On a Saturday evening several years ago, Top Chef alum Brooke Williamson and her husband stumbled upon a hidden gem in their own backyard in Los Angeles County—and decided to make it shine.
They had noticed a restaurant space in the beach community of Playa del Rey that had changed hands a few times without finding any success. “We went and had a drink at like 9 p.m. and the place was kind of empty, but we felt like it had so much potential,” says the Los Angeles native. “We made an offer, the owner accepted, and then we were like, ‘Oh—I guess we need to think of something to do here.’”
In the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, Williamson talks with host Soterios Johnson about the evolution of that restaurant space, now known as Playa Provisions. She also chats about her own journey, from a Los Angeles kid watching TV cooking shows to an acclaimed restaurateur and celebrity chef who has appeared on Guy’s Grocery Games, Esquire Network's Knife Fight, and Food Network's Tournament of Champions.
The inspiration for Playa Provisions, she says, came from the town itself, which sits between Marina del Rey and El Segundo. “It's this wonderful, old-school beach town,” she says. “Very laid back, so that everyone in the neighborhood knows each other. It was a vibe that we really loved.”
Looking at this empty space, she continues, “we thought of all of the things that a beach town should have: The ice cream shop, the seafood restaurant, a whiskey bar, and a cafe where you could just grab food and head down to the beach. The space is gigantic, so why not break it up and do all of the things under one roof? So that's what we did.”
Indeed, Playa Provisions is home to four eateries, and Williamson offers Johnson tips on what to order at each. King Beach Café, for instance, is “a casual spot where you can order a coffee and a pastry or a sandwich, and sit on your computer all day and just enjoy people watching … and I will say that I think our chocolate-chip cookie rivals any chocolate-chip cookie in Los Angeles.”
For dinner at Dockside, she recommends starting with the oysters and then moving on to seafood delights such as ceviche, two different variations of lobster rolls, or the fried crab claw pop, “which is basically a snow crab claw with a crab cake formed around the claw. You get this surprise treat of an actual nugget of snow crab in the center.” For a nightcap, look for the red light that marks the speakeasy-style Grain Whiskey Bar. “It's dark, it's small, and it's lined with oak on the walls,” she says, “so you feel like you're inside a whiskey barrel.” She suggests browsing the revolving menu or just “telling the bartenders what kind of flavors you gravitate toward, and they will never steer you wrong.”
Any time of day, get a scoop from the Small Batch Ice Cream Bar. “We make all of our ice cream in-house, and we generally have 8 to 10 flavors—a couple of vegan flavors, and standard flavors. We also do a whole bunch of frozen treats, popsicles, chocolate-dipped bananas—really fun stuff.”
Since you could easily build a day around eating at Playa Provisions, Williamson also offers some tips on what to do in the area between meals, like lounging at Dockweiler State Beach or exploring the gardens at the neighboring Ballona Discovery Park. During her own downtime, Williamson says, “I run on the bike path in Playa del Rey. The path that goes between Venice and Manhattan Beach is some of the best visual running that you can do. In the morning, it's so peaceful—it can be foggy and then the fog clears. It’s stunning.”
At the end of the podcast, Williamson answers the California Questionnaire, in which she offers more tips for eating and playing in the Golden State—like her ideal road trip, her favorite outlet mall, and some of her favorites places for sushi and Thai cuisine close to home. “Los Angeles is such a melting pot of culture and cuisine,” she says. “You crave something in this city and you can find it in the best possible way.”