Cafe Zella: Feeling Lunchtime Mellow Zella

— by Caroline on Crack

Turkey, avocado, Swiss melt

Since I get bored pretty easily, I’m always on the lookout for a new place to grab lunch during the work week. No more Mrs. Winston’s please! I had passed the little sandwich shop, Cafe Zella, a couple of times on the way to the hospital on 15th and Wilshire and was intrigued by its signs and black awning promising smoothies and sandwiches but then dismissed it since it was in a strip mall right next to a mattress store.

And yet today when I walked by it again, I spotted a tiny newsclip from Daily Candy attached to the front of the eatery near the doors. I didn’t even read it but it was enough to get me to check it out. (The strange thing is, when I got back to my desk and tried to look on Daily Candy for its writeup of Cafe Zella, I couldn’t find one.)

The place was pretty sparse with a refrigerated display case displaying, not croissants or cakes, but a bag of tomatoes. Huh? The airy seating area was taken up with chocolate brown wooden chairs and tables. A huge chalkboard menu took up the wall behind the cash register. I looked over the salads ($8.95), sandwiches ($6.95-$7.50) and typical coffee bar fare (although other online reviews have mentioned that the coffee is from LA Mill Coffee. Maybe that’s what the Daily Candy snippet refers to). Nothing really stood out to me except the strawberry watermelon juice ($3).

The sandwich menu consisted of stuff like turkey and provolone, ham and swiss as well as specialty sandwiches like grilled chicken and pancetta and a veggie burger. I opted for the turkey, avocado and swiss melt ($7.50) to go as well as that yummy-sounding and summery strawberry watermelon juice.

The breakfast menu offers light starters like ham and swiss croissant, granola and fruit, and yogurt and granola. The takeaway menu listed baked goods like blueberry muffins and apple turnovers but I didn’t see any on display.

Even though it was lunchtime, only a couple of older women took up a corner table, while another woman stood by the door talking quietly into her cell phone. I just grabbed one of the tables and looked around. There was a pile of magazines I could have searched through while I waited for my food but instead I just sat there staring at that nearly empty refrigerated display case.

Why don’t they have pastries in there? It’s the perfect place to show off cakes, tartlets, cupcakes, truffles, etc. and yet to waste it by simply using it as a refrigerator? Hm.

The counterperson poured me my juice and set it down before me so I had something to do while I waited for my sandwich. First of all, loved it for its pinkness and second, loved the flavor combination. What says summer better than strawberries and watermelon?

It wasn’t overly sweet and syrupy like those canned nectars you get from a grocery store. Rather, it was a bit watery but still tasty. I would have liked more strawberries, though.

I couldn’t help but think how much better it would be if there was some rum mixed in. I know, I’m such an alchie. But just imagine backyard barbecues with strawberry-watermelon rum cocktails. Mmm! My friend Shelley just had a bbq where she served strawberry basil cocktails so I still had that on the brain.

Anyhoo, when I got back to my desk I dug into the sandwich which came with some mixed greens covered in balsamic vinaigrette. The bread for the sandwich reminded me of a ciabatta in its texture but the menu simply refers to it as “artisan bread.” The turkey, avocado, swiss melt was OK but seemed to be missing something a bit more flavorful like grilled onions or even bacon. As it was, it was very mellow.

Wasn’t the best sandwich ever and I don’t know if I’d make a special trip during my precious 60-minute lunchtime to Cafe Zella for said sandwich but I’d definitely come back if I ever get a hankering for that strawberry watermelon juice or to find out what’s so great about LA Mill Coffee.

Cafe Zella
1531 #A Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, California 90403 (map)
(310) 260-9479