Flores and the Ladies’ Gunboat Society heaps high the Southern comfort
Are there any sweeter words in the English language than “fried chicken and beer”? Because if you have wandered down Sawtelle Boulevard lately, perhaps wondering whether your chances are better in the endless ramen line outside Tsujita Annex or the endless sushi line outside Hide, you have probably noticed the chalkboard outside Flores and the Ladies’ Gunboat Society, promising fried chicken and beer as a permanent early-bird special.
And if you make your way inside, settling on the fenced-in patio with an Evil Twin red ale or something, you may discover that you are eating not just fried chicken but the sort of pan-fried chicken — meat steamy, peppery crust both pliant and crisp — that is all but impossible to find in Los Angeles, much less as part of a $12 special that includes the beer. You are happy and a little sleepy. It is not yet 7 p.m.
The Ladies’ Gunboat Society is a semi-permanent pop-up at Flores from Brian Dunsmoor, who ran the Hart & the Hunter with Kris Tominaga until recently and before that Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing down on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, which was also a long-running pop-up. Its official name is Flores and the Ladies’ Gunboat Society, in case, perhaps, restaurant owner Amal Flores decides to turn it back into a fusion bistro, and the West L.A. dining room looks pretty much unchanged, without much in the way of Dukes of Hazzard touches past the mismatched grandma’s-cupboard cutlery and plates.
Like the Hart & the Hunter, the Ladies’ Gunboat Society is a New Southern restaurant as reimagined by a chef with strong technique and a farmers market fetish, the kind of place you might expect to find in the arty district of Charleston, S.C., or Raleigh, N.C., places where the customers may listen to indie rock but also have feelings as to what should go into a proper Lowcountry boil.
Dunsmoor buys his pork from Peads & Barnetts, the revered heritage-breed pig man at the Santa Monica farmers market; his legumes from Rancho Gordo; and his Southern grains from the organic Charleston producer Anson Mills, which charges more for grits and rice than most purveyors do for steak. He is not beyond putting a hamachi crudo on his menu, although he will inflect it with benne seeds and fresh nectarines. The crisply fried rabbit, brushed with honey, is even better than the chicken — Dunsmoor knows how to fry things. You will not go thirsty for want of craft beer.
The name “Ladies’ Gunboat Society” comes from women’s clubs whose bake sales and ballroom galas raised money to build ironclad Confederate warships. (Parts of the CSS Georgia, financed by the Savannah, Ga., chapter, were salvaged by the Army Corps of Engineers just last fall.) In the abstract, the name sounds cool. Still, nostalgia for the Confederacy is pretty hard to muster on the Westside, where its implications are lost on no one.
There is a lot you can say about Dunsmoor’s cooking, not least his airy yeast rolls, but in the end it probably comes down to whether you are comfortable with his maximalist approach.
If you’re getting the Benton country ham, it will be served in soft prosciutto-thin curls instead of the fried slabs you might be expecting, propped against a scoop of fresh ricotta flavored with lemon zest, with a handful of toasted pecans, a crunchy slice of grilled bread and a wedge of sweet Weiser Family Farms melon smeared with a minted Italian salsa verde, a traditional herb sauce for pork.
There are brand names involved: Weiser is the Tehachapi, Calif., farm whose melons and potatoes are farmers market rock stars; Benton is the Tennessee producer whose suave, ultra-smoky ham and bacon are among the most coveted produce of the mid-South.
There will be enough to share with the table. It will take you a minute or two to figure out how to eat the dish — my guess is that you are supposed to make crostini with the bread, cheese and ham, then alternate bites with nibbles of the minted melon — but I am a little unsure. As delicious as it is, and as dead-ripe as its ingredients may be, there is something about the dish that is not far removed from the contents of a first-class airline tray.
The hoppin’ John includes Sea Island red peas and Carolina Gold rice, collards stewed down with ham hock, and a wedge of corn bread; it’s less a dish than a distillation of what you might pile on your plate at an Outer Banks New Year’s buffet. The crusty pan-fried trout comes with creamed corn and fresh-corn succotash, toasted hazelnuts and a smoky vinaigrette flavored with country ham fat, as if Dunsmoor couldn’t decide whether the dish should speak more clearly of summer or fall. A giant Peads & Barnetts pork chop is garnished with a slab of chewy house-made bacon, in case you were vacillating between that dish and the pudding-soft braised bacon with sorghum and black-eyed peas.
Where the Hart & the Hunter tends toward minimalism, to the point where you sometimes wonder if it is possible to put together a proper meal, the Ladies’ Gunboat Society serves you everything all of the time, as if the only possible structure for a dish is a Charleston meat-and-three. This isn’t quite a complaint — the gaiety of Dunsmoor’s compositions is actually kind of fun, and you grow to expect the nectarine salad in the sweet corn soup, or the cherry tomatoes and field peas with the fried green tomatoes — but it is occasionally hard to tell where you are on the plate.
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Flores and the Ladies’ Gunboat Society
The South continues to rise. Fried chicken for all.
2024 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (424) 273-6469
Vegetable plates, $9-$14; seafood, $15-$26; meat and poultry, $16-$33; dessert, $8
Dinner 5:30 to 11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 5:30 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays; brunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Credit cards accepted. Beer and wine. Valet parking.
Hoppin’ John, pan-fried trout with succotash, chicken-fried rabbit, pork chop with bacon and red-eye gravy, buttermilk pie with strawberry ice cream
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