Surfside picks up where Danny’s left off, pairing good vibes with contemporary California fare

By Jessica Koslow

The Breakwater Burger stuffs a half-pound of Angus beef, Applewood bacon and aged cheddar into a brioche bun

For 10 years, Venice residents and tourists could count on Danny’s for “great service, tasty food, awesome beer, good vibes,” as one Facebook fan put it. Sort of like “Cheers,” but by the beach.

When the boardwalk-adjacent restaurant closed last November, it was hard to picture a successor that could fill the same enormous shoes.

Samesun Backpackers, the hostel upstairs, had the same thought — so they hatched a plan. Upon hearing about Danny’s departure, the Canadian company bought the space, hoping to preserve its role as
a local meeting spot for the Venice community.

“When we first opened, people would come in and say, ‘What happened to Danny’s?’” says Surfside Venice Bar + Grill Executive Chef Jesse Gutierrez, who came on board in March. He’s been busy crafting seasonal menus highlighting California comfort food, L.A.-Korean dishes, sustainable seafood and vegan options.

It was definitely Danny’s atmosphere that had people hooked, and unique touches like the mural on the wall filled with caricatures of Venice characters and legends. Out of respect for the legacy of Danny’s, they didn’t remove the mural but built a wall over it so it would remain intact.

Business has been good for Surfside since opening its doors on June 23. The location near the Venice Breakwater, where Windward Avenue hits the boardwalk, is ideal. Summer brought swarms of tourists and eastward Angelenos flocking to the sea.

Unlike much of the grab-and-go fare found on the boardwalk, Surfside is for folks looking to sit down and eat a fine meal. Some of the menu items are on the fancy side. Dishes like butternut squash flatbread, poached pear salad and lobster roll stand alongside fish tacos, wings and onion rings.

The presentation is also unlike most boardwalk food. No pizza on paper plates or kettle corn in bags here. Instead, seafood linguine is plated with seasonal vegetables. The steak frites is cooked to order and topped with savory herb butter.

The most popular dishes on the menu are fish and chips and the three types of burgers: Breakwater, Venice Beach and turkey. The fish — Alaskan cod — is hand-dipped in the back. It’s sustainable, which is a philosophy the company extols its belief in.

Chef Jesse has had free reign in planning Surfside’s menu, except for one item.

“The only requirement was a real brioche bun for the burger,” says Gutierrez, who has spent much of his culinary career working at Universal and then Paramount Studios. “We brought in six companies and blind-tasted everything.”

Open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. each day, Surfside fulfills its social role by offering more than food and drink. There’s live music, game nights and happy hours to entertain football and baseball fans. This is as much for locals as for the constant rotation of hostel visitors — mostly Australians and Canadians — staying upstairs.

But anchoring it all is the menu mapped out by Gutierrez, who learned to cook from his Salvadoran mom and Guatemalan grandma — although you won’t find many hints of their influence on Surfside’s menu.

“My grandma always asks, ‘Are you coming for Christmas to help with the tamales?’” he says. “That’s my favorite food: her tamales. In Central America, there are very different flavors. I like her pork tamale, wrapped in banana leaves, with chili sauce, roasted red pepper sauce, toasted sesame seeds, cinnamon, tomato juice and peppers, corn masa and olives.

“But my grandma doesn’t have recipes,” he continues. “So if I wanted to learn how to make them, I’d have to sit with her and have her show me.”

For now, Surfside diners can munch on a fried chicken sandwich, farro bowl or bread pudding. The menu is exceptionally diverse, with something for everyone. Gluten-free? They got it. Vegan? Yes.

The bar serves up hood-honorin’ names like Boardwalk Breeze, Windward Avenue and Venice Fruit Stand. They also offer complimentary soda or coffee to designated drivers.

While it’ll be hard for Surfside to compete with the iconic decor of Danny’s — the mural, the photographs of Venice in its heyday from the Venice Historical Society, the last original gondola bought by Abbot Kinney hanging from the ceiling — Gutierrez hopes to delight return diners with a menu overflowing with delicious, some even surprising, options: Korean tacos, pork belly mac-n-cheese, and for dessert a peach or blueberry cobbler (served, of course, with locally made ice cream).

Surfside Bar + Grill, 23 Windward Ave., Venice (424) 256-7894