Serving residents and visitors alike since 1976, The Sidewalk Café has become something of an institution on the Venice Boardwalk, and its eye-catching red and white awning and matching tablecloths act like a magnet to the wandering masses who stroll the boardwalk with apparently no particular place to go.
This past weekend I joined the throngs and visited The Sidewalk Café to lunch and laze, munch and gaze, and become intoxicated by the wild, the weird and the wonderful that is Venice Beach.
After a wait of almost half an hour, my guest and I were seated at the perfect table, front and center with unobstructed views of the human theater that is played out every weekend at this bustling bazaar.
The ambience here is fun and frenetic, with a team of well-versed servers dancing to and fro with dishes, drinks and deliberate intention, which is clearly a necessity in such a busied and popular pit stop.
With all five mealtimes catered to (breakfast, brunch, lunch, drunch and dinner), the menu is typically expansive and cleverly creative in the literary fashion, with some delightfully amusing sandwich names such as the Murdock (grilled chicken breast, sautéed mushrooms, Swiss cheese on a wheat bun, $9.50), the Mario Puzo (capocello, provolone, salami, onion, tomato and Italian dressing on a French roll, $9.50) and a ground beef, turkey or veggie patty with cheese, sautéed mushrooms and avocado, $10.95, named the Timothy Leary (“You’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind” – love that!).
Their large menu is influenced by a trio of national culinary infusions that I will call Mexameritalian (Mexican, American and Italian) and thus, pretty much has something for everyone.
I was so taken with the names of the dishes that I could not resist ordering the aforementioned Timothy Leary and chose the spicy veggie option, served on a bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and Sidewalk dressing chaperoned by a side of cottage cheese.
My guest, being a fan of the Kinsey Millhone mysteries, simply had to have the turkey burger named in honor of the author, Sue Grafton (with cheese, sautéed mushrooms and avocado, $10.95 – the burger, not Sue Grafton, the person), and chose fries for the side.
Considering how chock-a-block full of diners the café was, a wait time of fifteen minutes was pretty impressive, and when our dishes arrived they looked good and felt hot.
My Timothy Leary with spicy veggie patty was excellent and substantial, with lashings of cheese, mushrooms (non-hallucinogenic!) and avocado, with a side of truly delectable homemade spicy salsa that tickled the palate with a comfortable zest. Add a splendid helping of cottage cheese and fresh salad with a subtle dressing, and, contrary to Mick Jagger’s claim in his song, I did get some satisfaction.
My guest consumed Sue Grafton with a determination that left no mystery as to his enjoyment of it. “That was good,” he exclaimed in a typically understated and benign fashion.
Tasty food, cool service and a vibrant atmosphere are all well and good, but add the fascinating play of the boardwalk and its cast of thousands, and a unique and rewarding experience it certainly can be.
With mimics, comics, musicians on skates, singers and performers juggling with plates, there can be no better place in the world to do a bit of people watching than here, and as I spontaneously made eye contact with a teenager walking past the cafe with his father, it occurred to me that all the while, the watchers were also being the watched.
The Sidewalk Café, 1401 Ocean Front Walk, 310.399.5547