Jessica Koslow Of L.A.'s Sqirl Kitchen

Breakfast and lunch are like the weather: Everyone talks about them, but nobody does much to make them better–while dinner gets all the love.

But at Sqirl Kitchen in the Virgil Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, Jessica Koslow's focus is on the first half of the day–and she's humbly changing the dining scene one slice of toast at the time.

Sqirl's menu | Toast
"We all came from the world of fine-dining dinner restaurants," says Koslow of her staff. "What we do now is try to give the same attention to the other two meals of the day."

Koslow's own story is straight out of the "How to Ditch Your Day Job and Start an Artisan Food Business" handbook. In 2010 she left her career as a producer on American Idol to start making handcrafted jams and jellies and selling them online. Flavors like Santa Rosa plums with flowering thyme quickly became cult favorites.

Years earlier, Koslow had worked in the kitchen of Anne Quatrano's Abattoir in Atlanta. She credits Quatrano with instilling in her a passion for cooking which lingered long after she'd left the restaurant, and prompted her to pursure professional cooking once more. 

"She was one tough lady. She took me under her wing and showed me what it takes to open a business."

The interior of Sqirl
Back in L.A., Koslow evolved Sqirl from a one-person outfit into a bustling corner café serving G&B Coffee and house-baked toast spread with cheeses and jams. From there, her kitchen took off.

"Ria [Barbosa-Wilson], who was a sous chef at Canelé joined me, then Dani [McNish], and then Meadow [Ramsey], who was the pastry chef at Campanile. When we first started, there were no dudes in the kitchen."

Sqirl's sorrel rice bowl | Waitress Paola Sanchez
These days, Sqirl makes almost everything in-house, churning out some of L.A.'s most thoughtful and nuanced food in an unfussy setting. Dishes like a rice bowl topped with a poached egg, sorrel pesto and sheep's milk feta (see the recipe) and French toast filled with crème fraîche and apple butter show Sqirl's careful attention to food that's often seen as less "serious"–the very thing that makes the café special.

"When you put something new on your menu every day," says Koslow, "it excites the kitchen as much as it does the customer."