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A Southern oasis is blooming in downtown L.A.

Three dishes of food sitting atop a light wooden table.
Appetizers at Southern-inflected Joyce run a gamut of flavors, including harissa-roasted carrots, mac and cheese and rockfish ceviche. Try starting with a shellfish platter or small plates of kale braised in coconut milk and crisp-squishy hushpuppies.
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“Sacred” wouldn’t be too strong a word to describe the stature of one-pot rice dishes among the culinary traditions of the coastal American South.

Their names — red rice, dirty rice, bog, jambalaya, hoppin’ John, perloo — speak as much to regional vernacular as they do to textural distinctions or time-honored combinations of meat, seafood or legumes. Louisiana’s famous creations, for example, tend to be fluffier or more densely saucy than South Carolinian bog, which is as soupy as the word suggests.

They all share heritage via generations of enslaved Africans and African Americans, many with origins in West Africa where rice has been farmed for thousands of years, who transformed Southern tidal fields into marvels of engineering under cruel conditions, and who codified adaptive recipes in the kitchens where they labored.

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Perloo is a highly seasoned staple of the South Carolina Lowcountry, traditionally fortified by rich stock. The word, murky in origin, likely links to Indian pulao and Persian pilau through centuries of maritime trade routes. In “Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes From the Matriarch of Edisto Island,” Emily Meggett’s essential book on the Lowcountry’s Sea Island Creole foodways, she includes a forthrightly delicious chicken perloo glossed with bacon grease and redoubled with salt pork.

One doesn’t much see perloo on restaurant menus, particularly in Los Angeles, but chef Sammy Monsour has built a career employing his North Carolina roots as a worldview and springboard. At Joyce, the restaurant he opened with three partners last August in downtown Los Angeles, he dials back the porcine goodness and assembles his loose, layered interpretation of the dish around seafood.

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A plate of oyster and shrimp perloo in a pink bowl and white plate with a black spoon, atop a light wooden surface.
Perloo is a highly seasoned staple of the South Carolina Lowcountry, and isn’t seen much at restaurants elsewhere. Joyce chef Sammy Monsour assembles his loose, layered interpretation of the dish around seafood.

Carolina Gold, a nutty-tasting variety of long-grain rice grown on Edisto Island, simmers in lobster stock and tomato broth with onions, garlic, green pepper and other aromatics. Tiger prawns peek out from among the cooked grains. Hunks of smoked Spanish-style chorizo and shucked oysters have been splayed over the surface. Monsour’s version turns out wetter than most, taking on the pleasing consistency of rice porridge — more like Carolina bog, come to think of it. The presentation has a sense of generosity, in size and in spirit. Its flavors teeter between earthy and shellfish-sweet.

I might start dinners at Joyce with a shellfish platter, or with small plates of kale braised in coconut milk and crisp-squishy hushpuppies flavored with crawfish and tapered pieces of fried catfish given the Nashville-style hot chicken treatment. I have a hard time straying from the perloo as a main course, though. Partly because I enjoy it so much, and also because it embodies the most focused aspects of Monsour’s often-abstracted approach to coastal Southern cuisines. Angelenos might remember his global-minded approach during his four years at Preux & Proper, also downtown, which closed in 2020.

His new project sits on a wide block at the base of the Eighth & Grand apartments. The surrounding street energy, a sentient tableau of peopled sidewalks and constant traffic, sets up a satisfying mood shift for when you walk into the restaurant. The space, designed by Lauren Waters, has a calming whimsy that transcends its effervescent nighttime crowds. Powder-blue walls match the color of banquettes upholstered with material as soft as a security blanket. Woven dining chairs and wicker chandeliers that cast orange light give the room a genteel air.

A side view of a fried shrimp sandwich on a plate, arranged with a napkin on a table.

Chef Sammy Monsour opened Joyce with three partners last August in downtown Los Angeles, where he’s serving a fried shrimp sandwich.

A view of the interior of Joyce's restaurant with powder blue walls.

Inside Joyce, its plants and powder blue walls are hallmarks of the restaurant’s calming whimsy.

Joyce's dining room, with three portraits on the wall of a woman in different ages and fashion eras of her life.

One dining room wall is lined with portraits of the restaurant’s namesake, restaurateur Prince Riley’s mother, in different ages and fashion eras of her life.

A portrait of four people at a bar of a restaurant.

Chef Sammy Monsour, bar director Kassidy Wiggins and restaurateurs Athena Riley and Prince Riley at Joyce downtown.

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Notice the trio of mounted portraits, by local artist Shannon Scates, depicting a woman in different ages and fashion eras of her life. That’s the restaurant’s namesake and the mother of Prince Riley, who founded Joyce with his wife, Athena Riley. Prince has managed restaurants, most recently Old Crow Smokehouse, since college, and for the couple’s first business he wanted to honor his mother’s heritage: She was born in Alabama and raised in Georgia before moving to Chicago, where Prince grew up.

Teaming with Monsour and beverage director Kassady Wiggins, who also are married, was an innate fit. Wiggins, a native of South Carolina, embraces the thesis of Joyce in her cocktail lineup. She winningly tweaks the Old-Fashioned using Maker’s Mark 46; Woodford Reserve’s sassafras and sorghum bitters, with their subtle notes of root beer; and syrup made from roasted benne, the predecessor to the modern sesame cultivar with ties to West Africa and a long history in Charleston.

Her crew of bartenders has an equal knack for stingingly icy gin martinis. They drink very well alongside platters of oysters, or other raw bar options like Hokkaido scallops on the half-shell garnished with bright citrus-infused mirin, caramelized fennel relish and scattered benne seeds. The embellishments, especially the fennel, hover at the edge of overwhelming the scallops without quite tipping over.

A plate of macaroni and cheese on a wooden table.
Joyce’s crusty, cheddary baked mac and cheese is a favorite appetizer to start with.
(Stephanie Shih / For The Times)

As someone from the South, I own that I prefer the already complex dishes of the region’s many distinct cuisines to retain some recognizable sense of place. So I gravitate to Monsour’s skillet full of crusty, cheddary baked mac and cheese; the honey-glazed fried game hen with a side of angel biscuits, tiny yet towering; and a straightforward smoked pork chop with grits, coffee-spiked jus (playing on red-eye gravy) and chowchow, the region’s ubiquitous pickled relish.

Sometimes the dishes, like sticky lamb ribs glazed in thick pomegranate molasses barbecue sauce and finished with fried rosemary and pickled persimmons, come off overwrought, and a too-busy take on a Caesar salad could use one less ingredient. Elsewhere the seasoning needs tuning: The spice rub on the shrimp cocktail is harshly salty and unnecessary, and rockfish ceviche over mashed avocado and covered with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds could simply use more acid. I wish the crab baked under a blanket of Gruyère didn’t taste so fishy.

For dessert, beignets best return the meal full-circle to welcome basics. Their custardy, straight-from-the-fryer pleasure doesn’t need to rely on the bourbon-vanilla dulce de leche dipping sauce, though it doesn’t detract either.

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Joyce is also open for lunch, a happy boon in an era when downtown’s midday dining choices have diminished. The kitchen constructs a fun, messy spicy chicken sandwich paved with pimento cheese.

The restaurant also has found an audience for weekend brunch. Monsour leans in with the playful touches: a smashburger slicked with Duke’s mayo sweetened with maple syrup and cinnamon, avocado toast dressed with cucumber-mint salsa and whizzed with drizzles of benne tahini.

It probably won’t be a surprise that instead I go straight for long-simmered collards and the no-bells-and-whistles shrimp that arrive over pink-speckled grits made from a variety of corn rightly named Jimmy Red, grown on Edisto Island.

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Joyce

770 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 395-0202, joycela.com

Prices: Dinner raw bar dishes starting at $23, small plates $11-$35, group-format entrees $44-$74, desserts $13-$15. Lunch sandwiches $22-$36. Most brunch plates $20-$29.

Details: Dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Full bar. Street, valet and nearby lot parking.

Recommended dishes: Shrimp and oyster perloo, raw bar oysters and scallops, coconut-braised kale, mac and cheese, smoked pork chop, Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich at lunch, shrimp and grits at brunch.

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