The narrow stretch of Overland Avenue just north of Venice Boulevard in West Los Angeles doesn't seem like the kind of place where you could find anything decent to eat. The street's odd collection of old apartments, bungalows, auto-repair shops and offbeat retailers would seem to lend itself more to greasy spoons or take-out stands than nice restaurants and good entertainment.
But nestled between a liquor store and a gym-equipment retailer is the Overland Cafe, a homey little restaurant that serves up some tasty meals and, twice each week, some of the best jazz on the Westside.
The decor won't knock your socks off; the place looks like, well, a cafe. Large windows, white walls, colorful art and a smattering of potted plants. But there's also a cheery, circular fireplace in one room that's great this time of year, and an outside patio that's pleasant when the weather is warmer.
The best time to visit the cafe is a Friday or Saturday night. From 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., the cafe features some of the coolest jazz bands that play the smaller clubs around town.
Once a Sandwich Shop
Live music is a relative newcomer to the Overland. "We started out as a sandwich shop in the '70s, but converted to table service and brought in jazz a few years ago, after a bunch of new clubs and restaurants opened in Santa Monica, West Hollywood and other parts of the Westside," said Mark Sands, the cafe's owner.
"We had to do something, or we would've been in big trouble. The jazz has really helped out our business." So much so, Sands adds, that he's thinking of hiring bands to play one or two other nights each week.
Exactly who visits the cafe on jazz nights is, to a large extent, determined by which group is playing. Yuppies tend to like the fusion jazz bands, such as the Louis Taylor Quartet and David Patterson & Airplay. Harder-core jazz fans turn out for straight-ahead groups like Chuck Johnson & Interplay and the Ron Affif Trio. There's no cover charge, but a $5 minimum.
Your money goes a long way at the Overland Cafe. Dinners start at $5.95; the $8.95 seafood pasta alfredo, with linguine, shrimp, scallops and crab in a tasty sauce, is a crowd favorite. Several fresh-fish and vegetarian dishes under $10 are offered each night.
The setting is informal and relaxed; there's no stage, so the performers are tucked into a corner, just a few feet from the nearest table. That makes for a closer, more intimate dining experience (with both your companion and the band) than you get at establishments where the performers are on a stage and sometimes hidden from your table's view. Diners who don't want such a close encounter with the musicians retreat to the opposite end of the restaurant and warm themselves next to the fireplace.
Many people prefer to drop by about 11 p.m. on the weekends, after the dinner crowd has thinned, to catch the last hour or so of jazz and grab a dessert. The Overland Cafe has real New York cheesecake "imported" from S&S in Manhattan, as well as several favorites from the Cheesecake Factory. Espresso is $1.50.
Many of the restaurant's patrons work at the nearby movie and television studios, and occasionally a movie star stops by for a bite.
The Overland Cafe has a modest selection of beer and California wines. There's no dancing, bar or hard alcohol, which makes it a lousy place to visit if you're looking for Mr. or Ms. Goodbar. But it's a great place to go with a sweetheart or pal, especially if you like jazz.
The Overland Cafe, 3601 Overland Ave., West Los Angeles; (213) 559-9999.