Monday, February 27, 2017

Wilson’s Words of Wisdom: February Round Up

This Monthly Round Up brings five more recommendations on where to eat, drink and be merry. Feel free to share any other amazing places you've been to recently, in the comments section below.

See you at one of these destinations soon!

Where to Eat: Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market in DTLA is the city's oldest and largest open-air market, in business since 1917. In total, there are more than 35 unique dining options housed here, ranging from coffee and ice cream shops to BBQ, Thai, Mexican and more. And, there’s the District Market, featuring “organic, sustainable and locally-sourced fruit and vegetables” at reasonable prices. Stop by for lunch if you're in the area!

For more information

Where to Drink: Bricks & Scones @ Larchmont Village

A stone’s throw north of the bustling Larchmont Village, Bricks & Scones is the cutest café ever, with a vibrant outdoor patio and a cozy indoor lounge. Tons of chairs and tables nestled in nooks and crannies throughout offer optimal spaces to hide out in, and people literally spend hours on hours on hours here, engrossed in their studies or clattering away on their laptops. A respectable menu of paninis, coffees and teas are also available.

For more information

Where to Be Merry: The Museum of African-American Art @ Macy’s, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza

In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to highlight one place in particular that’s showcasing black accomplishments year round, and that’s the Museum of African-American Art (MAAA). Probably in one of the least expected places you’d find a museum — on the third floor of Macy’s in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall — MAAA frequently rotates art exhibits that feature paintings, vintage movie posters, sculptures and other types of art created by black artists. The current exhibit, "And Still We Rise," shows off paintings and sculptures from local artists Eric Hall and Patrick Jewett, respectively.

For more information

Where to Travel: Avalon @ Catalina Island

Starting to think about quick weekend getaway trips for this upcoming spring/summer? Consider the tiny town of Avalon on Catalina Island. Only about an hour’s ferry trip away from the mainland, the laidback island literally is such a stark contrast to the hectic L.A. city life — in a good, relaxing way. While there may not be any cars, there are still tons of outdoor and low-key activities to get into — whether it’s biking, hiking, walking around the quaint downtown section or eating at one of the dozen bars, eateries and restaurants. Also, as an incentive to go, the Catalina Express ferry service is currently offering a promotion where two passengers can ride for the price of one, on either passengers' actual birthday.

For more information

And Where Do You Where To?: Phillip Rix

Last year during GRAMMY weekend, I interviewed Phillip Rix, a trailblazing chocolatier doing amazing things with this decadent little dessert. Ever had 23k-gold or pineapple ginger wasabi chocolates? Well, Rix is here to ensure that you can try these flavors and 200 more, at his Memphis-based store, Phillip Ashley Chocolates (which also makes worldwide deliveries). During my talk with Rix, he shared how he threw the deuces to Corporate America to follow his dreams of making unforgettable chocolates. An inspiring story indeed!

Read the interview here

Monday, February 20, 2017

Where to Eat, Drink & Be Merry: Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries @ Los Angeles (Updated for 2017)

In 2016, I launched a list featuring 16 of the Top Black-Owned  Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries in Los Angeles in honor of Black History Month, which runs the entire month of February. 

Now, in 2017, I'm thrilled to add 12 more places to this list: 
  • Bayou Grille, Bludso's BBQ, Café Buna, Chick Fil A (Venice), Comfort LA, Harold & Belles, Les Sisters, Messob, Rusty Pot, Serving Spoon, Taste of Universal, The Flavor Table
From vegetarian Ethiopian fare to popular Brazilian dishes, jazzy Sunday brunches, both Southern-style and health-conscious soul food, scrumptious BBQ and more, this list highlights a range of eclectic and diverse range of tastes that are sure to please all palates. 

Presented in alphabetical order, this list is in no way exhaustive and represents the places that yours truly has personally frequented and loved. I truly look forward to adding even more places in the future. 

In the meantime, take a look below, and let me know in the comments section where you frequent as well!

* Note – Places highlighted in brown represent 2017 additions. 


Azla vegan – Azla vegan is a casual eatery that's housed in the Mercado La Paloma, which is an incubator for first-generation business owners. Azla is also the first Ethiopian restaurant to open in South L.A. Here, you'll find healthy, vegan twists on traditional Ethiopian dishes, such as the Shimbra pictured below. Ran by Nesanet and her mother, Chef Azla, it's the perfect stop for a quick bite, if you’re in the downtown vicinity.

Bayou Grille – Bayou Grille brings the flavors of New Orleans to Inglewood, featuring Po’Boys, “Creole Classics” like jambalaya and étouffée, and my favorite, the Louisiana Finger Lickers, pictured below — hot wings, with a kick. You can also order seafood platters, where items like catfish, salmon, red snapper, shrimp and oysters can either be grilled or fried, and come with a side of your choice, salad and amazing French bread.

Bludso's BBQ – The “Pitmaster” Kevin Bludso launched his first BBQ joint in Compton and has now expanded to Hollywood and, even internationally, to Melbourne, Australia. His Hollywood location somehow simultaneously feels casual and upscale — with BBQ and sides served family-style on platters covered by brown paper, right alongside fancy craft cocktails and an impressive list of high-end whiskeys. Tip: definitely order the chicken link, stuffed with creamy cheese and spicy jalapeños — you'll love it.

Brownstone Bistro – This West L.A. restaurant offers an amazing Sunday brunch buffet that rotates its African-American and Caribbean-inspired selections, on a weekly basis. Some breakfast/lunch goodies to expect, on any given Sunday: BBQ chicken, yams, shrimp & grits (pictured below), breakfast potatoes, gumbo, grilled veggies and so much more. Highly recommended for large parties and special occasions as well.

Buffalo Wild Wings (Baldwin Hills) – Like any other Buffalo Wild Wings across the country, expect to find a casual sports bar atmosphere to consume copious amounts of wings and beer while watching the latest games. Yet what sets this location apart from other BWW establishments is that it's achieved the highest sales percentage increase of any other BWW, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It's co-owned by community leaders Karim Webb and Ed Barnett pictured below, who also own two other BWWs, in Carson and Torrance.

Café Buna – Café Buna in Marina del Rey literally has the largest selection of classic American breakfast and lunch favorites. With such an expansive menu, it’s so hard to choose what to order! Neal’s Cornflakes French Toast, pictured below, is a popular pick, and there's also a nice selection of hot beverages, from specialty teas to different types of hot cocoa and gano coffee — coffee made from mushrooms.

Chick-fil-A (Venice) – The fairly new Chick-fil-A in Venice on Lincoln Blvd. may be like any other Chick-fil-A in the world for the most part, except for one small detail: it’s owned by Local Franchise Operator Kayla Griffin, an African-American woman who’s been climbing up the corporate Chick-fil-A ladder for the past several years. She first got her start by working at the Chick-fil-A near USC (Fight On!), did a stint at the Hollywood location and opened up new Chick-fil-As all across the country. Now, she’s launched the first franchise in Venice. Similar to its Hollywood counterpart, this Chick-fil-A has a drive-thru window, a line that queues outside and outdoor seating. And of course, it has infamous Chick-fil-A staples, like waffle fries and Chick-N-Minis. 

Comfort LA  – Casual and unassuming, Comfort LA dishes out fried chicken wings covered in “that sauce” and soul food sides like greens, yams and mac ’n’ cheese. Board games, cards and dominoes are placed on the communal tables and a smooth soundtrack of R&B and hip-hop hits fills the one-room establishment. Open until 3 a.m. on the weekends and with a free BYOB policy, there’s really no better place to stop by to get late night munchies in DTLA after the nightclubs / bars / lounges close.

Dulan's Soul Food Kitchen – This family-owned chain spans two generations of restaurateurs serving up Southern style soul food to the masses. Self-proclaimed “King of Soul” Adolf Dulan operates the locations on Manchester Blvd. and W. Century Blvd., both in Inglewood; and his son Greg Dulan — “Restaurant & Catering Connoisseur of Soul Food in Los Angeles”— runs the Crenshaw Blvd. kitchen. All three locations feature the $18.45 Sunday Dinner Special, pictured below, which includes an entrée with stuffing or rice & gravy, two sides, cornbread and dessert. So much food, you may not need to eat for the rest of the week.

Harold & Belle's  – This upscale Creole restaurant right on Jefferson Blvd. has been an L.A. staple for more than four decades. It recently underwent a fancy new remodel, now showing off a sleek exterior and a sophisticated bar area. Fortunately, the same great well-proportioned Creole selections — like the Louisiana style catfish, pictured below — are still available.

House of Music & Entertainment, a.k.a. H.O.M.E. – H.O.M.E. in Beverly Hills has been a mecca for the black entertainment world, since opening its doors in late 2013. So much talent has come here — to entertain, and also be entertained. Goapele, Jussie Smollet, local jazz bands and DJs are just a few examples of who’s made an appearance. Aside from a vibrant music scene, H.O.M.E. also has a bar that knocks out killer cocktails and a kitchen that whips up California fare with a European influence, such as the bruschetta, pictured below.

Les Sisters – Alllll the way in the thick of the San Fernando Valley — Chatsworth to be exact — there’s a small but bustling, family-owned restaurant that has a mix of BBQ, southern soul food and creole favorites. Initially opened in 1986 by three friends, this festive and cozy neighborhood restaurant is now ran by one of the original owner’s grandchildren, Jessica and Kevin. Portions are big and an order of the hush puppies with honey is a must.

JR’s Barbecue – JR's Barbecue is a hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint that's located on one of the busiest strips of La Cienega Blvd. in Culver City. Blink too fast, and you just might miss it. Customer service can be wanting at times and the common areas could use a facelift, but the Memphis-style BBQ is consistently on point. You can't go wrong with the pork ribs (pictured below) or Pork Shoulder BBQ sandwich, and of course, a side of the “award-winning” BBQ sauce.

Messob Ethiopian Restaurant – The Little Ethiopia area in the Fairfax district has a handful of Ethiopian restaurants, including one of my favorites, Messob. Not only do they serve traditional Ethiopian food and beverages, like the honey wine Tej, but they also have several vegan options available. Choose to sit at a standard table or around the traditional Ethiopian table, the mesob, pictured below.

My Two Cents – Chef Alisa Reynolds opened up a modest eatery on West Pico Blvd. near Fairfax Blvd. that puts a health-conscious spin on soul food favorites. Some options to expect are the Oxtail Tacos, Plantain Stuffed Pork Chop and the BBQ Fried Chicken Caesar Salad, pictured below. Plenty of vegetarian options as well. It’s fast, it’s fresh and it’s appreciatively unassuming. 

Orleans & York (Baldwin Hills) – As the name suggests, this family-operated delicatessen chain draws its inspiration from both the New Orleans and New York culinary scenes. Top picks: the fried shrimp Po’ boy pictured below and the Buffalo wings. The wait can be long, so call in advance to place an order and pick it up. There are other locations in Inglewood and Downtown L.A., and three more will open soon, in Carson, Orange County and the Mid-Wilshire area.

Pips on La Brea – No one does a Sunday Jazz Brunch quite like Pips. With a Jazz saxophonist playing R&B and smooth jazz hits, endless rounds of fruity sangria and mimosas, and a delectable buffet spread of Italian favorites, I’d see no reason not to spend at least three to four hours here. Best seat in the house when the weather’s gorgeous: on the secluded patio shaded by massive, breezy trees.

Post & Beam – Post & Beam in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza has a phenomenal afternoon happy hour in its bar area. Aside from delicious food options, the bar designs extraordinarily refreshing seasonal cocktails, including white peach sangria, moscow mules and mojitos. The restaurant has a swanky, debonair vibe, with a dapper crowd to match.

Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles – The originators of the legendary “chicken and waffle” combo. They’ve also mastered sides like mac ’n’ cheese and cornbread, and drinks like the Sunset, a super sweet blend of lemonade and fruit punch. Seven locations in total, throughout Southern California. 

Rusty Pot Café – The Rusty Pot Café in downtown Inglewood is a brunch spot that serves up classic soul food breakfast and lunch options, including the Fried Chicken and Waffles, pictured below. They also have their own signature dishes, such as the Truffle & Parmesan Fries, accompanied with honey mustard dipping sauce (so good!). With only seven tables inside and a couple outdoors, the space is super small, but it’s totally worth the wait that you may have to face to get a seat.

Simply Wholesome – One of the only places in the city where you can shop for vitamins and natural foods, and then also sit down for a satisfying meal. Simply Wholesome houses both a health store and a café, and frequently produces community events, including live band performances. The smoothies — almost 50 in total — and their Jamaican patties, both pictured below, are great on-the-go snacks.

Southern Girl Desserts – Cupcakes, cakes, cookies, cobblers, puddings and pies, and so much more can be found at this dessert shop in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. While traditional and classic options — such as red velvet cupcakes — are available, expect the unexpected here, too. For example, there are Hennessey and Coke, Chicken & Waffle and Peach Cobbler cupcakes. There's also an adorably chic dining area, to sit and savor your treats.

Taste of Universal – With a soft launch in Fall 2016, Taste of Universal celebrated its official grand opening earlier this month. The teeny tiny sandwich shop in DTLA has an eclectic, out-of-this-world interior theme, with murals of colorful planets, bright stars and a larger-than-life astronaut floating around in space. Taste of Universal is bringing a taste of Dallas to L.A. by featuring two main items: 1) signature sandwiches with different types of BBQ sauces — including pineapple, smoked bacon, Korean and sweet Thai chili — and 2) gourmet shaved ice, with more than 25 flavors to pick and choose from. 

The Flavor Table – No, they don’t take reservations and yes you will have to wait at least 10 – 20 minutes for a table, but brunch at The Flavor Table is absolutely worth it. The servings are enormous and the service is exceptional. They also have a cute patio in the back that’s perfect when the weather is right. Come with your appetite and don’t forget to leave with at least one slice of the layered cake already packaged and ready to-go (flavors vary). 

The Serving Spoon – Drive by The Serving Spoon in Inglewood on any given Sunday, just after church lets out, and you will see everybody and their aunties/cousins/grandmamas/friends/other family members in line, waiting to have brunch. With huge portions of well-seasoned homestyle soul food, it’s no wonder why this diner is so popular. And, perhaps it also has to do with the complimentary champagne they provide on Sundays.

The Savoy Entertainment Center – A low-key, laid-back club/lounge in Inglewood that frequently hosts up-close-and-personal live music performances and various weekly events. Scores of R&B legends have graced this venue's stage throughout the years: Goapele, Johnny Gill, Kelly Price, Kenny Lattimore, Chrisette Michelle (pictured below), Raheem Devaughn, Stevie Wonder — the list literally goes on and on. And when there's not a performance, DJs are typically spinning R&B, hip-hop, dancehall, reggae and/or rap. Also stop by for the $1 tacos on Taco Tuesdays.

Wood Spoon – A Brazilian restaurant in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Phenomenal, fresh options with rich, bold flavors. You’re apt to find owner Natalia Pereira strolling through the premises — in the kitchen or charmingly chatting with customers. Pictured below is the Moqueca, a stew with coconut milk, seafood and spices.

Xen Lounge – An indoor-outdoor lounge, located in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. Opened by actor Duane Martin in 2012, Xen is a popular place for events, including day parties, night functions and private affairs. I haven’t explored the food menu here, but I will say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their cocktails and eclectic décor.

*Photo credits: Buffalo Wild Wings - Jason Clark; The Savoy Entertainment - Earl Gibson III;  Xen Lounge - Xen Lounge website

Monday, February 6, 2017

Where to Be Merry: Motown the Musical @ The Pantages Theatre

Motown the Musical returns to Los Angeles with a run at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Shows are daily (except for Monday, Feb. 6) until Sunday, Feb. 12. 

Motown the Musical serves as the biography of Berry Gordy, Jr., the founder of Motown, the record label that literally shaped the sound of American music in the late ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. However, while his life account may be the main storyline of this musical, hands down, it’s not the focal point. Instead, the scores of Motown hits — more than 50 in total — are at the center of this three-hour-long production.

Indeed, the show underscores Motown favorites, with each character anxiously waiting to break into the next song. Dialogue — while quick, witty and lighthearted — seems to fall secondary to tunes like “Do You Love Me” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.”

However, that’s not to say that the various plot highlights aren’t fascinating in their own right. It’s interesting to learn how Gordy, played by Chester Gregory (pictured below), first got his break into the music industry by writing for Jackie Wilson. And how Gordy came up with the name “Motown.”

The numerous trial and tribulations that Gordy and Motown faced aren’t left out either — hardships like Gordy having to initially borrow $800 from his family to launch the record label and being countersued by his writing team, Holland–Dozier–Holland.

It’s also revealed how pivotal moments in American history affected Gordy, the label and his artists. One scene in particular shows the genesis of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” Gordy and Gaye (Jarran Muse, pictured below) are in Gordy’s office, having a heated debate on whether or not Gaye should release the song. In the end, although he has his reservations, Gordy shares that he trusts Gaye’s decision to produce the song, and as we all know, the rest is history. 

The musical shares how Gordy met Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and the Primettes, who were eventually renamed The Supremes. The cast also eloquently portrays the Four Tops, Teena Marie, Rick James, The Marvelettes, The Miracles, The Temptations, The Contours and the Commodores.

Speaking of the cast, they dazzle in their period costumes that are so detailed, from the ‘60s bouffant hairdos down to the sparkling gowns and sharp suits. And while nothing can compare to the real Marvin Gaye’s sensual crooning or the actual Smokey Robinson’s clear melodic voice, the cast does a respectable job of replicating songs and performing intricate and soulful choreographed dances. The Jackson 5, led by the young Michael Jackson (CJ Wright) did incredible renditions of “ABC,” “I Want You Back” and “Who’s Loving You.”

The set itself also impresses, accurately capturing the look and feel of each decade and location. We are literally transported to Paris with Gordy and Diana Ross (Allison Semes), as they sit at a romantic dinner with the Eiffel Tower and soft twinkling lights in the background. 

With the actual Gordy as a co-producer of the show, Motown the Musical feels as though it’s providing an insider’s perspective into what it was like to be part of one of the most legendary, prolific record labels in the U.S., if not the world. It’s almost three hours of upbeat songs sprinkled with interesting musical facts. A must to see for anyone who loves Motown music!

For more information: 

All photos (except the first and last) courtesy of Motown the Musical website.