VENICE — I love a good brunch.

It’s not necessarily the food or the bottomless mimosas (there’s usually cheap sparkling wine poured, which gives me a headache), but more the relaxed, pool-party atmosphere that keeps me in good spirits as I fight off the rapidly approaching Monday blues. Weekends seem so short these days, so any excuse to extend the feeling of freedom that comes with days off is welcomed.

I have my favorite brunch spots. Brick + Mortar on Main Street is where you want to go if you didn’t satisfy your club craving Saturday night, and are looking for a serious Bloody Mary. FIG at the Fairmont Miramar is where I go if food is the focus. It’s always fresh and delicious, plus it’s quiet, which is good if you have a serious hangover from a night of drinking.

The same can be said about my latest restaurant of choice, the Southern-inspired Willie Jane, which opened earlier this year on the trendy stretch of Abbot Kinney. The food is rich and flavorful, the service attentive and while dining I couldn’t help but feel as if I was sitting in my grandmother’s backyard with the ocean breezes keeping me cool as I gaze at the garden.

Chef Govind Armstrong poses at the future home of his chef's garden on Abbott Kinney. (Photo courtesy John Blanchette)

Chef Govind Armstrong poses at the future home of his chef’s garden on Abbot Kinney. (Photos courtesy John Blanchette)

A creation of chef Govind Armstrong and restaurateur Brad Johnson of Post & Beam fame, Willie Jane beautifully melds the spice and flavor of low country, Cajun cooking with traditional brunch dishes. I devoured my smoked trout Benedict, which was served on top of a bed of braised collards and a hearty homemade biscuit ($14). The mustard hollandaise wasn’t too thick and heavy, allowing me to sample some of my friend’s shrimp grits and applewood smoked bacon with spicy Fresno chili peppers ($16). I have to say that the shrimp grits were creamy and thick, taking me back to my days at Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., where I was exposed to grits and real humidity for the first time.

Seated next to us was a couple from New Orleans, who were also members of the Clean Plate Club. They were impressed by Armstrong’s take on Southern cuisine, saying that the food carried many of the flavors of back home. Armstrong basically nailed it, they said.

The shrimp grits with Fresno chili peppers, applewood-smoked bacon and scrambled eggs. (Photo courtesy John Blanchette)

The shrimp grits with Fresno chili peppers, applewood-smoked bacon and scrambled eggs.

An added benefit of the brunch, which includes the bottomless mimosas for $15, is the restaurant’s expansive back patio. It’s airy and with just the right amount of shading for a pleasant atmosphere as you sip on a cocktail or tall glass of cold beer. Right next door is a nursery with a lush garden loaded with native plants.

On the other side of the restaurant is a chef’s garden that was under construction when I was there, but has tremendous promise. Armstrong plans to have several beds for planting and would like to get other chef’s along Abbot Kinney to participate. Soon the empty lot will be blooming with herbs and vegetables that will be used by Armstrong and his team. It’s a great concept and not every chef is fortunate enough to have the room to do it. I know I’m eager to see what blooms.

Willie Jane's deviled eggs with marinated shrimp and preserved lemon aioli.

Willie Jane’s deviled eggs with marinated shrimp and preserved lemon aioli.

Willie Jane just started serving brunch so it hasn’t quite caught on yet, making it rather easy to get a table. Undoubtedly, it will be hopping in no time at all. I’m not sure how I feel about that as I like the mellow vibe there, but if it keeps Armstrong in business, I’m all for it. I plan on going back often and am eager to visit for dinner. They have an apricot-glazed pork shoulder with spinach and cracked almonds that sounds delicious, as does the curried oxtail with grilled plantains and curry leaves. Now there’s an entree you don’t see every day.

 

If you go

Willie Jane

1031 Abbot Kinney Blvd.

Los Angeles

90291

(310) 392-2425

http://williejane.com/

 

kevinh@smdp.com

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