Monday, June 17, 2024

FIRST LOOK: Krampus, unicorns, and creating Miracle at The Ordinarie in Long Beach

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Oh yes, Long Beach, it is that time of year: Miracle at The Ordinarie in Downtown Long Beach will officially be making its 2023 debut come Nov. 24, switching over from its (already missed) stellar autumn menu to make way for the city’s most elaborate holiday food space. And while I will happily be showcasing some of the new drink offerings as well as the nostalgia-inducing, sensory-overload decorations, it really hasn’t been discussed how the whole floor-to-ceiling operation happens.

And as with many things, it begins with not The Ordinarie’s front-facing, much-admired owner, Christy Caldwell, but of course, a woman—his wife, specifically: Jaime Caldwell.

The woman behind the wildly awesome, kitsch-on-point operation that is Miracle at The Ordinarie

“Make no mistake,” Christy said, “the real person who makes Miracle look the way it looks is my wife,” standing atop a ladder surrounded by an overwhelming stack of labeled cardboard boxes, plastic bins, and a strewn

And Jaime Ms.-Clause-if-you’re-noggy Caldwell understands the assignment: Miracle is kitschy as all perfectly-kooky hell, outright overwhelming, and overwhelmingly over-decorated—and that’s the point.

“C’mon, it’s tacky Christmas,” Jaime said. “This isn’t Martha Stewart. This isn’t an editorial layout. I want loud, colorful, tacky Christmas because it is the only way to go absolutely overboard and everyone instantly gets it.”

And it’s not that it’s just a shit ton of tacky thrown around willy-nilly. No.

It’s tacky done right, in a way that spurs nostalgia and turns an already-wonderfully warming watering hole into (unquestionably) the most beautifully saturated-in-the-spirit spaces in Long Beach for the holidays.

It’s where seemingly endless strings of shiny, colorful tinsel—broken with cardboard cutouts of Chevy Chase from A Christmas Vacation and Will Ferrell from Elf—meet strings of shiny, colorful lights.

“There is no rhyme or reason to the madness,” Jaime said. “But it does take work—there’s layers: You have the base, which is like the wrap paper that goes inside the frames on the wall and lights and basic tinsel. But then there’s all the rest. So many people don’t quite get it but you step back thinking you’ve achieved a lot and then see all the holes that need to be filled.”

Jaime is entirely right: Walking in after one day of decorating, it is easy to stand back and say, “Wow, you guys are already far ahead on this.” But as one participates directly—particularly under the directive of Jaime saying, “If something can be put somewhere, do it”—you can easily see that the more that gets added, the more you’re missing from the overall picture. Spaces become less dynamic and one’s tendency to hang yet another ornament ball become an urge almost impossible to ignore.

“Here are some bows,” Jaime will direct, “find a place to put a bow. Put a bow on it!” she chirps, referencing Portlandia.

And don’t you dare attempt to add a touch of class: When Christy suggested they put some tasteful, pine’n’cedar looking garland with white lights as an overhang above tables, it was met with a swift-but-loving rejection.

Reservations are booked—but that doesn’t make it anywhere near impossible to get in

Christy will be found continually proclaiming—truthfully, mind you—that this year’s Miracle is one that is “more community centric.”

That can be easily dismissed as Well-Of-Course-That-Is-What-an-Owner-Will-Say but in Christy’s case, he has long lamented that the popularity of Miracle at The Ordinarie comes with an increased inability for locals to be able to participate, as a huge portion of its reservations are made from those outside Long Beach.

“It really is wild how quickly reservations fill up the moment we announce them,” Christy said, “and given that a huge portion of them are from outside Long Beach, we look for ways to increase that accessibility.”

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And that means, naturally, increasing the ability to take on walk-ins by reducing the ability to make a reservation and making more space for people passing by or, at the worst, having to wait a small moment in order to step inside the Christmas haven.

And for next year? There’s a possibility the festivities will begin even earlier, though that is a complicated order: There is coordination with the group that franchises the Miracle brand, coordination with the kitchen to alter its menu earlier, and coordination with staff training, whose bartenders have to learn how to make the drinks while servers learn the menu updates.

“We are contemplating starting early,” Christy said. “Nothing for certain but we are definitely considering it.”

There are new cocktails—and yes, there is a Krampus mug

So let’s get to the Krampus mug, a giddily grotesque, gracefully gnarly lookin’ creation whose gargoyle-like mouth is rightfully used as the dispenser for the cocktail into one’s mouth. A cocktail, mind you, where the wonders of tequila, mezcal, and sherry are melded with the wonders that are all-spice, ginger, and spicy bitters dubbed “hellfire bitters.”

Let’s start with the womp-womp-ness of this gorgeous creation: It is not for sale. And it is not because the fine folks at Miracle or the finer folks at The Ordinarie don’t want to offer it up for money but the fact that, well, it just isn’t being made at the rate it needs to be made in order to put it up for sale. This leaves anyone hosting Miracle-branded events with a hyper-limited amount.

“Miracle is having a hard time manufacturing the mugs,” Christy said, “otherwise I don’t think there would be a question: It would be up for sale.”

With an admirable but likely lofty hope that thievery will remain at a minimum, there is, of course, a backup plan that aims for the the opposite in terms of target sales audience: A Christmas unicorn mug.

The drink—a gin concoction with layers of vanilla, cherry, cardamon, and cheer—features a nice little marshmallow butt protruding from its backside and is a sweet pounder. And for $22, you can take your own mug home. She cute, no doubt—and for the queers and fantasy lovers alike, this cheery little stallion will be a highlight.

And yes, the shopping experience returns with many of the same things it had before: Santa bottom mugs, T-Rex-as-Santa cups, Santa head mugs, egg nog cups, shot glasses…

…and some of the cocktails returns as well, including the snowballs-as-ice cubes-that-are painstakingly-made-by-hand-by-employees-every-day Snowball Ol’ Fashioned, Christmaspolitan, Carol Barrel, Jingle Ball Nog, Yippe Kay Yay Motherfucker!…

But the new concoctions are not to be dismissed.

The aforementioned two—The Krampus and Marshmallows & Unicorns cocktails—are certainly fun and worthy but the real stand-out is the Christmas Cricket, a creamy, minty blend of tequila, pandan (hence its color), and vanilla.

Also, happy to see they finally altered their $9 shot options—well, at least one. The gingerbread-meets-rye whiskey shot remains as the “Nice Shot” but the “Naughty Shot” got an upgrade: Using tequila as its base, its melded with hibiscus and habanero.

Bring it.

And yes, there are food specials (and stand-by favorites) courtesy of Chef Nick Eugenio

The backbone of The Ordinarie’s origin story is nearly impossible to dismiss when writing about it because the concept behind it is one of Long Beach’s strongest in terms of what it wants to be and what it harkens back toward: American hospitality, in all its complexities—and therefore, American cuisine, in all its complexities.

“American regional food is so beautiful for me because it is defined by immigrants and the Black community that have built the country,” said Chef Nick DiEugenio earlier this year. “Each city you visit in the States, their food is entirely defined by its history and the immigrants who moved there. Every city you visit has its dominant immigrant population—and that affords American cuisine a lot of creativity that is often dismissed.”

And he sticks to that hyper-American focus with the introduction of two major Christmas dishes (along with the staples like the Ordinarie burger pictured above): duck’n’ham.

Both the ham and duck are slathered in an orange-cranberry glaze—a welcomed alternative, particularly the duck, to the seemingly endless iterations of turkey—and both come with brussel sprouts and mashed potatoes.

For the full menu of cocktail offerings at Miracle at The Ordinarie, click here. The Ordinarie is located at 210 Promenade in Downtown Long Beach.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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