The Tradition Continues at Brandywine

(l-r) Edésio Pereira (Waiter); Susan James, Sous Chef; Martin Grodt (waiter); Michael Elgart; Chef Jean Luc Rossoni; Ignacio Atancio Pena (Cook); Diego Morales (Waiter). Photo by Flavia Potenza

Brandywine restaurant sits unobtrusively on the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Fallbrook Ave. The only way you would have learned about it was by word of mouth. With no effort towards promotion, the restaurant developed a devoted following and consistently earned high praise from Zagat.

For 27 years, the owners of Brandywine restaurant, Chris Flessass and his wife, Peggy McWilliams, developed and served a menu of classic Continental cuisine, that combined the highest quality food and elegant service in a tiny space with five booths and four tables.

In 1989, the couple bought what was once a chicken business, renovated it into a charming, intimate restaurant and opened their back door in October 1990. They sealed off the front door and blocked the windows that looked out on busy Ventura Boulevard, perhaps to discourage arriving patrons from intruding on the intimate dining area.

When the first chef left in 1993, Chef Jean-Luc Rossoni signed on. With Peggy working with him in the kitchen, that left Chris free to personalize the service. He greeted guests at the back door, escorted them to their tables and took their orders selected from menus written on two sides of a chalk board on an easel that he carried to each table. It set the tone for what would be a dining experience like no other.

In 2017, the couple decided it was time to sell the restaurant and retire.

Michael Elgart, son of Gene Knittle of Gene’s Pumping, was born in Topanga and considers himself  “a 45-year Topanga resident.” He went to Topanga Elementary until his parents divorced, grew up and became an actor. In 2000, he moved in with his dad who was diagnosed with emphysema, and took care of him until he passed.

At the time, he was working at Trader Joe’s where he was on a management path but he knew he wanted something more. He wanted to run his own business. With a small inheritance from his father, he started looking for a restaurant to buy. A restaurant?

“Yes,” he says. “When you’re an actor, where do you work between gigs? Restaurants!”

Elgart turned down a TJ’s management offer and met Chris and Peggy.

“They tested me for several months making me promise that I would keep the tradition going with the highest standards of wine and food. And service. Finally, they were convinced and I made the offer.

“That was the process from hell,” he said. “I was looking to take over on March 1 but it took until May 12 when I unplugged their credit card machine and plugged mine in.”

Chris and Peggy stayed on at the restaurant while he completed the transaction. It was an opportunity for Chris to introduce the new owner to their clientele.

“The people were in shock,” Elgart recalls and, as expected, business was slow during the summer. “Most people who eat here are in the south of France eating real French food,” he quipped. After Labor Day, Elgart opened for lunch with a Brandywine Light Side menu with smaller portions.

Our three-course dining experience started with a glass of champagne and a complimentary amuse bouche of Gravlax with a delicate dill sauce to cleanse the palate. For starters, a pairing of a light, crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Envy Vineyards was recommended to accompany our choices of escargots in garlic and olive oil, and onion soup, both signature first-course dishes.

Because it came highly recommended, we added a Mozzarella Buratta with slices of heirloom tomatoes to the course. The cheese looked like a cloud and tasted, as my dining companion said, “If silk were a food, it would taste like that.”

Our server, Edésio Pereira, explained that the cheese is molded by hand and when it is the right consistency, a small amount of cream is injected. Nice to know that such exquisite fare is made by hand.

We again chose signature dishes for the entree: Bouillabaisse touched with an infusion of saffron and garlic roux—edgy but not overly spicy—swirled on the bottom of the bowl before Edésio ladled the stew onto it. Divers Scallops in a white wine sauce of cream, beurre blanc and Pernod, were elegantly presented with a sensibly small portion of rice and green beans served on a separate plate.

Brandywine has an array of desserts: Bread Pudding made with brioche, raisins and cinnamon with a warm rum sauce; a flourless chocolate cake made with egg whites and chocolate served with Kahlua Crème Anglaise and home-made espresso ice cream; Crème Brulée; and seasonals such as Meyer Lemon Ice Cream with mixed berries, Peach Tartin and Strawberry Shortcake. We opted for the Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake with a garnish of fresh strawberries and blueberries, light and luscious.

Elgart’s wait staff provide disciplined yet friendly service and unobtrusively clear the table as necessary. This is one of a handful of restaurants that offers another “old-school” amenity: side service, i.e., waiters finishing and serving orders such as salads, meat entrees (and our Bouillabaisse) table-side.

The kitchen, itself, is a well-oiled machine. While diners are catered to like royalty and all is calm in the dining room, the kitchen is a completely different dynamic. Well before service starts, Chef Rossoni and sous chef Susan James arrive. She prepares the meats, appetizers, salads and desserts. All baking is done in house. When service starts and orders come in, James, who also makes the desserts, keeps the kitchen running smoothly, while Chef Rossoni makes sure each order is prepared to perfection.

Zagat describes Brandywine as a “Quaint spot for upscale Continental fare” and a “time-warp oasis matched by gracious and generous personal service…that harks back to a more elegant era,” and gave it a rating of 4.6 (exceptional to perfect) for food, 4.5 for service and 3.9 for décor.

As it stands, Michael Elgart, once a Topanga kid, is fulfilling his promise to Chris and Peggy who established Brandywine’s quality standard. “I was passionate about what the restaurant was doing and will keep it this quaint little gem of Woodland Hills,” Elgart vowed.

Brandywine is located at 22757 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA 91364. Reservations (818) 225-9114; FAX: (818) 225-9118. It is highly recommended you book your table in advance.

Flavia Potenza
Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at editor@messengermountainnews.com

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