With superior ingredients, Dudley Market keeps a tight focus on flavor

By Richard Foss (richard@richardfoss.com)

Breakfast fit for a king: the softshell crab omelet, bass sandwich and pork hash Photo by Richard Voss

Breakfast fit for a king: the softshell crab omelet, bass sandwich and pork hash
Photo by Richard Voss

There is a trend for restaurants to double as specialty markets, and it makes sense even if the gourmet pastas and boutique condiments aren’t moving quickly. The shelving takes up a little wall space, but the stuff on it is catnip to home cooks happy to sightsee the stock even if they don’t buy it.

More importantly, the display of interesting food sets the tone for the restaurant, because you presume that the same high-quality products are being deployed in the kitchen at that very moment.

Dudley Market in Venice is a real market. I saw people buy heirloom beans and vegetable pasta while I was there, and I may have missed other sales because my attention was riveted on the plates arriving at our table. Chef Jesse Barber earned a reputation for creative use of superb ingredients at his previous restaurant, Barnyard, and he is in peak form here.

Brunch is served daily and the menu is relentlessly eclectic — even in Venice it’s unusual to be offered crab Louie, cauliflower pistou soup and a niçoise salad at 8 a.m. You can also get a standard American breakfast, which we did, but it was interesting to savor the possibilities.

After considerable vacillation and some negotiation (“I’ll order what you want a taste of if you’ll order what I want a taste of”), we decided on pork hash, a bass sandwich, an omelet topped by a soft shell crab and the aforementioned American brekkie.

First, of course were the drinks: an espresso milkshake, hot chai and a regular filter coffee. All were well executed, the espresso milkshake made with frozen milk rather than ice cream and silky smooth.

While my coffee cooled I inspected the goods for sale, marveling at the pastel colors of the natural chicken and duck eggs in the refrigerator case, but skedaddled back to our table when breakfast arrived because eating them was more interesting than looking at them.

The first bite of my omelet was a reminder that eggs really do have flavor; it was so rich that I asked our server what kind of cheese had been folded into it. I was surprised when he said there was none, because the flavor was so much richer than standard commercial eggs.

A little sea salt and a sprinkling of chopped green onion added interest, and so did the large soft-shell crab that was artfully arranged on top. My family is from a part of Maryland where soft shells are the subject of much opinion, and this was one of the best I’ve had. I could have easily downed a half dozen of them, but contented myself with alternating bites of crab, omelet, and arugula salad.

The pork hash was misleadingly named but delicious. Rather than skillet-fried chopped potatoes and onions with meat there were heirloom beans, mixed greens and a saffron gravy with a few roasted peewee potatoes, two poached eggs and chunks of tender braised pork. It isn’t a hash by any standard, but by whatever name you choose, it’s delicious.

It took me a moment to figure out my opinion of the bass sandwich, because at first bite the fish was a relatively minor component of the flavor. The first flavors were green goddess aioli, sprouts, eggs and greens, to the point that I had to look after my first bite to see that fish was actually there. It had a mild flavor and was an equal partner with the other flavors rather than the star of the show, and taken on its own merits it worked just fine.

The American breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon and Lodge Bread toast needed no explanation, and reminded me of a set of flavors that are mostly lost in America. This was probably the way a California farm breakfast tasted a century ago, when the ingredients came from a few doors down rather than faraway factory operations. It might have looked like a standard chain coffee shop breakfast from a distance, but anyone with functioning senses would be able to tell the difference.

I was so interested in the flavors of the natural ingredients that I hailed our server and asked him to get me a fried duck egg so I could taste it alongside the chicken eggs, and in moments I had them side by side. The yolks of the duck eggs are bigger and richer, the whites smaller with a slightly stiffer texture. It wasn’t better or worse, just a bit different, but I was glad I tried it.

High-quality ingredients come at a price: our sumptuous breakfast for four ran just under $100, though the location half a block from the beach might have been a factor.

Was it worth it? Absolutely.

I have a new place to take guests who want to start the day out right. Based on the menus I saw, we’ll be back for dinner, too.

Dudley Market, 9 Dudley Ave., Venice. (424) 744-8060 dudleymarket.com