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As the city heats up during the spring and summer months, Venice is a cool destination for a walk along the canals or out on the long pier. Recently, my family and I visited the eclectic beach town and stopped into Venice Whaler for brunch. Located at the foot of the sand near the pier, Venice Whaler has attracted a beach and artistic crowd since the 1940s.
Walking into the first-floor bar, I noticed a build-your-own bloody Mary table with an array of whimsical items to enhance one of the most popular Sunday brunch cocktails. Besides Tabasco, celery and peppers, there were pretzel sticks, powdered donut holes, cinnamon buns, rice crispy treat squares and thin swirls of red licorice standing tall in a container. For $14 you can order a regular or spicy bloody Mary and select from over 15 snack items to pair with your drink. Nearby, a talented guitarist was playing classic rock songs, honoring the rock legends who hung out here in the 60s and 70s, like Jim Morrison, the Beach Boys and others. On the cocktail menu is a Moscow mule called “Back in the USSR” to honor the Beatles. There is a Light My Fire margarita honoring The Doors, and a Jimi Hendrix Purple Haze red sangria.
The general manager Andrew Dorsey led us upstairs to a table near the lively patio scene filled with millennials sitting under bright orange umbrellas. One of the patio walls has a painted likeness of Jim Morrison. There is no build-your-own bar up here, that’s only available downstairs. Instead, bartenders stand near a Surf Report chalkboard listing the day’s wave size, water temperature and the times of low and high tide, while pouring breakfast shots of Jameson Whiskey, butterscotch schnapps with a slice of bacon on top.
Wanting to feel like tourists, we ordered a freshly shaved coconut called the Paradise City made with coconut water, pineapple juice, salted vanilla and lime juice. A splash of Svedka vodka can be added, too. They also offer about 15 beers on draft poured into a pint or pitcher. There are a few bottled beers, bubbly, rosé, white and red wine offerings too.
A few years ago, Mike Dobson, a restauranteur and co-owner of Red O, acquired the 73-year-old establishment. He renovated the interior and exterior, and hired Nick Liberato as the Executive Chef to change the menu to appeal to the locals and tourists.
“The volume is insane here,” Dorsey said. “Chef Liberato and Sous Chef Steve Horeni cover 800 plates on Saturdays and Sundays.”
The menu includes an array of popular beach food items like burgers, fries and fish tacos, however, Liberato and Horeni also make Sunday brunch favorites of breakfast sandwiches, ahi poke and acai bowls.
We ordered one of each of the favorites. The poke bowl was filled with white rice, ponzu, chopped, sushi grade ahi, cucumbers, crushed Macadamia nuts, scallions and sesame seeds. The acai bowl had apples, bananas, strawberries, granola, coconut and a drizzle of honey.
My breakfast sandwich arrived on a shiny brioche bun with melted cheddar cheese, a fried egg and slices of bacon. It was served with a hash brown patty topped with chopped green onion.
For a sweeter dish, we opted for the butternut Belgium waffle served with toasted pecans, a sprinkling of crispy sage, dollop of whipped cream and warm brown butter syrup. This is a Liberato family recipe. Horeni told us that he has been working with Liberato for one year at Venice Whaler. “Our food is fresh and made from produce we buy at the Farmers Market in Santa Monica every Wednesday.” He added, “Nothing is frozen, except the fries.”
Because the location is ideal for beach picnics, the restaurant offers a Whaler takeaway menu with coffee and beverages; avocado toast; and a surfer burrito made with egg, chorizo, cheese, shredded potato and corn. There is a Muscle Beach scramble with egg whites, turkey sausage, spinach and avocado; and a bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, tomato and red onion slices.
They also make a variety of pizzas that include Hawaiian style, BBQ chicken and a white pizza with burrata and spinach.
Sandwiches include a braised beef bahn mi with Sriracha aioli to give it a zing; spicy street dog wrapped in bacon, chili, and Nicky’s Philly cheesesteak made with sliced rib eye, caramelized onions and melted Provolone.
Desserts are simply a good chocolate chip cookie; ice cream sandwiches; slice of key lime pie or a chocolate pot du creme crowned with housemade whipped cream, caramel and sea salt.
Whether you dine in, sit on the upstairs patio for a cocktail or take away food for a picnic, Venice Whaler’s serves rockin’ fun cocktails and fare in a lively atmosphere. $$ The restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. except on the weekends, when they open at 10 a.m. 10 W Washington Blvd, Venice, (310)821-8737.
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