Our latest issue out now!Fall 2016
When Ladera Ranch was first being developed and sold, strong emphasis was placed on the community aspects of the development. Parks, community shopping areas, extensive walking paths and other amenities would allow residents to interact in positive ways that were a throwback to the close-knit communities of small-town America.
Fast-forward to 2016, where our hectic suburban lifestyles work against this proposed ability to sit down, relax and catch up. Are we sounding the death knell of quality interactions where phones lie on the table untouched and we speak directly to one another without furtive glances toward our devices?
Fortunately, not. Thanks to the bold vision of owners Ava and Matt Surrena at Lola’s Café, Ladera Ranch now boasts a place where quality meets comfort and puts neighbor back in the word neighborhood. Lola’s Café occupies a space that was once a coffee shop, so what makes this seemingly similar enterprise different from its predecessor?
“We felt that Ladera Ranch was lacking a genuine meeting place. A place where people could relax with something to drink, something to eat, and hang out with friends,” states Matt. Despite challenges along the way, the duo felt confident that they could achieve that goal.
The space inside Lola’s supports that vision. It’s light and airy, and there is an immediate sense of calm and comfort. Artwork on the walls and an assortment of tables and chairs evoke the feeling of a small-town café, underscoring the fact that this isn’t part of a chain. The glass display counter where orders are placed showcases a range of delicious desserts, each one sourced from nearby producers that emphasize quality ingredients.
Lola’s is a breakfast and lunch kind of place, so the menu focuses on sandwiches, flatbreads and salads, along with the aforementioned baked goods. We ordered a range of items in order to get a sense of what can be whipped up in a decidedly small kitchen. The avocado toast is one of the big sellers, though I had a hard time believing that something so simple could be so popular. Having said that, I was surprised at how the textures and flavors come together harmoniously to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s great for sharing, or it could serve as a full breakfast or lunch, depending on your appetite.
Soon enough, a couple of the sandwich items made it to the table. Everything looked great sitting on the wooden boards that Lola’s uses to serve up its food. It was a tough choice, but we settled on the recommended Tuna Melt, as well as Louis’ Grilled Cheese. Neither fit a traditional description, with the tuna melt sporting avocado and the grilled cheese featuring a more European-style pairing of cheese and fruit. Listed on the menu as including green apple and brie, this one came with sliced pears instead of the apples, which underscores Lola’s commitment to getting the freshest produce and substituting as necessary. A dollop of fig jam added a touch of sweetness that made this sandwich one of my favorite items.
Our last entrée items included the Rustico flatbread – caramelized onions, figs and goat cheese on a crisp foundation of bread with a balsamic reduction – as well as the Raw Vegan Wrap. The flatbread was delicious and the sweet and savory ingredients played off of each other elegantly. While I am decidedly an omnivore and often look askance at anything touting itself as healthy, the wrap was also good. I imagine that any vegan, or anyone trying to reduce their gluten intake, would really enjoy the blend of cashew cheese, avocado, mixed greens and vegetables in a gluten-free paleo wrap.
Having eyed the dessert case when we first arrived, it was time to wrap things up with some sweets. Many of Lola’s dessert items are sourced from Cake Monkey, an award-winning bakery in LA. We tried the Li’l Merri oatmeal cream pie sandwich filled with maple vanilla buttercream, which was decadently sweet and rich, as well as a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie. Both were absolutely delicious, and I never would have guessed the chocolate chip cookie was gluten free. Despite the risk of diabetic shock, I would have loved to sample more of the many choices – perhaps after a smaller meal, or accompanied by a nice cup of coffee to start the day.
Speaking of coffee, Lola’s offers some of the best coffees from the area – Intelligentsia and Stumptown (including nitro cold brew!) – and teas from LAMILL. There is a nice selection of interesting refreshments to accompany your meal. We tried a delicious Lavender Arnold Palmer, and wine, beer, and Prosecco mimosas are also available, along with a wide range of nonalcoholic options.
It is clear that Lola’s is constantly striving to achieve its stated motto: “eclectic, independent, fresh, community, caffeinated.” Sourcing the best ingredients means free-range and organic chicken, Wild Planet tuna, locally sourced breads and other baked goods, as well as gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and vegan options for many of the menu items. Ava and Matt’s commitment to the community in which they live and work is evident as well. Local artists’ work decorates the walls, and Louis’ Mercantile provides an opportunity to purchase a range of goods either made by, or curated by, local residents.
While we were visiting Lola’s, it was apparent that Ava and Matt have developed a strong, loyal following of regulars. The staff greeted many customers by name, and it was immediately obvious that a true sense of community is being fostered in this decidedly independent establishment. Whether you live in Ladera Ranch itself or in one of the neighboring communities, I encourage you to tap into something special. You might even find yourself ignoring your phone for a while!
1101 Corporate Drive, Suite A1
Ladera Ranch, CA 92694
949.364.8537 or lolascafeladera.com
Photos by Gigi Gaskell of gigigaskell.photography