Lock and Key Social Drinkery located in Downey, in the words of the owner, is designed so you wouldn’t feel like you were in Downey. A restaurant bar, the interior is industrial chic complete with vintage styled Edison light bulbs and an illuminated sign of the gastropub’s initials affixed to the ceiling. The walls are partially covered in wood paneling, and sleek black booths. Socially aware, tall tables set for eight run down the middle to accommodate large parties.
Downey is only 13 miles from Downtown LA, and its residents vary from lower middle class to those living in a mansion maze worth millions. With the increase in twenty-somethings living at home, and relatively affordable housing where young families plant their roots; there exist a demand for great food and atmosphere in Downey. A market, owner Marc Shelton, understands and is tapping into. On a Friday night at 7:00pm the restaurant had open tables, but was far from empty. And by 8:00 there was a line waiting to get inside.
When seated you’re served a tiny glass and chilled water in a large medicinal bottle which you’d imagine would hold pharmacy tonics in the 18oo’s. The menu is creative and reads like a competitive cooking show, while not being off putting to those that might not be foodies. Gourmet classics taken up a notch or wrapped in bacon. A Grilled cheese with fontina cheese and white truffle butter. An appetizer called Amazeballs, that is fried Brussels sprouts, apple smoked bacon, candied walnuts, with an apple gastrique.
Being a Downey native, I had to start the dinner off with a Hot Cheeto pie. A sliced open Hot Cheetos snack bag drenched in jalapeno (nacho) cheese sauce topped with chorizo and scallions. I might have lost you, but understand Hot Cheetos and nacho cheese was a lunchtime staple for Downey kids. I didn’t eat it very often but I understood its delicious allure. It’s hard to get all food writer when talking about a bag of hot Cheetos and nacho cheese,but the warm melted jalapeno cheese compliments the Hot Cheetos seasoning without overpowering it. You still taste the Hot Cheeto flavor and its spicy build, while the creamy cheese coats the Cheetos without making it too soggy. Where it get gourmet is the peppery chorizo, and crisp scallions that add another dimension to this appetizer. I loved the Hot Cheeto pie, but I did regret starting off with it as it had scorched my palate a bit.
Yet by the third bite of my dinner sandwich, I felt my taste buds could fairly assess the flavors. I ordered the Sweet Thang Chicken Sandwich, a panko crusted chicken breast, apple wood bacon, sunny side egg, prairie cheddar, raspberry chipotle compote, on a pretzel bun. Its presentation was on point, and technical execution excellent. The sunny side egg’s yolk was thick and creamy. The panko crust crispy and light, chicken itself tender and moist. But lacked its own unique seasoning aside from “tempura” flavor. So the apple smoked bacon is what brought in an element of salt, and the prairie cheese forgettable unless the raspberry chipotle compote was in the bite. And that is where all the flavors came together and the sandwich made an impression. I picked at the top portion of the bun with drizzles of compote to eat with a bite of the other ingredients. Because without the compote, it was just an ok sandwich, but with the compote it hit all the flavor notes of sweet, salty, and tangy.
I love soft pretzels, and tend to hate pretzel buns! For the sheer fact they tend to be just too much bread. I commend Lock and Key for their pretzel bun choice. It was a soft bun, and was not dense or chewy. But it soaked up the raspberry chipotle compote like a dry sponge, and didn’t really let its unique sweetness shine. I was told that the sandwich was supposed to have the compote spread out on the bottom, but I really couldn’t taste it until I pulled it out of the top bun. I did try it just as a normal sandwich as well, and not my modified version without the top bun. And although the pretzel bun was sweet, it still engulfed the other flavors.
Lock and Key has the potential to be a great Gastropub and although I was slightly disappointed that some of my bites were lacking the sweetness of the compote, I’m excited to explore their menu further. They didn’t lose me, even for the above ten-dollar menu pricing. I feel the food was fairly priced for the attention to detail and creative dishes coming from the kitchen. I look forward to reaching out to the owner for a potential interview. Find out about his adventure into making Lock and Key a reality, and what tricks he still has hidden up his sleeve.
One last note, be aware most of the beer menu is based on bottle, not tap. My boyfriend ordered “Sour in the Rye” from The Bruery which is a beer that taste like fermented apple cider vinegar with a dash of hops. He knew what the beer was like, but was not expecting to get a huge bottle to drink solo, price $35.00. A rye sour beer is not something you enjoy drinking glass after glass, it is incredibly strong and because of the pricing, we couldn’t afford to have him get a different beer. We hope that this selection process is due to the fact Lock and Key is so new, possibly a way to provide a neat selection while save on wasted goods, yet are planning to not keep it this way forever. The only way I could imagine it working is for large parties that will create their own flights. It’s our fault for not reading the menu better, but it would have been nice for the waitress to tell us the beer was by the bottle.
If you ever happen to find yourself in Downey, for whatever odd reason, I recommend checking out Lock and Key. You won’t regret it!
3.5 out of 5 stars — my rating!
$$ | 1103 Downey Ave, Downey CA 90241 | lockandkeybar.com