Thursday, May 30, 2024

What to (unquestionably) eat and drink at the inaugural Taste of Bixby Knolls

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Bixby Knolls has long been a place cherished by Long Beach locals—and it is about time that its growing food scene gets an event all its own. Hence, Taste of Bixby Knolls, invading the neighborhood come Oct. 16.

Guests can purchase $1 tickets and happily ride around on a big red bus that will take them from venue to venue, area to area, from Steelcraft to the heart of Bixby Knoll’s business corridor along Atlantic.

(And for members of my food group [aka Cronies], use the discount code CRONIESUNITE to receive 20% off a batch of 50 tickets; that’s 10 free tickets, which basically amounts to two free beers or tastings. Use it while you can: Discount code expires Oct. 14.)

A mini bundt cake from Bundts on Melrose

I am honestly disappointed more in myself than anything else when writing this because because Bundts on Melrose is nothing short of a little treasure not just for Bixby Knolls but the entirety of Long Beach.

Introduced to me as a gift by Steve Goodling of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau—I say this because I am unsure if I would have discovered it otherwise when I was a lonely soul mostly relegated to everything below PCH—Bundts on Melrose give you everything you want from cake: Not too dense, not as light as angel cake, full of buttery flavor.

For three tickets (or what comes out to $3), I would likely get multiple from the vast array of flavor offerings: Red Velvet, German Chocolate, Devil’s Chocolate, Zesty Lemon, Strawberry Lemonade, Cookies ‘n Cream, Classic Vanilla, “Cinna Bundt,” and “Bundtfetti.”

Gorgonzola fries from E.J. Malloy’s

Bixby Knolls holds the (largely unknown) honor of clutching to an essential part of Long Beach food history: Being home to the sole E.J. Malloy’s location.

After its two other locations in Long Beach���in what is now The Firkin in Belmont Heights and Kennedy’s at Stearns and Bellflower—E.J.’s is what introduced the Long Beach food scene to a pub space that provided quality brews with decent bar grub that fed the soul in ways that the 1990s and 2000s largely didn’t cater to.

One of its classics? The waffle fries doused in a creamy, oozy gorgonzola sauce. My personal suggestion, though it may be considered blasphemous? Add some Tapatio. For me, the perfect starch-meets-cream-meets-vinegar-and-salt combo.

A cupcake from Nonna’s Mercato

In the world of Long Beach’s booming bread and baking scene—from Gusto in Bluff Heights and Colossus in Belmont Shore to cottage masters like Hey Brother Baker and yeasty innovators like Long Beach Beer Lab—there hasn’t been a shortage of stellar carb offerings in the city.

If anything, Long Beach is in a local bread and baking renaissance—and Nonna Mercato takes on that renaissance through a definitively California-meets-classic-European-tradition lens and introduces it to Bixby Knolls.

Quality, classy, welcoming, Nonna is the brainchild of Chef Cameron Slaugh and Steve Massis, the team behind the overwhelmingly delectable turnaround of The Attic, who has created sugary and savory wonders in a space they’ve longed dreamed about.

Here? Their cupcakes: Moist, delectable, worthy of all stomachs.

Pretzel with spicy mustard from Rasselbock

Bjoern Risse’s German-centric biergarten—which joins his complete-opposite but equally worthy Bixby Knolls restaurant, Wood & Salt Tavern—is what I would venture to say is somewhat a gem of the neighborhood.

Replacing the beer garden which came before it, The Factory, many years ago, the quality at Rasselbock remains consistent to the point of being wondrous, particularly in the post-COVID world, where restaurants are still facing product and staff shortages amid patron ups-and-downs.

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Risse has the simple wonders of German food down pat—and this very much includes the plump, perfectly chewy housemade pretzel, which is being offered with its traditional spicy mustard for the Taste of Bixby Knolls event (or, if you happen and should visit on a regular business day, can also be accompanied with a wonderful concoction of cream cheese and paprika, which can easily be enjoyed on its own).

Belgian brownie from Romeo’s Chocolates

Opening his first location five years ago in DTLB and venturing out ever since, Romeo Garcia of Romeo’s Chocolates has been the pioneer in introducing Long Beach to quality chocolates and sweets.

Warm, kind, community-driven, Garcia works with cocoa farms around the world—from Mexico and Honduras to Belgium and Turkey—to create masterful, choco-centric pieces that round out in bars and truffles.

And with a brownie dedicated to the might-but-never-underrated Belgian chocolate realm, I assure you that this is one to not dismiss.

Beer from Ambitious Ales

For the times I’ve written about Ambitious Ales, I still feel like I somehow snub them in the grand scheme of things because, every time I have the honor of sipping one of their brews, I am reminded of the stellar, mind-bogglingly-quality with which they produce beer.

And I want people to understand precisely the scope of that: While Long Beach is proudly home to great breweries, beers brewed at qualities that grant medals from the Great American Beer Festival—largely considered the most respected honor in beer in the nation—hold a special level of recognition.

Such medals are rare, such medals are nearly universally acclaimed within the beer community—be it macro, micro, or home brewing—and Ambitious? They are claimers to such medals.

Speaking of which…

Poke (and more beer) from Mitaki (and Beachwood)

Beachwood can largely be considered the royalty of it here in Long Beach—and for good reason: With master brewer and co-owner Julian Shrago long holding the reins, Beachwood not only is Long Beach’s most respected and awarded brewery in the city, it is one of the region’s such.

So it is not only great that their newly minted taproom-slash-distillery is now up and running in Bixby Knolls (with spirits to come), they have asked Mitaki to come in to offer some poke bowls courtesy of Chef Samuel Zaragoza.

Yes, they’re great. And yes, they’re even better with beer (which, should they have it, I recommend pairing with their Hayabusa should they have it).

Chicken tinga tostadita from Lola’s Mexican Cuisine

There is a really, really frustrating aspect to Lola’s—and that is that, to this day, many think it is not “real Mexican food.”

Which is rather amusing because Lola herself—or Delores—was an actual person who opened her restaurant on Retro Row in Long Beach after making the move from Guadalajara to the States in 1972 with nothing but fifty bucks and a dream.

Little did she know that her dream, which opened in 2008, would have a second location in one of Long Beach’s most beloved neighborhoods. And her son, Luis, along with his wife, Brenda Rivera, have taken on her legacy—after losing her to cancer long before she should have been gone—with both grace and class.

Pepperoni pizza from Thunderbolt

For the carb loving pizzaiolo that is Jay Stebbins, stepping into the Long Beach pizza scene wasn’t an easy task given the competition. Whether it was the Roma-bred crew from La Parolaccia, the creative masters over at 4th Horseman, or the Neapolitan kings that rule over Michael’s on Naples and Michael’s Downtown, Stebbins faced what was extraordinary competition with grace.

Thunderbolt fills in the very large hole left by Chef Maurice Yim’s much-loved, short-lived PowWow Pizza in a way that Bixby Knolls deeply kneaded: Creating solid pies, thoughtfully crafted with quality ingredients, and using neighbors (particularly the aforementioned Ambitious Ales) as collaborators rather than competitors.

And his pepperoni pie? A thing of beauty: Pepperonis cupped after being blasted in an oven, mini pools of flavorful oil bubbling inside them… Oh yes, we will have another.

Popcorn from Popcorn World

There’s much to say about Popcorn World—so much so that I am going to save it for a coming profile that will happen in the next week or two.

But until then, let’s just be honest: How can one hate on popcorn? And at Taste, decently sized sample cups will be offered in flavors that span the palate’s spectrum: classic cheddar cheese, sweet’n’salty cheese-coated caramel, strawberry cheesecake, pickle-loving dill, hot wings with ranch dressing, loaded baked potato, good ol’ kettle corn, crab legs, Oreo cheesecake…

Come on now.

For more information, click here. To recognize members (aka Cronies) of Brian Addison’s food group, the Long Beach Food Scene, use the discount code CRONIESUNITE to receive 20% off a batch of 50 tickets or 25 tickets; that’s ten or five free tickets.

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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