There is a deep sense of soul-searching (and definitely a hefty dose of humility) to stand as a business owner, watching your restaurant filled to the brim with basic brunchers willing to wait However Long to assure themselves they can snap a pic of some mac’n’Cheetos for their Instagram, crowds of people turning the once calm corner of Broadway and Newport Avenue into a social event every day…
That? That takes a bit of emotional lifting to be able to look at it all and say: “I am just not fulfilled and I am not happy. That’s what was going through my head every week, every brunch, every day.”
Those are the words of Steve Massis, the proud but admittedly once depressed owner of The Attic—the former part due to a different sense of growth for the restaurant, mainly shifting course in its entirety to be homed in on incredibly quality food thanks to the incoming talents of Eleven Madison Park alumnus Chef Cameron Slaugh, and the latter being a discussion that not many in the restaurant industry face.
And that discussion is a lack of fulfillment and happiness in a business that requires your presence and attention nearly every hour of every day.
“That was one of the first things I asked Steve when I came in, I made sure it was clear: You have a restaurant that is slammed—slammed slammed—every single day, you have a three-hour wait for brunch,” Slaugh said, “What do you need me for? And it essentially came down to wanting to create something special for the community and for ourselves. It is probably the most honest conversation I’ve had with a restaurant owner; you could feel our energy.”
Slaugh has held that energy before—he had previously taken on Melrose’s Osteria la Buca ten years after it opened, shifting the space into a local favorite—but not quite with the matching vibe from Massis: Their partnership has scored The Attic a mention in the Michelin Guide—one of only three Long Beach restaurants to achieve that—and entirely altered the way Massis now looks at the city’s food ecosystem.
“I tend to be black-and-white, I’ll be honest,” Massis said. “It’s hard for me to hide how I’m feeling and what I sense—and I was sensing a very big disconnect from what is essentially my baby. It wasn’t easy at first but now, looking at this space, looking at what Cameron is putting out, it becomes easier and easier to admit that I just wasn’t happy. And I wasn’t happy because I knew that The Attic can be better and Long Beach itself deserves better. We deserve to be a city where the food matches the beauty of its people.”
Slaugh’s food is, undeniably, as beautiful as the people themselves, his style hovering between classic high-end offerings and witty plays with a variety of proteins and veggies.
His tartare is a beef lover’s dream meets classic white-cloth dining: raw bits of filet—tart with hints of mustard and vinegar-are laid out in three pillows atop a massive, bone bed of marrow. Creamy, earthy, and bright, it is a shareable that will easily put your mind into what is ahead.There’s really not a mediocre starter in sight: Slaugh’s crispy octopus—where bits of braised-then-covered-in-corn starch octopus are fried and layered between bits of sweet’n’sour passion fruit atop a layer of black rice—is a reminder of some of the best fried octopus I’ve had by the sea masters of Nayarit and Jalisco. And his scallop crudo—letting the creamy umami of raw scallop shine with little more than mango, a hint of jalapeño, and the flowers of cilantro.
But to really prove there isn’t a bad order at the reformed Attic, particularly on their starter list, look no further than Slaugh’s plate of roasted peppers. Yup, roasted peppers; little more, little less. Beautifully bright red, wonderfully long Jimmy Nardellos—an Italian pepper that, while mild, are wildly flavorful, rich, sweet-with-a-hint-of-nice-bitter—are roasted until they are a bit limp, enough structure to dip into what he calls a “mint salsa verde.” The dipping sauce—what would be a happy substitution for ranch in my book—sits somewhere between creamy and tart, with that menthol-like quality allowing a nice cool down after that beautiful hint of bitter with the pepper.
It is sometimes in simplicity where Slaugh flexes strong: One of his most accessible dishes happens to be one of his best: chicken under a brick. (A dish that the most nostalgic of Long Beach eaters still tiredly relate to At Last Cafe despite being closed for years.)
Slaugh’s version is unequivocally the best I’ve had: Sitting atop a bright, citrusy creamed farro that sits somewhere between a risotto and a perfectly firm pasta, this chicken’s masterfully caramelized skin crackles at the touch of your knife and fork before giving way to outright succulent meat. And while the peanut gallery may find chicken boring, scrunching their faces at the irony of me bringing up basic brunch goers and listing a chicken dish, I will always stand by this: The ability of a chef to serve a hot-but-moist piece of fowl is a reminder of how we have bastardized poor chickens and forgotten their distinctly wonderful flavor.
And all of this is tied together with an entirely reinvigorated pool of staff, happy to describe everything from house-made pappardelle with wild mushroom bolognese to a negroni with a vermouth that used a Napa cabernet as its base, macerating cherries into the concoction.And it is all headed by a man who’s been by Massis’s side since day one, General Manager Iano Dovi.
“There’s a real sense of pride, particularly for me,” Dovi said. “Having been here since the beginning, I’ve always thrived on hospitality—that isn’t me having a facade or anything. I genuinely love what I do and it is only because we all took this step forward that can now not only continue to make patrons happy but make ourselves happy as well. Because we’re serving truly great things.”
And while I hate to end things with what some might find a very distasteful note, all I can say is: Fuck basic brunch—can I get an amen?
The Attic is located at 3441 E. Broadway.