Any given morning on La Brea Avenue, you can smell the intoxicating scent of freshly baked bread lingering past Wilshire Boulevard—an uncommon smell for the grungy streets of Los Angeles. One might think it’s coming from the 20+ year old La Brea Bakery merely a walk away, but this smells different. Upon walking into the new establishment that was formerly the original home of La Brea Bakery, I am immediately plucked out of LA and taken to a place more akin to Bordeaux, France.
Welcome to République.
Margarita Manzke, pastry chef and co-owner, is loading rolls of unbaked baguettes into an enormous oven that is seemingly twice the size of herself. She is the wife of the talented Walter Manzke who is the executive chef and co-owner of this French bistro-style restaurant. His journey as a chef includes working at notable restaurants like Patina, Bastide, Church & State, and opening a few of his own with his wife such as Wildflour Café + Bakery in the Philippines and Petty Cash Taqueria in Los Angeles.
In the evening, République illuminates the street with the warmth of family, laughter, and the overflowing of wine, charcuterie, roasted chicken, and wood oven brussels sprouts. But this morning it’s much quieter and I’m here for the Verve espresso, fresh baguettes, and… bombolinis.
The California sunshine makes its way through the glass ceiling and into this wondrous piece of cathedral-like architecture that has stolen my heart. The brick walls confine an internal courtyard with the bar and kitchen on one side, and the bakery on the other. Gothic-esque arches lead back to the dining room where you’ll find mirrors at the end in the shape of windows that give the impression of a much larger space (originally, they were windows looking into the alley).
The building is full of little culinary nuggets and pieces of history like a portrait of Marco Pierre White that sits above the bar, the collection of cookbooks and jars of pickled vegetables on shelves in the courtyard, or the fact that the building used to be Charlie Chaplin’s production office long before it was a used for food and bread. We are in Los Angeles, after all.
I continue to eye the beast of an oven, housing the wonderfully imperfect baguettes that were made by human hands with love and care—rather than with a machine. Working in front of the oven is a gentleman dusting a wooden table with flour to prepare the pasta for the evening. His face is completely focused on the craft and begins to cut each strand of pasta laid out before him with a sense of rhythm and ease.
I’m with Joey Truex, a wonderful and talented photographer that I met on Instagram through our mutual love for coffee who is photographing for Life & Thyme. A baguette finally arrives at our table on a wooden platter with a mountain of fluffy butter on the side and a perfectly balanced cappuccino in a ceramic mug. I look over my shoulder like I’m being watched to verify that none of my gluten-free friends are in the vicinity to witness the fact I will be eating nothing but bread, pastries, and sweets for lunch. I remember contemplating the idea of going gluten-free (or at least gluten-lite) for some reason that I have trouble remembering now while staring at this perfectly intact roll, ready to break into it with my bare hands.
There is a sense of power and victory as soon as I break the baguette in half, sending a slight shiver of excitement down the spine of my back. The coffee is starting to kick in as I bite my upper lip while slathering an unhealthy amount of butter into the innards of this marvelous baguette. I go for the first bite and a large crunch is echoed throughout the restaurant with crumbs accumulating at a rapid rate on the table and my lap. I sort of roll my eyes and close them while I take the second bite in pure ecstasy.
“Ungh—good!” I blurt out unattractively with fragments of the baguette on my face.
“Here you are, darling,” the redheaded waitress with an adorable European accent says as she sets down a slice of a multi-layered chocolate cake with caramel oozing out of each layer like liquid gold.
After the cake, a few irresistible French pastries begin to make their way to our table as if we’re having our last meal on the planet. Among them are a flakey, airy, and buttery croissant filled with chocolate inside, a sugar sticky bun in the shape of a pain aux raisin with a crusted outer layer, and then my beloved bombolini. The caramelized ball of dough shelters a sweet, bright yellow custard that secretes out in the unholiest of manners turning any respectable gentleman into an animal.
I’m overwhelmed at this point and rest my head in the palm of my hand. The communal table we’re sitting at has become the aftermath of a gluten massacre; a battlefield with no survivors. It was good, it was grand, it was time for a nap. The remainder of my day would need to be cancelled, dedicated to hitting the sack for an afternoon siesta. I’m part Spanish, so I can get away with it.