Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Croquer: Homegirl Café

I have heard about Homeboy Industries over the years, the nation's largest gang intervention program started by priest Father Greg in downtown LA, offering job training and placement, tattoo removal, psychological services, anger management classes, legal services, and most of all a community for men and women who are in desperate need of hope. But it wasn't until recently that I had heard about Homegirl Café & Catering, staffed by 30 young women who are in training to learn the various aspects of the food service industry, plating some incredibly fresh and delicious Mexican dishes, most of the produce direct from their own organic garden. Now serving Saturday brunch in addition to weekday breakfast and lunch, I had a couple of friends meet me downtown to kick off our weekend. 
The sunny, modern space was clearly already a popular brunch destination, we got a table just before the room completely filled up. The service was extremely friendly, and upon asking, the recommendations came flying. Our server suggested Angela's Potion to drink, described as spinach and mint limeade. "Trust me, it's goood," she assured, and it was! Frothy fresh from a juice maker, the concoction was tart, herby and refreshing. My friend Kaya got Sarah's Drink, a vibrant Raspberry and Mango juice.
Now with more anticipation, we dug into the extensive menu, perplexed as to what to get. The brunch offerings spanned a large variety of Mexican breakfasts, tacos, salads, and unique sandwiches such as Chata's Sandwich (roast beef with spicy apple & tomatillo salsa, red onions & mayo) and Consuelo's Sandwich (homemade jalapeno pesto, panela cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions & mayo).
But let's be honest, when Chilaquiles are on a menu, and featured as they were on Homegirl's menu, it's a no-brainer. Homegirl's crisp tortillas are simmered in salsa and topped with red onions, cotija cheese, sour cream & cilantro, with choice of green tomatillo salsa or Gabrielle’s morita salsa, and served with choice of black beans, salad or Homegirl potatoes. Kaya went with the morita red sauce and potatoes, while I went tomatillo, black beans and added a fried egg. Though I enjoyed my bracingly tart plato verde, the smokey morita chilaquiles hit the spot with adequate heat and bold flavor.
Cat arrived fashionably late and ordered the Enchiladas Negras, rolled tortillas stuffed with scrambled eggs and topped with salsa negra and cotija cheese, served with cabbage, jicama, orange and cucumber slaw. The salsa negra was rich and delicious, I found myself sneaking spoonfuls from the edge of Cat's plate.
In fact, all of the sauces were so tasty that I was very happy to read today that Homegirl salsa is due to start arriving in Ralph’s stores soon, and also that a Homegirl Café is being seriously considered for a new section of LAX.
Thankfully Homeboy’s businesses—the Homeboy bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen and the Homegirl Cafe—are all largely self-sustaining. But the main services that Homeboy provides to approximately 12,000 people each year from gangs all over LA County who come for help are given away free. Since 2008, like many nonprofits, Homeboy has seen its grants and donations slide drastically. Meanwhile, fiscal hard times caused the number of people in need of Homeboy’s services to rise. Now, an estimated $5 million is needed to keep Homeboy going.
In May, Father Greg and his senior staff had to lay off 330 of their 427 employees.
“People are willing to raise tens of millions to save the Hollywood sign and MOCA,” said Greg following the announcement, “and I don’t begrudge that. I love MOCA. I just wish the same level of concern was present when it comes to saving the real, live human beings who come through our doors every day at Homeboy.”
Those wishing to donate to Homeboy Industries can do so here, while supporting Homegirl Café and Homeboy's other businesses will continue to help.
And after such a lovely experience, I personally can't wait to go back. The food is undeniably Angeleno, and loaded with heart.

130 Bruno St. Downtown LA; 323.526.1254
Homegirl Cafe on Urbanspoon

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