Tickle Tree Cafe

Customers can enjoy a latte at Tickle Tree Cafe in La Crescenta. The cafe serves breakfast, sandwiches, burgers, salads, espresso drinks, coffee, tea, hot cocoa, smoothies and other beverages. (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer / September 20, 2012)

Late summer was the perfect time for Tickle Tree Café to have its grand opening. The crape myrtles, known by some as tickle trees, were in glorious full bloom all over the foothill communities. This gave me the opportunity to test the café owner’s claim that if one tickles the trunk of such a tree, the leaves and branches shiver in response. I wasn’t able to conjure up such magic, but I love the idea of it. And I love the idea of Tickle Tree Café.

Tired of driving to Silverlake and Los Feliz for a decent cup of coffee in a cool atmosphere, the Kwons, a local family, transformed the back lot of an antiques store into a gathering place with a modern aesthetic and a tranquil vibe. The wood-slab tables, concrete floors, Edison-era exposed light bulbs and metal stools reminiscent of a drafting office circa 1917 give it an industrial, almost steampunk look. The pièce de résistance is their shiny new La Marzocco espresso machine, the Ferrari of Italian coffee makers.

Though the interior at Tickle Tree is sleek and trendy, the atmosphere, bolstered by an indie music soundtrack, is relaxing. I found myself going back again and again, alone and with friends, to write, talk or read for an hour or two. The café also has a spacious outdoor patio that will be even more comfortable after the summer heat breaks.

At first I figured the owners’ intended clientele were students from the high school around the corner, but it’s not. The prices are too high, especially compared to those at the hamburger stand across the street. It’s generally a good value, though, as portions are big enough to share and the food is well-prepared.

The breakfast quesadilla ($9.50), for instance, is very satisfying. An oversized tortilla is stuffed with freshly scrambled eggs, bacon and cheddar. Black beans, pico de gallo and sour cream are served alongside. The eggplant sandwich ($9) is thick with grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers and tomatoes, and provolone on pesto-spread sourdough with beautiful grill marks. And the Tickle Tree Burger ($12) is a blue cheese, beef and bacon attitude adjustment.

But what I’ll go back for is the chopped salad ($9), a giant bowl of carefully cut Romaine hearts, smoky applewood bacon, chunks of chicken, a hint of blue cheese, ripe cherry tomatoes and a perfect avocado half sprinkled with rock salt. The dressing, their version of Goddess, tastes of fresh herbs first, then olive oil, Parmesan and a whisper of anchovy. Every dish I tried showed a certain enlightened delicacy in its preparation.

The coffee drinks disappointed me a little. They brew cupfuls that are smooth and mellow — almost too mellow. The creamy steamed toppings are fabulous, though, such as on the delicious chai tea latte ($4.75).

The DIY water, utensil and condiment station is handy. It frees up the friendly staff to help with more important matters, like cutting dessert. They currently feature three items from Susina’s Bakery on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Berry Blossom cake is their fluffy claim to fame, but I adore the fig tart, with its layer of raspberry jam over a crumbly almond crust ($4.50).

No need for foothill residents to travel to Eagle Rock for a hipster coffee hangout. It’s right here in La Crescenta, minus the hipsters.

LISA DUPUY has written about food, entertainment and travel for 25 years. She can be reached at ldupuy@aol.com.

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What: Tickle Tree Café, (818) 249-4169

Where: 2853 Foothill Blvd, La Crescenta

When: Mon.-Thu. 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sun. 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Prices: Breakfast $6.50 to $10.50; Sandwiches and salads $7 to $12; Coffee drinks, smoothies and other beverages $2 to $5.25