The South arrives on Abbot Kinney with a quaint, new eatery from Brad Johnson and chef Govind Armstrong, the same team behind Post & Beam. Fans of the now defunct Lilly’s French Café & Bar, a decade plus old Abbot Kinney fixture, sense déjà vu upon entering Willie Jane, where just enough Southern twang —brocade wallpaper, a collection of vintage photographs, antiqued mirrors, Mason jar candles—outfits the indoor-outdoor space.
As for the menu, is it soul food? Rather, food that needs a bit more soul. That’s certainly not to say that Armstrong isn’t playing with seasonality. Willie Jane’s menu changes on the regular, so don’t get too attached to the sweet corn salad over a wonderfully zingy pesto vinaigrette with grilled shrimp and yellow and green beans ($13) or the strawberry shortcake ($8), buttery pound cake topped with fresh cream and strawberries.
The biscuit, however, is disappointingly dry, just barely elevated by the accompanying orange honey butter. Sides of collards ($7) and black eyed peas with small chunks of Tasso ham ($6) were under-seasoned, while the fried chicken ($16) was moderately moist inside, cloaked in a sturdy exterior crust, but nothing to write home about.
Aside from the food, the biggest complaint at Willie Jane is not the price point, which is reasonable, or the service, which is friendly and prompt, but the noise level. Even out of the patio, making polite dinner banter is nearly impossible on most nights.
What to eat: The sweet corn salad with pesto, shrimp and yellow and green beans is a hit and, served entirely chilled, is a wonderfully light summer starter. Follow with the pork chop ($19), saved by a sweet and tangy date mostarda alongside, and finish with the strawberry shortcake ($8).
What to drink: Cocktails are Bourbon-centric with a mix of classics and newer creations. The Coal Miner’s Daughter ($12) calls for Bourbon, ginger, lemon and lavender honey, while classics hold true to form like an Old-Fashioned ($14) and Vieux Carre ($14). Wines, almost all of which are offered by bottle of glass, cover California, France and Italy.
Where to sit: Forgo the mildly claustrophobic bar and lounge and join the Venice denizens on the outdoor patio. If you’re looking for more of a socializing scene, snag a seat at one of the two communal tables by the entrance.
Conversation piece: Willie Jane is named after Brad Johnson’s oldest living family member, his 100-year old aunt, Willie Jane.