(Gastronomy + Public House = Gastropub)

By Heather Sperling

After closing the doors of Chadwick in 2002, his joint venture in fine dining with Chef Govind Armstrong, Chef Ben Ford was looking for something a bit different. He wanted to create a place with a public feel, where the focus was on the customer, the food and the love of craft; where his highbrow Chadwick clientele could mesh with a blue-collar suburban Los Angeles crowd; where both grips and execs could stop after a long day on the set. He hoped to achieve a comfortable fusion of the familiar and the innovative. Ford looked to the gastropub.


Chef Ben Ford of Ford's Filling Station - Los Angeles, CA

Braised Kobe Cheeks
» Seared Diver Scallop with Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Blood Orange
» Smoked Trout Salad
» Venison with Iroquois White Corn Polenta

While “brasserie” brings forth images of bustling tables laden with onglet, moules, gratin and the likes, and “trattoria” evokes bottles of chianti and fresh taglietelle served family-style, the gastropub gets off clean, relatively free from these long-standing connotations regarding décor, menu and service. This is largely due to its lack of history: it was a mere 15 years ago that The Eagle introduced the concept to London diners with a straightforward, creative, seasonal menu and true pub setting. It was certainly not the first pub to serve good food, but was the first to advertise as a “gastropub.” In 1995 came The Fat Duck in Bray, England, now famous for Chef Heston Blumenthal’s experiments with molecular gastronomy and retro English fare (not to mention its three Michelin stars). The Eagle hit the nail on the head, and started an enduring trend; today there are almost 100 gastropubs listed in Time Out London, as notable for their cheeky names as their creative menus of English and French cuisine.

The first Michelin starred stateside gastropub, The Spotted Pig in New York’s West Village, opened in 2004 to rave reviews for both its food and its ambience. The cozy, inviting atmosphere of dark wood and eclectic décor is paired with a small but well-crafted and accessible menu, making for a neighborhood spot that thrills locals and draws pilgrims from as far as the Upper West Side. In 2006 Chef Ford opened Ford’s Filling Station in LA, aiming for a similar combination of a comfortable pub-like attitude that serves exciting, seasonal food.

Ford designed Ford’s Filling Station to be casual, open and familiar, with concrete floors and high ceilings, with his books on the shelves and his music playing on the stereo. It is warmly lit, flecked with dark wood and decidedly inviting. As for the menu, its focus is on regional American cuisine with the occasional brasserie favorite. Ford works well within these self-imposed parameters, serving dishes that range from tender braised kobe cheeks atop fregola risotto, to smoked trout salad, to scallops and foie gras, seared and topped with a blood orange reduction. For Ford, a large appeal of the gastropub designation is the flexibility that it allows. “The ability to have freedom of cuisine is big,” says Ford. “It’s fun to be responsible for interpreting the meaning of gastropubs.”

ˆ back to top


   Published: September 2006