Carrie Nation was a devout temperance crusader during Prohibition made famous for “smashing” saloons with hatchets under the guise of God’s will. She was thrown in jail many times for ripping boozy drinking dens to pieces, but in her later years, Nation retired to a little house in Arkansas that became known as Hatchet Hall. Funny that that teetotaler was the inspiration for chef Brian Dunsmoor’s just-opened restaurant in Culver City. There’s nothing anti-booze about Hatchet Hall.
Taking over the former Waterloo & City space, Dunsmoor—along with partners Jonathan Strader, who also worked at Hart and the Hunter and Ladies’ Gunboat Society at Flores with the chef, and Louie Ryan, owner of The Townhouse in Venice and Santa Monica’s Zanzibar—turned the Washington Boulevard spot into a wood-fired, Southern-tinged, seasonal California restaurant. Drinks for the two bars—a main bar in front and the hidden speakeasy-type room in the back—are handled by barman Cappy Sorentino, who was last at Spoonbar in Healdsburg, with wines selected by Maxwell Leer, formerly of Bestia.
Tucked between A-Frame and The Corner Door, Hatchet Hall complements the burgeoning Washington Boulevard scene well. The entire place is sort of funky and filled with mismatched furniture, a whitewashed oyster bar, vintage mirrors and artwork, taxidermy, and other flora and fauna. The menu isn’t easy to pinpoint either, taking as many cues from both the American playbook as the global one, but it is on point with the wood-fired trend right now.
“The hearth is central to the kitchen, but it’s more than that here,” Dunsmoor says. “I want to look backwards before I start looking forward. It’s just about using great ingredients and less technique. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. I want to do timeless food, not just trendy food.”
The Georgia native has been cooking in L.A. long enough that his food skews as much Southern California as Southern. Take the half duck, which starts with a sweet tea brine and spends time in an old-school Texas smoker, and comes with barbecue pickles and rolls. “It’s somewhere between Peking duck service and a Southern-style barbecue,” the chef says. Only 12 of those are served a night.
The grill isn’t only reserved for meats. There’s a wood-fired local stone crab, which gets cracked before hitting the table, sided by a rich crab butter. “You have to get in there and pick it yourself,” he adds. There’s also a brined and grilled pork chop served with sweetbreads and chanterelles in a Madeira sauce. The heritage pigs come from Oliver Woolley’s Peads and Barnetts farm in San Diego, which Dunsmoor has used at all of his most recent ventures.
“I’ve been pretty resistant [to] vegetarians over the years, but I’ve grown a lot,” he says with a chuckle. So there are plenty of vegetables on the menu “and only two have meat products in them.” One sleeper dish so far has been the grilled carrots with Moroccan spices, yogurt, chimichurri and Anson Mills benne seeds, which resemble sesame seeds and are popular in the South.
For desserts, pastry chef Paige Russell, who was most recently at Tavern, is making things like panna cotta with a thin chocolate coating you crack like Magic Shell, and a blueberry crisp with oat ice cream.
“My team is amazing,” Dunsmoor says. “Everyone should be a sous chef. The whole staff. It’s such an honor to work with young and talented people, like Cappy and Paige, who are thinking outside of the box.”
Sorentino oversees two cocktail lists, one for the main bar and the other for the more spirit-forward back bar. You’ll find something like a batched root beer-inspired gin and tonic served on tap in the main restaurant, and the In Fashion, a twist on an Old Fashioned made with ham-infused bourbon and pecan bitters. The back bar, which they lovingly call the “old man’s bar,” opens at 8 p.m. nightly.
“We wanted it to be light and fun in the front and get darker when you head towards the back,” says Dunsmoor. “The back bar is like this place where men used to go to hide from their family.” And where Carrie Nation could never find them. The restaurant opens at 5:30 p.m. nightly.
Hatchet Hall, 12517 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; 310-391-4222