Downtown Long Beach, California’s Restaurant Week – tagged “Cheese Week” came to an end last week. I was lucky enough to visit 11 diverse restaurants while getting to know this eclectic urban beach community. For my money, it truly celebrated the ingenuity and innovation of several independent, locally-owned restaurants. It gave restaurants a much-needed boost during January when business often slows, allowing them to showboat a bit with creativity and imagination. The economic impact is also felt by industry suppliers who deliver goods and services to Long Beach’s vital restaurant industry; customers love it because dining on specially developed menus brings many new combinations to the table and feels downright decadent. Special pricing was a pure bonus.
Downtown Long Beach Restaurant Week is a great event that's just plain good for showcasing what the downtown area has to offer. I was pleased with how many locals showed up for the festivities, and how many tourists took a leap of faith and ordered off the Cheese Week menus.
The downtown area is safe, walkable and compact. Parking can be a bit of an issue, but with a little pre-planning finding the perfect parking spot is possible. I was impressed with how well the staff at each of the ten restaurants I visited knew all about the event and the showcase menu. Each was eager to share their specials with me, as well as the background of their restaurant. On a special note, Long Beach has just passed a new ordinance allowing leashed pets on dining patios. Many of the restaurants bring out bowls of water and a treat to welcome their tail-wagging guests.
What was the biggest lesson of Restaurant Week in Downtown Long Beach? It’s a year-round culinary trail, all there for the experiencing. You name the food or drink you’re yearning for and you’re likely to find it. You name your price range and you’ll easily find it.
To read about my pre Cheese Week visits to five participating restaurants go here. Below are my Cheese Week visit reviews (in order of my tasting) to the last five restaurants I visited. There’s also a bonus olive recipe from the amazing District Wine people. Enjoy.
The Potholder Café Too: Owned by Tom Byrd and Kevin Pittsey, the restaurant at 301 W Broadway has its own parking (a real find in the Downtown District) and features a menu that is loaded with delicious homemade breakfast items, amazing salsa, and fresh squeezed O.J. Dog friendly patio, it also offers lunch options, including favorite sandwiches, hamburgers, and salads. Come early on the weekends or be prepared to wait. Ask about the omelets, French Toast Kabobs and the Max Daddy Challenge featuring 18 inch pancakes. Open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 562/432-6824 or visit www.thepotholdercafe.com Highly recommend.
Gaucho Grill: This is the place to enjoy a savory selection of authentic Argentinean cuisine. The menu is overflowing with choices of all kinds like a variety of sausages, empanadas, morcillas, mollejas, chicken, fish, vegetarian selections, and pasta. Expect large portions. Many of the menu items including the steaks are sizzled on the grill. Pair them with an Argentine boutique wine by the glass and be prepared to relax and enjoy. 200 Pine Ave. 562-590-5000 http://www.gauchogrillusa.com/long%20beach/index-2.html
The Stave: You’ll like this international wine and beer bar with delicatessen influences located on the newly finished Promenade in Downtown Long Beach. It has an edgy contemporary feel that somehow equates into a comfy atmosphere. Choose an indoor or outdoor seat and then order direct pour draft beers, stylish wines by the glass, or cheese plates with cured meats. The expansive patio features two contemporary bar height fire-pits. Dress up or down, this makes an excellent date night or business meeting place. Tourists and locals alike experience great service and free parking (wohoo!). The owners have a message for guests, “We are for every one – stop on by, take a break and share a laugh. We look forward to being a part of the community. Cheers.” Highly recommend. http://thestavebar.com
Congregation Ale House: If you’re looking for a casual good time, great food, knowledgeable wait staff, and amazing micro brewed beer, this is the place. Located on The Promenade, expect a relaxed atmosphere filled with locals. They know this is place to bring guests or go solo. The food is served on time and pairs well with the beer offerings. There’s something very special going on in the kitchen and in the taps. Even non-beer drinkers will be able to find a beer they can love. Newbies can order the Liesmans Cherry Fruitesse beer and feel like part of the beer-drinking crowd. Serious beer drinkers will find an entire selection suited to their every whim. Order off the menu, the chalk board, or simply ask your server what’s best. Sit at the bar and be treated to an electronic beer glass cooler. Congregation is a place you have to experience yourself to understand just how special it is. Casual. Highly recommend. http://www.congregationalehouse.com/
George’s Greek Café: It’s darn hard finding a really great Mom & Pop restaurant, but George’s Greek Café keeps the tradition alive. You can find owner George Loizides working weekdays at the entrance to the restaurant welcoming guests to “A little piece of Greece in Southern California.” His wife Rodou still oversees the kitchen. She pops in often to make sure the kitchen is focused and producing her recipes exactly as if she was there. The staff is eager to please and no request is out of bounds.
This restaurant uses no shortcuts, exhibiting the greatest care and professionalism in preparing fresh, delicious, tender and healthy food. Only carefully selected quality products are used to produce healthy, traditional, fresh, homemade Greek dishes, prepared daily from scratch.
Choose inside or outside seating. There is a heavenly fully stocked bar. George welcomes guests to taste any of his wines before ordering, and encourages guests to use their fingers whenever possible while dining. Expect a family friendly atmosphere, where dogs can join their owners on the patio. Feel free to order a delicate salad, a 5 course – bring it all on- family style dinner, or a flaming appetizer. No processed foods used here; just pure affordable gourmet Greek food at its very best. Highly recommend. 135 Pine Ave. Validated parking and event area in the back. http://georgesgreekcafe.com/
District Wine Olives
District Wine is a wine bar, lounge, and retail shop offering wine tastings every day. District is a place where the novice and connoisseur alike can enjoy over 30 wines by the glass. They specialize in amazing small lot wines and imported beer.
4 cups kalamata olives or olive mix
2 oranges, juice and zest plus 1 orange sliced
1 lemon, juice and zest
5 cloves garlic, thin slice
1 teaspoon chili flakes
4 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 T dried rosemary
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
Heat oil, garlic, chili, bay, rosemary, thyme in pot at 220 degrees. Heat until fragrant but not brown. Toss with olives and add juices and zests to order, add citrus slices and mix.