Welcome back to Dining on a Dime, a regular series in which Eater contributors and editors discover some of LA’s most interesting (and reasonably-priced) restaurants. Here now, an utterly unique Lebanese cafe that serves fruit cocktails and smoothies all the way up in Granada Hills.
Ashta is a custard that’s slow-churned with milk and heavy cream and frequently fills pastries in L.A.’s Middle Eastern bakeries. Ashtala takes the ingredient in totally different directions. The Succar brothers run popular FurnSaj Bakery in the same Granada Hills strip mall, and their new cafe showcases ashta in ways that are hard to find outside of their native Lebanon. Think creative fruit cocktails, juices, smoothies, and more.
Mel Succar said that just like a bakery is judged on its bread, a fruit cocktail bar in Lebanon is judged on its ashta. What’s the key to ashta greatness? His chef/brother Charlie said, “Just be patient” when mixing milk and heavy cream. Charlie must have the patience of a meditating monk given his smooth, creamy custard that’s the perfect foil to fruit and nuts.
Panna Avocado ($8.99) is particularly impressive, featuring ashta blanketing a plate, topped with a fan of avocado, sliced banana, crunchy shaved almonds, crushed pistachios, and seemingly half a hive’s worth of honey.
Ashta also factors into massive fruit cocktails served in large glass goblets that wouldn’t look out of place at a medieval mess hall. Beirut Exotic ($5.99 to $9.99) combines creamy avocado “juice,” fresh-cut mango, strawberry, papaya, grapes, cantaloupe, banana, watermelon, kiwi, and guava. Ashta, crushed pistachios, and a generous drizzle of honey complete the experience.
Nobody’s going to mistake a Granada Hills strip mall for a bustling Beirut cafe, but the brothers have matched the food with their memories. They’ve also found a part of the city with fellow immigrants who crave similar childhood flavors.
All the smoothies have a nutty almond milk base. Mel said, “We wanted to get away from dairy. You can get that anywhere.” That said, they do carry whole and 2% milk if preferred.
Dakota ($7.99 to $8.99) was a hearty, judiciously sweet blend of almond milk, banana, granola, and dates. They also add whey protein, an ingredient that’s more associated with building muscle mass and getting swoll than with smoothies. Add toppings ($1 each) like turmeric, goji berries, and flax seed powder to dial up flavor and texture.
Fiesole is a Tuscan city outside of Florence that inspired the business’s original name, FiaZole. The Succar brothers visited and fell hard for gelato. They’re sourcing gelato in flavors like strawberry, salted caramel, and Nutella from a local, family-run Italian company.
When it came to their açaí bowls, which aren’t normally part of a Lebanese cafe menu, the brothers were inspired by travel. The brothers visited Brazil and took a trip to the Amazon to taste açaí at its source. At Ashtala, they use fresh juice from a company that leases land in the Amazon. A machine at their shop turns that juice into a slush that forms the base for fruit, coconut, and granola.
With its strip mall location and its ironic placement next to an unhealthful smoke shop, Ashtala is geared for grab-and-go. Seating is limited to a few chairs at a wood table, while spatial constraints only allow for one more design flourish — an American flag that hangs high on the back wall.
Ashtala is a great options for hikers and cyclists who climb mountains just north of the 118 freeway. Their ashta plates and drinks work well as meals or substantial snacks, but won’t weigh you down. Bonus: FurnSaj Bakery is just two doors away and still serves some of L.A.’s best shawarma, falafel, and flatbreads. After all, life is about balance.
Ashtala, 11140 Balboa Blvd., Granada Hills, 818.363.1001, www.ashtala.com