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When Life Hands You Lemonade...Make a Lunch Date!

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Los Angeles has a long-standing rep for elevating lunching to an art form. School lunching, however, isn't quite so glamorous. Now, when it comes to the food you get at school, well--that's another story. But the concept of cafeteria-style lunching with LA-style panache is what's on tap at Lemonade, a local eatery with outposts in West Hollywood, Venice, Downtown, and a fourth launching soon at MOCA.

Much like in your high school cafeteria of once upon a time, chaos reigns supreme. At the Beverly Boulevard location where we recently had lunch, there is a period of adjustment to the lay of the land and how things work, much like learning how to get from 3rd Period US History to 4th Period Algebra without having to stop at your locker or run into those clique-y girls you can't stand.

The restaurant is organized in stations: There's the cold salad and sides area, a cold sandwich spot, a hot lunch station, the bakery, beverages, and the register. Where to begin, how to equip yourself, and where to go is a little tough to figure out at first.

The trays are hidden on a low perch by the front door. If you start at the sides and salads (and you'll want to spend some time here because with the nearly 2 dozen choices whose descriptions are printed on tiny cards placed in front of their long, narrow serving dishes behind the requisite panel of glass you're going to have to study for this midterm side-dish selection) you'll be lined up out the door. But if you make your way to the hot dish and sandwich areas to contemplate the main event, you run the risk of being shunned--you know, like if you try to join that table of cool kids over there and try to get in on the conversation.

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Now, instead of the usual tater tots and oily pizza, however, Lemonade's dishes are the real deal. Simmering inside an impressive and colorful array of Le Creuset Dutch Ovens in this "Pot Roast" section are the slow-cooked hot dishes that cravings are made of; BBQ brisket, mac and cheese, short ribs, and the like are there to be your main course, or be paired with other ingredients and turned into a hot sandwich.

But if it's cold sandwiches you crave, a case is filled with choices. Choices, choices, choices abound here. No matter what you get here or in the hot section, be it a serving of seared Ahi Tuna, a Chicken Apple Salad sandwich, or a hot turkey with dried cranberry sandwich, you have the choice of pairing it with a simple salad of greens dressed in lemon vinaigrette, or by adding on sides. Again--choices! Luckily, they encourage doing halfsies on a portion of your side-dish, so you can get more tastes for your lunch money. In fact, you can just make a meal out of sides, too, by putting together plates of however many scoops of sides your stomach and budget will allow.

Take your tray next to the bakery-beverage-register station. They have all sorts of tempting sweets in the cases, from macaroons the size of your hand to handy $1 mini-cupcakes. And you're in a place called Lemonade, so for crying out loud, get some! In addition to the regular stuff they've got freshly made flavors like Blueberry Mint or Watermelon Rosemary.

Our lunch adventure, once we figured out how to navigate the lunchroom, got us a tray filled with a BBQ Brisket sandwich (amazing brisket with sweet, tangy sauce and tender meat on a bit too big of a ciabatta roll; the cheddar cheese didn't quite melt, and the green tomatoes on the menu were red tomatoes in the sammy) and a split side of Israeli Couscous and a Sweet Potato salad (both sides were quite tasty, although the couscous was a little oily). The Watermelon Rosemary lemonade was a highlight, and for our dining companion, the mac and cheese hit the spot, as did the Blueberry Mint lemonade. Dessert was a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate macaroon split between the two of us with enough to take home as leftovers. Although the prices seem steep ($11 for a sandwich + side combo, $2.75 for the beverage, $4 for the macaroon) you've got the bounty of choice and what really amounts to some generous portions. You'll find your bill uncomfortably high if you mix and match a bit too ambitiously. Take it easy... lunch happens every day!

Keep your eye on Lemonade's Twitter for news about their upcoming launch at MOCA and daily specials.

Crib sheet: The Lemonade Menu.