Epicurious Eating: Cody’s
Little house by the sea
Published Thursday, 29-Apr-2010 in issue 1166
We came for Pacific lingcod and crispy eggplant, but ended up discovering the finest grits west of The Mississippi. Visiting Cody’s in La Jolla on the cusp of lunch hour, the late-breakfast menu winked at us minutes after placing our orders for salads, sandwiches and other midday fare. My dining cohort, who lived several years in grit-crazed Georgia spotted the ground corn kernels on the list, and without hesitation, tacked them onto our meal.
I’ve never been a fan of grits, probably because they were of the instant ilk. Though here, in this quaint seaside cottage, they’re made from scratch using a little cream and arriving in a deep cereal bowl with a dusting of aged Parmesan cheese on top.
“How could something so white taste so good?” I asked my companion, as he rated the grits as less goopy and far superior than any that he ever encountered in the South. Like expertly constructed risotto that is impossible to push away when the rice is firm yet creamy, we polished off the bowl with wild abandon.
Cody’s atmosphere is unpretentious, considering its proximity to the ocean and fru fru boutiques at the other end of the street. Situated in an old California-style cottage replete with an outdoor patio, the interior features butter-yellow walls in white trim, a fireplace and heavily pillowed wood benches serving as banquettes along the walls. Even on cloudy days, the place is bright and sunny given its large amount of windows.
The other items we tried originated from the lunch menu, beginning with grilled crab cakes and ultra-golden onion rings breaded lovingly in pulverized panko crumbs. Hence, every “O” was evenly crisped, light and greaseless.
The crab cakes, however, were mushy – bound perhaps by mayonnaise. And the pinkish tomato-basil tartar sauce surrounding them was weighty and flavorless, except when the mild snap of brined capers surfaced. The plate was filled with a salad’s worth of delicate mixed greens, but they especially suffocated from the viscous tartar sauce.
Cody’s fish and chips uses Pacific lingcod, a prized greenling that is still rather expensive ever since recovering from over-fishing a few years back. Super flaky and mildly sweet, I agree with the menu calling it “awesome.” But $15.95 for three small pieces of the battered fish set atop a pile of fries is a steep price in today’s economy. Is La Jolla not feeling the pinch?
Having previewed the lunch menu online before visiting, our curiosity was also piqued by the “crispy eggplant sandwich.” Would it be the bread or the eggplant that is crispy? Turns out it was both. Sadly the eggplant slices were waterlogged, dripping of excess moisture (and some oil) after we ruptured through their flavorful breading. But it’s a tasty sandwich nonetheless, layered with baby leaf spinach, roasted tomatoes and chevre cheese from Sonoma.
The menus also include blue-crab eggs benedict, gourmet omelets, roasted seafood bouillabaisse, burgers, chopped veggie salads, mahi mahi tacos and more – most everything embossed with familiar California flair.
Desserts are made by the wife of owner Dean Loring. (He’s also the founder of Burger Lounge). And my, what soaring-high carrot cakes she makes! The piece we shared needed two more mouths to complete, and its caramel topping is tailor-made for devoted sugarphiles, of which I’m not.
Peak times at Cody’s can get noisy. The wooden floor sounds off every heel that walks over it. And the clanging of dishes and silverware is inescapable within these cozy confines. But then again, nowhere in the nation are you going to find quietude in restaurants specializing in breakfast and lunch. If you don’t hear the buzzing of espresso machines and juicers, it’s probably wise to get out.
As for “Cody,” our waiter revealed to us that he doesn’t exist and never has. “He’s not even a dog. The owner just thought it was a solid American name.”