New Venice eatery South End is finally upon us, and dare we say: it's sort of a strip mall dining dream come true. Located at the southern tip of Abbot Kinney -- hence the name -- South End was formerly a B1 Bakery before revamping under the wing of Mario Vollera (formerly of Barbershop) and chef Frank Fermin, whose bonafides include a stint at Church & State and Mozza.
Here's what you can expect to find inside.
First, not a lot. The space is small, square, and offers an L-shaped high-top communal table as just about the only place for diners. There's a stumpy bar to the right that also offers a few seats, and a large-scale black and white mural is just about all the decor you need -- save for the wood grain everything, that is. Instead of more art on the back wall, South End opted for shelving to showcase their plucky wine collection. Paying attention to wine is sort of the point here anyway.
There are a few rotating beers, ranging from pale and sharp to dark and smoky, but Venice already has plenty of places to catch a pint or five. With the much more extensive wine list, you can move seamlessly from a $12 glass of Rhone Valley grenache to a $98 bottle of California petite syrah before you know it, and hit a couple sub-$12 chardonnays on the way up. The list is a product of Vollera's own love for wine, and he handles the room with a warm smile and ever-present bottle in his hand.
Back in the kitchen, Fermin pushes out thinner, earthier pies than what you might find at Mozza; on the menu, they're simply called rustic. Expect a lot of fontina cheese, high-quality olive oil and a preference for slow-roasted Roma tomatoes as the base for much of the depth of flavor you're tasting. Half the pies also use Fresno chiles, which won't sear off your tongue but (at their best) can provide a smoldering taste that lingers with you longer than you might have thought. A couple of salads and a rotating selection of cheeses and cured meats round out the focused menu.
It's also important to note that, while South End certainly has the look and feel of a post-sunset neighborhood wine spot -- all in a strip mall, mind you -- the doors actually open at 8 a.m. That means you can get an espresso and a pastry in the morning, swing by for a beer on your lunch break, then hop onto a stool for a pizza a glass of shiraz for dinner. Keep that pace up, and you'll become a regular in no time -- just don't expect them to save one of their 20 or so seats for you.
South End is open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., right behind the gas station at the corner of Washington Blvd. and Abbot Kinney.