Brooke Williamson knows what L.A. wants, as only a local can.
The “Top Chef” champion grew up on its beaches, mountain trails, and freeways, and she has been cooking in Los Angeles restaurants for longer than much of the growing population has lived here.
At Playa Provisions, Williamson and husband Nick Roberts have assembled the ultimate beachside eatery: a four-in-one concept brushing the sands of Playa Vista, each place offering something for an all-day experience.
The sunny haven Small Batch is the location’s dedicated ice cream parlor, which is a boon for beach-going days; King’s Beach Café specializes in artful deli sandwiches, salads, and pastries; Dockside is for fresh fish, bivalves, and crustacean-loaded classics graced with market-driven inventiveness; and Grain, when it returns (currently closed due to COVID), is a lounge full of rare whiskeys and clever cocktails.
Williamson’s resume stretches back to legendary L.A. restaurants like Ken Frank’s Fenix at the Argyle Hotel, Michael’s in Santa Monica, and the opening of Zax in Brentwood as its executive chef. It was there that she met Roberts before the two went on to open the lauded Amuse Café and Beechwood in Venice. Soon after, they found time to get married.
The couple has since stayed close to the seaside while opening concepts, including Hudson House in Redondo Beach and The Tripel in Playa del Rey. While shuttling between those two coastal neighborhoods, they were consulting on another place, The Del, that was housed in the space they eventually transformed into their own Playa Provisions.
“[We] really just had so much love for the space,” she says. “We wanted to fill in a few gaps that we felt the neighborhood was missing for that quintessential beach town vibe. There was no seafood in the area, no ice cream, nowhere to get a great thought-out cocktail and nowhere to grab something quick from a deli case and take it down to the beach.”
Williamson, of course, is known now for her stints on televised cooking competitions as much as she is for the seasonal, sometimes nostalgic dishes found throughout Playa Provisions. While their focus is on this sole concept for now, everything is seen through the lens of the duo’s experiences as chefs, building blocks from their former beloved projects, and as parents, travelers, and Angelenos.
“I’m a California girl through and through,” she says. “I cook based on my surroundings and what feels natural to me. The seafood and the coastal focus is what carries this restaurant. And I think we try to impart that into every concept in the building.”
Here Williamson recounts the ideas behind some of her favorite dishes at Playa Provisions, and how they fulfill the restaurant’s story.
1. Lobster Roll
“Lobster rolls are definitely not West Coast originated, but I do feel they’re something that a lot of people who go to seafood restaurants crave. They were not something I was familiar with until I was an adult, and then I had one and fell in love. Ours is a traditional lobster roll, but also very not traditional. We do a Maine lobster and cold mayonnaise-based version, but add a little Old Bay into the mix, and it’s very texture forward. So on top of the roll, we have some pickled mustard seeds and crushed Kettle potato chips, and a little bit of celery leaf. And the whole thing is carried by the warm, buttery, toasted brioche roll.
My husband and I actually just got back from Rhode Island a couple of days ago and lobster rolls are like church there. We had a couple of great ones, but the focus is definitely on the lobster meat. And as much as the focus is on the lobster meat here, we tried to elevate it based on textures and different flavors. There’s something about a lobster roll when it’s made by a chef who understands how proper seasoning can make a dish shine takes it to a different level.”
(Served at Dockside.)
2. Salt Cod Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl
“I grew up going to Gladstone’s in Malibu and always loved getting clam chowder. We put a twist on it. The base of our chowder is actually salt cod. We do whole steamed Manila clams in the soup as well, and then do a garlic butter baste around the inside of the sourdough bread and toast it.
You can get a cup of clam chowder and it can be really delicious. But when put into a really great piece of crusty sourdough bread that’s beautifully garlic-buttered, and then you get the twist of the salt cod and big lardons on top, it’s like a meal in itself that’s really craveable.”
(Served at Dockside.)
3. Fried Crab Claw Pop
“It’s like crab-on-crab. A snow crab claw with a Blue crab and Dungeness crab cake formed around the claw, and then it’s breaded with Old Bay, egg, and bread crumb, then fried. It’s kind of a play on a crab cake, but it looks like a little pop because you hold the claw in order to eat it.
My husband and I went to Chinatown in San Francisco for dim sum and there was something like that with a Chinese flair to it. It gave us the idea, ‘Why can’t we make this sort of American seafood-flavored?’ They’ve been on the menu since we opened. They’re fun because you can order them by the piece. I have friends who come here just for crab pops.”
(Served at Dockside.)
4. Corned Beef Sandwich
“This is a sandwich that’s very near and dear to my heart. As a kid, my dad used to take me to Art’s Deli all the time and we’d get a corned beef sandwich. We’d get a couple slices of marbled rye and split the sandwich because there was always so much meat on it, and he’d always order his corned beef extra lean, extra thinly sliced, with Swiss and Thousand Island, and we’d always put the coleslaw on the sandwich. It’s just all the flavors from my childhood that I’d want in a corned beef sandwich. Everyone who orders it falls in love with it.
We make our own corned beef and slice it thinly, and it’s warmed up to order so it’s a hot corned beef sandwich. It has Swiss cheese, coleslaw, Thousand Island, and served on marbled rye bread that’s toasted with a little bit of clarified butter. It’s like juicy and meaty and salty, with all the flavors you want from a Reuben in it.”
(Served at King’s Beach and brunch at Dockside.)
5. The Chocolate Chip Cookies and Bourbon Milk
“If you sit down in the café and order them for dessert, they come warmed up with cold whole milk with vanilla, bourbon, and sugar in it. Again, those flavors are from childhood in that chocolate chip cookie. It’s like the perfect chocolate chip cookie, soft and gooey on the inside with large chunks of semi-sweet chocolate a little bit crispy on the outside. But you get that bourbon milk, which kind of sets the whole thing off.
We have a whiskey bar in the building as well, so we do have that Americana cocktail program and it just felt like a natural fit. We don’t put a ton of bourbon in the milk, it’s just enough to have it be, like, a slightly sweetened glass of vanilla milk with a little kick of bourbon to it. You get a full glass, enough to dunk your cookies in there. It takes it from ‘here’s a chocolate chip cookie for dessert’ to ‘this is everything that I want at the end of the meal.’”
(Served at King’s Beach Cafe.)
Bonus: The Del Rey Cocktail
“It’s jalapeño-infused vodka mixed with silver tequila, lime, and fresh cucumber juice with a Tajín-salted rim. A play on a spicy margarita but with cucumber. It feels very Los Angeles, it feels very beachy, and coastal. They remind me of being down by the beach, summertime, it feels like a very social cocktail to me. You put a margarita in front of me and I’m a happy camper.”
(From the Grain menu, currently served at Dockside.)