Jesse Barber's Dudley Market Brings 'Everyday Luxury' To Venice Beach Boardwalk
With views of the sand and sparkling Pacific Ocean beyond, chef Jesse Barber’s 20-seat Dudley Market, launched with Conner Mitchell in August, is about as close to Venice Beach as you can get without actually being on the Boardwalk. There’s quite a distance covered in that single block, though; it’s a real aesthetic and gastronomic leap from deep-fried Twinkies and T-shirts of questionable taste to this quiet oasis of simple foods executed with precision and curated home goods.
What you’ll find just off the water is farmers market-inspired fare—Barber shops at local markets five days a week—served all day. That might mean gussied-up favorites like the French omelette, which currently comes with whole fried soft-shell crab, a sizeable burger or olive-oil poached tuna on a baguette from the daytime menu served until 3 p.m., favored by Google and Snapchat folks, according to Barber. The midday menu, which runs in the gap between daytime and dinner, 3 to 6 p.m., includes a few salads, the burger and fancy snacks like roasted green beans with sliced salumi and pickled shiitakes.
Things get serious at dinner, however, when you’ll need a reservation if you want to dine with the mostly local crew. Chicken liver toast, gnocchi, a pork chop served with flageolet beans and okra, and a New York steak with watercress, wild mushrooms and chimichurri round out the current short but lively menu that will change with the seasons.
“Everything we get is organic or biodynamic or sustainably raised. We are trying to use the best possible products and the highest quality products,” Barber says. “The community—old and new—everyone is interested in being healthy and eating healthy. It’s something that I’ve always believed in.”
It’s all served in a space that has been stripped to the bones: there are exposed rafters, distressed brickwork, and an entire wall of windows overlooking Dudley Street, after which the restaurant is named. The wooden tables and chairs are simple, and even the kitchen is laid bare via a large window behind the bar that’s a peek into the world of Barber who had previous stints at Barnyard and The Tasting Kitchen.
And then there’s the market part of the shop that’s been pulled together by his wife, Celia Barber: the organized wall of sundries is for people whose needs skew upmarket—think Whirley Pop machines, Sfoglini pasta, Uashmama washable bags—plus some items tailored to the overflow from the circa-1914 Cadillac Hotel across the street—things like toothpaste, bars of chocolate, and packets of Glee gum. In the cooler are grab-and-go items like fresh eggs, whole lemons and premixed almond-milk cold brew.
The breezy calm inside the restaurant doesn’t always match the calm outside, however, and it illustrates the issue that Venice can’t seem to duck and a challenge to restaurant owners willing to park themselves so close to the Boardwalk mayhem: The widening gap between the rich and the poor. In fact, in the middle of a phone conversation about Dudley Market, Barber pauses to note that “there are actually people smoking crack outside my building right now. It’s Venice.”
And in Venice, the new and old can make for strange bedfellows. “What we wanted to do is with the change—with people coming, and a little bit of the violence and crime leaving—we wanted to do something that’s sustainable and kind of an everyday luxury that people from the old neighborhood can still afford,” he says.
Beyond culinary aspirations, he also wants to lead the charge to change the one-way, one-block Dudley Avenue (it runs from the Boardwalk, with no entry beachside, to Speedway) into a pedestrian-only zone. On the other side of Speedway, Dudley is one of Venice's iconic walk streets, but as he explains, the closer you get to the beach, ironically, the worse it becomes. By rethinking food deliveries to his and other restaurants on the block, and passenger drop-offs at the neighboring hotel, Barber believes that it will increase foot traffic from the neighborhood, build a better sense of community in the area, and hopefully raise more awareness and assistance in addressing some of Venice’s troubles, but he admits there are no easy answers.
“For better or worse, the homeless don’t have a place to go, and if i was homeless I’d live on the beach too. My hope would be to fix the homeless problem and get people off the street. I’d love to see more community outreach for the drug problems and the substance abuse. A lot of these guys have just massive emotional issues ... post traumatic stress, PTSD, dissociative disorder ...”
At the end of the day, he’s a guy running a restaurant trying to carve something good out of his slice of Venice. If the table is the great equalizer, Barber is doing his part to bring old and new together.
Dudley Market // 9 Dudley Ave, Venice 90291 // Photos courtesy of Dudley Market
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