After over a decade of morning stagnation, the sleepy little beach town of Playa del Rey finally houses a compelling breakfast destination that doesn't hold back on the creativity. Originally operating under the Phorage label, the simple letters ASAP now light up the outside wall of Gordon's Market, a cluttered bodega adjacent to a nail salon. The illuminated moniker, crowded by ads for alkaline water and beer, hints at the identity crisis of a convenience store-cum-restaurant operated from a deli counter.
But ASAP doesn't imply fast food. Despite the signs proud proclamation, Asian Sandwiches and Pho, it's the recently added breakfast menu that truly distinguishes Playa's ASAP from Culver City's sister shop Phorage.
On my early morning visit, chef Ulises Pineda-Alfaro took to the stove to prepare his popular breakfast mi sandwich. "This is what happens when you get bored," he said as he sprinkled a four cheese blend on a fluffy brioche bun, then seared it to a crisp just shy of a char. The passionate chef, formerly of Escala and Plan Check before that, took on the self-imposed challenge of embracing ASAP's Vietnamese ingredients in order to deliver an Asian flare on California breakfast staples.
[Chef Ulises Pineda-Alfaro at ASAP]
His unique play on Phorage's classic banh mi now takes the form of a breakfast sandwich, where soft scrambled eggs are topped with house-made red onion, carrots, and bacon. Brined in cayenne and smoked for four hours, these porky slices star in several dishes, including a breakfast burrito with banh mi herbs freshly pulled from an impromptu garden in the back alley that doubles as a bicycle rack. Customers don't come here for the decor.
Banh mi herbs freshly pulled from an impromptu garden in the back alley that doubles as a bicycle rack
Several of the five breakfast options come served with herb-flecked tater tots that are fried in browned butter. The crispy tots have a light, almost popcorn flavor that will flash you back to the one good thing your middle school cafeteria served.
[Left: Breakfast mi with tater tots. Right: Shaking beef hash with egg]
While this breakfast mi sandwich can stand among the best in all of LA, for me, it was the shaking beef hash that stole the show. The rich plate embraced both seared and fatty beef, folded with onions, garlic — and the coup de grâce...those brown buttered tater tots. The whole thing gets topped with sweet soy and two perfectly sunny fried eggs whose yolk will cry all over the messy delight.
If you shy away from savory breakfast, order the French Toast. In his Plan Check days, Pineda-Alfaro perfected a bread pudding that became an off-menu sensation among regulars. Here at ASAP, a play on that dish tears up cinnamon sugar bread and serves it with chai tea maple syrup, whipped cream, and a topping of candied orange slices. It's decadent, but it makes a perfect accompaniment to ASAP's vietnamese-inspired coffee program.
Using Intelligentsia beans, the spicy cappuccino is seasoned with cardamon and star anise. And the espresso vietnamita combines a double shot with both condensed and coconut milk.
In addition to the more innovative breakfast specials, ASAP offers the full menu of pho and standard-issue banh mi all day, but it's their unique morning offerings that should attract diners to make the pilgrimage to Playa del Rey. Even from the back of a convenience store, this Phorage spin-off just might overtake the original's glory.
ASAP Phorage serves breakfast from Wednesday through Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Lunch and dinner is served everyday until 8 p.m. It's located at the deli counter of Gordon's Market (aka AlkaWater Market) at 303 Culver Blvd in Playa Del Rey.