There are certain sights, sounds, and smells that stick in your mind forever. For Nyesha Arrington, one of those experiences happened at Coachella. The chef was cooking a premiere dinner at the festival when Kendrick Lamar took the stage. “I will not ever forget that for the rest of my life—the energy in the crowd when that album hit, and when he came out and sung ‘HUMBLE.,’ that shit resonated in my heart,” Arrington said.
Lamar’s hit single from his latest album DAMN. begins with the line "Ay, I remember syrup sandwiches and crime allowances." “There’s a... I’ll call it a dish in the hood called syrup sandwich,” Arrington said. “You just take white Wonder Bread and you put syrup inside, fold it in half and eat it. I thought it would be kind of cheeky to do a play on that.”
Arrington’s cheeky take has become one of the most interesting dishes on the brunch menu at her new Santa Monica restaurant, Native. “The Syrup Sandwich is definitely an influence from him and his ode to Los Angeles and people who don’t come from silver spoon-fed vibes. I wanted to elevate that and be cheeky about it,” she said of the dish.
It doesn’t look like anything crazy when it hits the table. The Syrup Sandwich looks like a fat cut of bread dusted with powdered sugar. It is a surprise when you cut into the thing. Oozy brown syrup gloms out of the thick Pullman bread in all of its sticky glory. It’s like a pan de mie French toast with its custardy center, enhanced with a touch of sea salt. The secret to the wild consistency? “This took me the most R&D on the menu because I had to figure out a way to whip the syrup,” Arrington said. “I didn’t want it to be too runny when it got hot. I wanted it to just hug the bread.” Arrington injects the whipped syrup right into the bread, then finishes the dish with a glorious snowfall of maple powdered sugar. It’s a delight, and one that the chef would like Lamar to try. "I hope he comes and has it one day,” Arrington said.
The Syrup Sandwich is just one example of Arrington’s style. “Brunch tends to be an afterthought. That’s why I thought it would be cool for the first time in my career to launch brunch when we opened, not just dinner,” she said. In addition to the Syrup Sandwiches, there are other thoughtful and unconventional LA-inspired dishes like kimchi latkes and local heritage grain umami porridge with vegetable cracklings. If Lamar does swing by for Syrup Sandwiches, he’s going to be stoked on the rest of the menu, too.