Photos by Brian Addison.
Admittedly, food writing seems out of place for an advocacy publication that revolves around issues of livability and urban design. However, we found ourselves consistently brought back to the idea of food as sustenance, as community, and as form of connection. Food brings people together and, sadly, has become political by way of food deserts and limited accessibility; food is inherently connected to the ideas behind livability and new urbanism. Of course, food isn’t always so dire; it can and does have the wonderful power to alter communities. Places like Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland, The Nest in Bellflower, Guelagetza in K-Town, Robert Earl’s BBQ in North Long Beach… These places have permitted food to act as a connector for their communities and with it, strengthened the backbone of small business and families.
We hope you enjoy our foray into foodie culture. Here’s to the stomachs of Long Beach.
Al Pastor Enchilada Meatballs.
Beer Belly coming to Long Beach wasn’t a fast process but damn well worth the wait.
Jan van Dijs, the adaptive reuse master of Long Beach, had been courting owner Jimmy Han for years ever since van Dijs completely revitalized the architectural value of the southwest corner of 3rd and Long Beach Blvd. What was once a bland, giant furniture store has now become a hub for unique-to-SoCal businesses to flourish.
And Beer Belly continues that tradition, squished between Beachwood’s The Blendery on Long Beach Blvd. and Rainbow Juices on 3rd. But let’s not dismiss the implications of what it means for Long Beach as a whole: a Los Angeles staple, easily taunted and lured to open a second location in anywhere from DTLA to Santa Monica to Venice, decided to choose Long Beach. That speaks volumes to where we’re at…
While we already noted Beer Belly’s beautiful design, it’s time to get down to grubusiness.
Let’s offer a frank admission, Long Beach: gastropubs are getting banal. We know you know what we’re talking about because Long Beach itself helped usher The Gastropub in by way of staples like Congregation and Beachwood. But it’s become terribly redundant: stellar craft beer taps paired with excessively decadent offerings that include a bacon or egg on seemingly everything along with appetizers ranging from poutine to poutine with tots to poutine with clarified butter-fried organic single-source heirloom potatoes and a bacon fat gravy from the ever ubiquitous “Grandma.”
Caribe Welcome (left, front): aged rum, apricot, coconut cream, coconut water, lime, and cinnamon. Little Cloud (right, back): bourbon, Lilet Blanc, grapefruit, ginger, and lemon.
It is not that we’re against this; we love our egg burgers and bacon maple [insert any form of fried something here] and poutine. They’re wonderful. But we yearn for diversity in our food and our spice rack.
So what makes Chef Wes Lieberher (who also headed the flagship Beer Belly’s menu as well as Whiz) has done is become inspired by our city itself to create food. He moved to Long Beach recently and is already enamored with the drug that is Long Beach. Surely, he has the stellar craft beer tap menu along with
“My wife and I moved to Belmont Shore,” Lieberher said. “She loves the feel of the neighborhood and I am all about the farmers markets so it’s a win-win. There’s so many [farmers markets] that it’s truly dictating the menu. Expect it to change minus the staples.”
Those staples include the flagship’s duck fat fries: fries tossed in rendered duck fat (or for the pork lovers there are bacon fat fries and for the vegans there are good ol’ canola oil fries). For those wishing for death by duck, get the fries that are dubbed precisely that: Death by Duck fries are fried potatoes, tossed in duck fat, and then topped with duck confit and fried duck fat bits. It’s decadent taken to new heights.
The LBC Crab Corn.
But then there’s the new stuff—like a nod to Long Beach’s heavily influential Latino culture by way of Lieberher’s al pastor enchilada meatballs. Taking on the dangerous but rewarding task of mixing cultures, Lieberher makes them Italian-style but serves them with Mexican accoutrements. These wonderful, meaty spheres of flavor use a base that would make my Italian grandmother happy: good ol’ ground pork with onion. Where Lieberher takes off is through the addition of pineapple, achiote, and cheddar. Add a Nutella mole–you read that right—and some sour cream and pickled jalapeños and you have one of their best appetizers.
Another direct nod to Long Beach culture comes by way of the LBC Crab Corn, a genuinely odd-but-wonderful concoction of corn off the cob and jumbo lump crab mixed with bell peppers, lime, mozzarella and topped with a chipotle aioli and cilantro. It’s sea meets Latin meets… Anywhere. Which Lieberher said he loves: the diversity and kindness of Long Beach.
For desserts, think of elevated carnival fare—really elevated. Lieberher offered me the best fried Oreo I’ve ever had (sorry County Fairs across the nation). But perhaps most wondrous and regretful (in the good way) is the man’s take on French toast-as-dessert, what he calls The Capn’s Fluffernutter. He takes Captain Crunch and creates a layer on the French toast with it, shoving generous amounts of marshmallow fluff, bananas, and peanut butter before topping it off with some Nutella. Because Elvis.
Nine in the Afternoon: Reposado tequila, Aperol, strawberry, lime, and orange bitters.
As is the way of the true chef, don’t expect much to remain consistent on the menu—and that also includes its drinks. Unlike the K-Town location, DTLB’s Beer Belly has a full bar and Han decidedly to (brilliantly) bring back Karen Grill (who go to nerd out on flagship’s beer list) to head the entire bar program. We’re talking about the woman who worked side-by-side with Julian Cox to open DTLA’s Bestia, happens to be a certified cicerone, and served me quite possibly the best negroni I’ve ever had.
In other words: legitimacy.
Her beer list is great and that goes without saying; a wonderfully eclectic array of county-based beers (including Pasadena’s Craftsman Brewing, for which Grill uses their hef to create her deliciously porch pounder-like LBC Shandy). But the details of her work are found in her cocktails.
From Aperol to bourbon, Campari to Dubonnet, Grill’s cocktails are wonderfully crafted and aren’t entirely alcohol-forward. Take the Caribe Welcome, a smooth, creamy concoction of aged rum and coconut cream’n’water leveled out with apricot, lime, and cinnamon. The best apri-colada-meets-horchata you’ll ever have.
This doesn’t mean to say she doesn’t shy away from spirit-centric drinks. The aptly named Downtowner—Grill’s take on the Manhattan—is rye liquor mixed with Campari, sweet vermouth, and maraschino. Dangerously sip-able.
Get your beer belly by way of Beer Belly.
Beer Belly opens to the public on November 11 and is located at 255 Long Beach Blvd.
Editor’s note: this article originally stated that Karen Grill was an apprentice of Naomi Schimek; this is incorrect.