the left bank of Paris and one summer found myself in Jerusalem entranced with falafel wraps, a passion which has yet to wear off after decades of consumption. So I was delighted to find that Spitz includes a falafel option along with beef and lamb, chicken, or mixed meat as a filling in all its wraps.
My husband, our friend Pam and I headed over to the original Eagle Rock location (open since 2006) last week to sample Spitz’s wares. The restaurant sits sideways on a slightly raised site on the south side of Colorado Boulevard, just east of Eagle Rock Plaza. Parking is severely limited, but as we arrived before noon we were able to snag one of four spots on their lot and noted a few street parking places still available.
We walked through a patio filled with wood picnic tables with attached benches shaded with bright fuchsia umbrellas and entered a small interior space with a few tables and a window where meals are ordered and paid for. Although almost half the menu consists of döner, most other mains can be augmented with meat and the “I” in SPITZ is shaped like the vertical rotating spit so prominent in restaurants specializing in döner (the word means turning) there were no spits in sight.
What was in sight were dispensers filled with a rainbow of four house-made sangrias ($7 a glass) of which only three are listed on the menu (red: cinnamon, cardamom, orange; rose: mint, apple, lime; white: peach, citrus, basil). Since other hungry customers were lining up behind us, there was no time to ask about the fourth. And since it was lunchtime, we couldn’t sample either wine or, alas, any of the five Eagle Rock Brewery beers on tap ($6.50 a pint).
After putting in our order, we turned to the iced tea (Shangri La Fresh Brewed Passionberry – $3) and water (with floating cucumber and strawberry slices) dispensers, skipped the Truvia sweetener and took our number holder outside to await the arrival of our food, which was delivered almost immediately, each in an aluminum loaf pan lined with paper.
My mate’s Street Cart Döner ($9.75 with a side and drink for an extra $5) was the simplest of the orders. A generous amount of mixed meat was tightly packed into lavash with a modicum of romaine, cabbage, tomato, onion, green pepper, cucumber and tzatziki and served with a cuplet of relatively benign garlic aioli and fried lavash chips.
Aside from his unsweetened but fragrant iced tea, he chose sweet potato waffle fries as his side. Crisp, not too sweet and liberally sprinkled with salt and dried parsley, they were excellent. The meat itself had plenty of flavor, and the size of the wrap made it necessary to package half for another meal.
Pam ordered Street Cart Fries annotated as topped with garlic aioli, feta cheese, onion, green pepper, tomato, Kalamata olives and pepperoncini ($9) with a choice of meat — she chose chicken — and zesty feta sauce for an extra $4. Its appearance was a bit daunting; thin-cut fries forming the bed barely peeking out of the container’s perimeter and the rest of the ingredients mixed into a colorful, complex array coated with aioli with a cup of feta sauce, far thicker and with a much greater presence of raw garlic than the mayo.
My choice was even more complicated. The Döner Basket included fries and salad as a base, topped with tzatziki, feta, pepperoncini, crispy garbanzos, tomato, onion, green pepper, cucumber, kalamata olives, three fat falafel balls coated in hummus and a final garnish of fried pita on top. With it came a cuplet of balsamic vinaigrette which I guess was supposed to be for the half-bed of salad which was too deeply buried by the rest of the treasures to be dressed.
Frankly, one of very few food items I don’t care for is the overly sweet balsamic vinegar served in most restaurants, so I ignored the dressing until it was time to pack up the remainders. To decide whether to include it, I dipped in my finger and was shocked to find the sauce tangy, rich and, most important, barely sweet. Did I detect a hint of mustard? Herbs? Whatever, it was fabulous and was well appreciated the next evening on an unrelated salad.
Spitz definitely has won my heart and I have only one negative thing to say: None of us could finish more than half our meals. The next day, the reheated Street Cart Döner tasted almost as good as it had the day before. But the remnants of my basket didn’t fare as well. Warm salad and limp fries were edible but not all that enjoyable. I assume Pam’s Street Cart Fries were equally diminished in quality.
So you might want to fast before you dine at Spitz or order fries and salads paired with rather than covered by other ingredients. Don’t miss the balsamic dressing or zesty feta (dredge your fries or fried pita strips in it). And if you crave dessert, cinnamon-sugar pita strips with “funfetti” frosting and cardamom/cinnamon spiced chocolate sauce ($5.50) sound tantalizing. Whatever you do, be sure to step into the loo. Its vintage record album décor is a must-see.