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Photos by Brian Addison. Above: Ellie’s burger made with Flannery beef.
It’s a discussion I’ve had with many.
I’ve had it Nathan McCullough, the man behind Padre (and soon-to-open Mezcalero LBC)’s bar program as well as the dude who has single-handedly made himself a name in DTLA as making some homages to Mexico in a cup. While he is deeply connecting with Angelenos, he “can’t quite figure out what Long Beach wants” even when he “makes exactly what they ask for.” In other words: if it isn’t a margarita at a decent price, they flee—despite praising McCullough’s concoctions when they do order them.
I’ve had the talk with Daniel Tapia—creating some of the city’s best food at 4th & Olive—as he looks at an empty restaurant despite “people constantly saying how great we are. It’s like they want to say they have something like this—a restaurant that hires vets, that creates solid food, that isn’t too pretentious—and yet, fast food has longer lines.” (My fellow writer Sarah Bennett, in her own recap of Ellie’s, dryly but brilliantly noted that every time she passes by an empty 4th & Olive, she mutters, “This is why Long Beach can’t have nice things.”)
It’s a frustrating conversation when it comes to food in Long Beach: as we begin to attract Angeleno restaurateurs—hey there, Beer Belly—and our gastronomy scene moves beyond craft beer and burgers—hey there, Portuguese Bend and San Pedro Fish Market—it seems that the things we’re cheering for aren’t the things we’re actually supporting.
“Shop local!” we scream as MADE by Millworks and shops in the East Village sit patron-less and H&M and Target are packed. “Eat local!” we scream as we defend the reselling of fast food. (Note: people actually got upset with me for letting them know that; somehow me informing folks of this made me “phony”, as a local business owner decided to put it in a post that had nothing to do with #Popeyesgate.)
And I had this conversation with Chef Jason Witzl, the culinary powerhouse that has taken a chance and invested his and his wife’s entire savings on the spot that used to occupy the beloved-but-never-changed-their-menu-in-a-decade At Last Cafe.
We both, however, arrived at the same position: the folks of Long Beach know what’s good—there’s just a learning curve there. Hell, I remember how much Portfolio patrons flipped out when its owner switched from who-knows to Illy and the thought of specialty coffee was nowhere to be found. I remember when cocktails in Long Beach meant a liquor and a soda of sorts.
With Ellie’s, I pray to the food gods that Long Beach, in its simultaneously loving and frustrating way, will embrace Ellie’s—because it’s some of the best food to arrive in the city in a long while.
Witzl is, first and foremost, unabashedly unafraid of flavor.
You’ll find dishes topped with generous shavings of Grana Padano. Your bread will be grilled with butter (that you can dip in his utterly addicting pork butter, pictured above.) Your pasta, handmade daily (like the Chitarra Pomodoro pictured above), will be topped with dollops of burrata that, wanting to cut through the saltiness of the cheese, Witzl will add a bit of citrus and herbs that create a creamy sauce all on its own.
You’ll find him being incredibly playful—like when Thanksgiving was approaching, he wanted “the entire dinner table on a plate” by mixing apples, roots, squashes, salts, and sweets in a harmoniously beautiful and colorful plate (pictured above).
You’ll also find what, for me, has replaced Working Class Kitchen’s awesome Chianina burger as the best burger I’ve had yet in Long Beach: using Flannery grass-fed beef, letting the meat speak for itself with a medium-rare wonder, Witzl’s homage to America’s most recognizable food is on par with the creation at Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s Petit Trois on Melrose.
In other words, it’s food that is hard to find in Long Beach; truly quality bistro fare that takes a hard ponder to think of when it comes to Long Beach grub.
You’re seeing the work of a man who made a name for himself heading the famed Herringbone, with its packed locations in West Hollywood and Santa Monica. He’s been a part of Jonathan Gold-list-topping Campanile. He’s been associated with Michelin-starred joints (Water Grill) and James Beard-recognized joints (Manhattan Beach Post).
You’re seeing a culinary artist take his own savings, his own risk, and planting them in Long Beach—and that, if anything, deserves not just our applause, Long Beach; it deserves our patronage.
So go. And if you’re concerned about $20 plates, then go for lunch. Or brunch (which includes bottomless rosé, not just champagne). Or take part in Witzl’s quartiere menu, where you can have a four-course dinner for $25. He isn’t ignoring Long Beach and its needs but, rather, trying to offer them something new, something outright delicious, and something we actually deserve.
Ellie’s is located at 204 Orange Ave.