Sherman Oaks, CA – The Valley has been a booming destination this past year with its numerous and notable restaurant and bar openings. And now, Downtown Sherman Oaks is about to receive its newest addition on the already bustling Ventura Boulevard. Introducing Downtown Johnny’s, officially opened Wednesday, April 29, 2015!
“My Uncle Johnny introduced my family to the hospitality business with his nightclub back in 1980,” says Richard DiSisto (Principal, Vantage Restaurant Group) of the new spot’s namesake, “and his advice to me was always to keep it simple.”
Now, 35 years and many successful restaurants and bars later, DiSisto is heeding that advice with his new modern sports tavern. “The art of hospitality is all about people coming in and having a great time,” he says. “Downtown Johnny’s really goes back to basics: It is just down to earth food, approachable cocktails, a long and versatile beer list, and a great time!”
Vantage Restaurant Group Executive Chef Marc Johnson, also in charge of overseeing the kitchen and creativity at DiSisto’s neighboring seafood-inspired Tipple & Brine, created a menu of what he calls “modern tavern cuisine” for Downtown Johnny’s. “Anyone walking down the street can come in and find something they will like,” Johnson says, “but I don’t want your typical sports-bar food—I want to elevate it with modern technique, quality ingredients and unique presentation.”
This philosophy is well reflected in Downtown Johnny’s selection of Starters. Johnson prepares Chicken Wings Korean-style, flavored with spicy-savory gochujang and garnished with peanuts and cilantro. Johnson’s Poutine, which is sure to be a crowd favorite, tops hand cut French Fries with duck confit, white cheddar and perfectly rich gravy. The Deviled Eggs are kicked-up a notch with kimchi and bottarga, while the Macaroni and Cheese is made with speck and black truffles. The Tuna Tartare has an Asian flair with sesame, soy sauce and avocado, while the clever Tongue & Cheek Tacos are an authentic Mexican treat, filled with hearty and tender beef. For simpler tastes, there are plenty of bar classics, as well: house-made Beer Nuts, a large house-baked Pretzel served hot with mustard and salt, and made-from-scratch Chips with herbs and a garlicky dip.
For larger appetites, Johnson has created a long list of Salads, Flatbreads and Burgers & Sandwiches that will satisfy any taste. A Beet Salad incorporates tart orange, creamy goat cheese, spicy horseradish and crunchy pistachios, and the Brussels Sprouts come with Caesar dressing, almonds, scallions, lemon confit and sourdough. The Chicken Flatbread is topped with smoked Gouda, caramelized onions, eggplant and a romesco sauce, and the Mediterranean-styled Lamb Flatbread comes with potatoes, olives and feta. Two burger options stand out, both delivering a huge 8-ounce patty: the Downtown Burger is topped with caramelized shallots, blue cheese and mushrooms, and the Patty Melt hews to tradition, with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and house-made special sauce on toasty sourdough.
If you are coming in for dinner, you won’t want to miss any of the Mains, which run the gamut from classics—Fried Chicken, served with spicy honey and bread-and-butter pickles atop potato purée, and flatiron Steak Frites with a red wine sauce—to the more unique, including Mussels, cooked in a green-curry coconut-milk broth, and the marvelously rich Crispy Pork Belly, served over polenta with pickled ramps, oven-dried tomato and a clever vanilla bean applesauce. More fresh seafood will rotate through the menu, as well: Ocean Trout comes with beets, potatoes, grapefruit and cauliflower purée, but you will have to order it soon: Johnson plans to replace it with a salmon dish as Pacific salmon becomes more plentiful over the summer.
“I have not been this excited in a long time,” DiSisto says of Johnson’s dishes. “I can genuinely say that I really like every single thing on the menu.” One of DiSisto’s favorites is the Braised Short Rib, a hearty and filling classic served with carrot purée, English peas and gremolata.
The goal with Johnson’s menu is to keep everybody happy, and that really does mean everybody: There are also 16 gluten-free choices and several vegan and vegetarian options.
Johnson plans to change the menu with each season to incorporate what is fresh. “Switching things up keeps me interested, and it keeps diners coming back to try something new,” he says. He also plans to start making a variety of charcuterie in-house in coming weeks as well.
When it comes to beverages, Downtown Johnny’s embraces the same something-for-everyone vibe. “There is a huge spectrum of flavor profiles on both the cocktail and beer lists. We definitely cover all the bases,” says Bar Director Daniel Ponsky, a 21-year veteran of the hospitality business who has slung drinks at such notable spots as Chapter 8 Steak House in Agoura Hills, Vitello’s in Studio City and Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City.
When it comes to cocktails, “My philosophy is to keep the focus on the spirit and use the other ingredients to accentuate it,” Ponsky says. His list of eight cocktails features deceptively simple concoctions with deliciously deep flavor, like the 1st Street, a mix of gin, cucumber, lime, Fresno chiles and house-made ginger beer, or the Rye in the Eye, a rye-based Whiskey Sour with a float of cabernet wine on top.
Downtown Johnny’s will also feature 20 beers on tap, plus another 35 bottles and 6 cans. The selection focuses on local and regional brews (all but five of the draft beers are made in California), but also encompasses a wide range of styles from around the world. Some of the more unique options are Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout, a lush brew from San Diego that is like a Reese’s Cup in a glass; Früli Strawberry Beer, a sour and fruity concoction from Belgium; and Stoner Duck Hemp Brown Ale, a toasty and nutty brew made just a short distance away in Venice with a bit of herbaceousness from real hemp seeds. Four of the 20 taps will also rotate weekly, showcasing seasonal and other special beers by California breweries.
The space has been fully renovated and designed by DiSisto himself, with reclaimed wood now wrapping the dining room and outside patio to soften the formerly industrial space, a 58-foot bar and vintage booths set atop a 14-inch raised platform that DiSisto calls “the coolest seating in the entire Valley.” Every seat will have a great view for sports fans, with six televisions behind the bar, two on the patio and a pair of 9-foot drop-down screens that will show big games as well as black-and-white movies in the late night hours.
Whether you are a gourmet, a sports fanatic or just a local from the neighborhood, Downtown Johnny’s is the best new hangout in Downtown Sherman Oaks. Its keep-it-simple and back to basics philosophy ensures that everybody will have a great time. “We will find something that suits you, no matter who you are,” DiSisto says, “and we will have fun doing it.” Drop into this local haven for after work happy hour, a leisurely dinner, a fun date, or to watch a game at Downtown Johnny’s starting tonight!
Downtown Johnny’s is open daily from 4:00 pm to 1:30 am. For more information or reservations, please visit www.downtownjohnnys.com or call Downtown Johnny’s directly at 818.205.1616.