My first introduction to brunost, a brown cheese popular in Norway, was through my good friend Jo Stougaard in summer 2019. She had recently returned from a Viking Ocean cruise around Northern Europe. And she couldn't stop raving about the brown cheese.
She tried it on waffles during a local home visit in Stavanger, Norway, then continued to eat brown cheese throughout her trip. It was offered as a topping at the waffle station on the ship in the form of curled cones of cheese. She described it as tasting like both cheddar and caramel and declared it "freaking awesome."
When we spotted "brown cheese toast" on the breakfast menu at the new Little Fish in Echo Park, we didn't hesitate.
Brown cheese toast and fish congee at Little Fish
"We get the most questions about that one for sure," says Little Fish co-owner Niki Vahle. "You don't get a lot of information from something that is just called brown cheese toast."
The brown cheese toast is a thick, toasted slab of Bub and Grandma's bread with an immoderate schmear of good butter, thick curls of Ski Queen brown cheese and a sprinkle of Maldon salt.
When Vahle and partner Anna Sonenshein were dreaming up a breakfast menu for their new restaurant, they focused on the foods they like to eat at home. The two started Little Fish as a pop-up out of their Echo Park home in 2021 and recently opened a bricks-and-mortar store nearby, inside Dada Market on Sunset Boulevard.
"The toast is very much our vibe of low and high," Sonenshein says. "We use really beautiful bread and basically the Norwegian equivalent of Kraft American cheese, another product we love."
The curls of Ski Queen are fudgy and rich with the brown butter nutty notes associated with good caramel. It sinks into the warm bread, mostly holding its shape like a chocolate shaving that's just about to melt. It's sweet, but not as sweet as you might expect from a cheese with the color and flavor of caramel.
The toast was the ideal opening act for a bowl of the fish congee.
"I would say the congee and various types of rice porridge is the number one food made in our house," Sonenshein says.
It's also a great way to use all the leftover scraps of striped bass from the restaurant's popular fried fish sandwich. (Imagine a chef-y Filet-o-Fish on steroids.) The bones are grilled and used to make a stock with kombu, ginger and scallion for the porridge. Stray pieces of bass bob around in the congee like little treasures. The rice is mild, comforting and feels as if it might cure anything. On top is a six-minute egg that oozes appropriately, a tangle of scallions, pickled shiitake mushrooms and a spoonful of chili crisp. If that's not a reason to get out of bed, I don't know what is.
The restaurant also happens to be in a well-stocked superette, and there's a coffee program from Phil Kim, who also makes the beautiful ceramic cups holding your latte. If you wander in around 10:30 a.m., you can order breakfast, then stick around for one of the fried fish sandwiches at 11 a.m.
Taiwanese breakfast roll at Fatty Mart
Any day that starts at David Kuo's Fatty Mart is a good day, especially for someone often occupied with where to find snacky stuff, chili sauce and tomorrow's dinner. The Mar Vista superette is a wonderland of prepared food, condiments and snacks, with breakfast served all day.
Kuo says his Taiwanese breakfast roll is the best-selling item on his entire menu. That's high praise for a selection that spans pizza, banh mi sandwiches, bulgolgi plates and breakfast burritos.
There's not much that will divert my attention away from a good breakfast burrito. The portability, various fillings and a warm flour tortilla make it forever appealing. But the breakfast roll at Fatty Mart is my current wrapped food obsession.
"It's an homage to all those dishes that I ate growing up," says Kuo, whose Little Fatty Taiwanese restaurant is just around the corner from the market. "We have a beef roll at Little Fatty that's super popular, so why not turn it into a breakfast item?"
The wrap is a green onion pancake that's deep-fried until just golden around the edges and still pliable. It's flaky and crisp, with layers you can peel. Kuo slathers on a fiery pink chili mayonnaise made with Lao Gan Ma chili crisp. In a sea of chili sauces, it's the most well known chili crisp, with crunchy fried onion and a dry, toasty heat.
The eggs are fluffy and scrambled, embellished with a drizzle of sweet and salty hoisin sauce. And the wrap is mobbed with rounds of Taiwanese sausage, pickled mustard greens, slivers of raw cucumber, green onion and cilantro.
As someone who doesn't typically eat breakfast during expected breakfast hours, the possibility of a Taiwanese breakfast roll at 1 p.m., 4 p.m. or even 7:45 p.m. is endlessly comforting.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.