Monday, March 4, 2024

Long Beach Beer Lab’s move into Zaferia reminds the city they’ve always been fermenting pioneers

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Long Beach Beer Lab—birthed in Wrigley, now with a sister in the Zaferia District, also home to the Long Beach Bread Lab—has long been a leader in fermentation and bread-making but is often dismissed or outright ignored in the larger conversation surrounding the city’s growing reputation as a sourdough-y, bread-birthing center.

Yup, we’re getting James Beard recognitions for bakeries like Gusto. The Washington Post calling Speak Cheezy’s sourdough pizza some of the best in the nation. Bakeries like Colossus moving their sourdough pizzas to a daily offering after exploding on Friday nights.

But there’s always been an OG when it comes to diligently detailed, fermentation-focused, carb-y creations—and that is the Long Beach Beer Lab, where its second sister location in Zaferia has rightfully earned it the love of the neighborhood.

Long Beach Beer Lab (and its offspring Bread Lab) have long uplifted the city’s quality of baked goods and beer

When husband-and-wife team Levi and Harmony Sage-Fried are vagabonds at heart, despite Long Beach being Levi’s childhood home and the pair making the city their permanent space long ago. From time in Israel—where they first attempted to open a brewery but, given their non-native status and the outrageously expensive endeavor, had to back out—to Atlanta to New York to Jersey to Italy, the pair have explored the world through lengthy residencies and stops in each.

But beer and bread have always followed.

When they first opened the Long Beach Beer Lab in 2017 in Wrigley, the pair came in with a bang: Kosher-certified, proudly Jewish, and ecstatically experimental, Levi and Harmony started what would be their long-time love affair with funk.

Harmony’s starter, long used to create the sourdough that put her loaves and their margherita pizza on the map? She grew from the skins of fruits she harvested from her mother-in-law’s backyard in Bixby Knolls. Those same cultures? Used to make the brewery’s many wits, saisons, sours…

Koji, the sake yeast that has had an explosion in popularity? Levi was using it years ago to create an in-house parmesan—all within a handful on days and on a giddily happy tone: “Very few people are messing with koji culinarily in the U.S.—it’s a revelation,” he told me back in 2020, when the pair were among the first to convert their space into a market during the pandemic.

They are pioneers when it comes to sourdough, culture-based brews, and experimenting with fermentation—and the Zaferia extension of their brand has been a long time in the making.

“Z Station,” Long Beach Beer Lab’s Zaferia location, was the extension they were always searching for

“The pandemic really saw a new wave of customers come to the Lab,” Harmony said. “And when things began opening back up, we didn’t see them in the volume we did during COVID—until we opened here. Now, we have customers constantly tell us, ‘We’re so glad you’re closer to where I live.’ We’re beyond happy to be able to provide that for them and, in all honesty, it’s been in the making to get us beyond Wrigley.”

For a while, Beer Lab was one of the few spaces on Willow Street which provided the neighborhood with some much-needed activation that went beyond a coffeeshop: activities, events, partnerships. But often—as evidenced in my food group—they often don’t get the love or recognition they should and deserve.

“I really think that stems from the original location,” Luiza “Lulu” Trabka, Harmony’s protégée and right-hand woman, said. “There’s not the Instagram rushing to that part of Long Beach.”

Harmony heartily laughed at this—”Wait, so are we not Instagrammable?”—but I share Trabka’s sentiment: For far too long, the Lab’s larger contributions to our culinary scene, from both a beer and bread angle, have been underscored if not outright understated.

“I’m happy for the bake scene here in Long Beach—and I am not sure I should even be lumped into that,” Harmony said. “We’re more a pizza and beer shop than anything, first and foremost, with breads being solely on weekends.”

Long Beach Beer Lab’s second location? Already a hit in a matter of weeks

And their Zaferia location, happily dubbed “Z Station,” exemplifies that: Yes, people are there on the weekends to pick up Harmony’s masterful loaves of sourdough, rye, and more—but they’re also there to take home the space’s margherita pizza—a multi-pronged, star-shaped wonder that put them on the Long Beach pizza map—personal pepperoni pizzas, charcuterie boards, and, of course, beer.

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“I can’t tell you how much I love being able to visit this space,” said patron and long-time Long Beach bicycle advocate Rashad Captan. “But I always try to come in when it’s not busy—as a previous bartender, I know when to come and when not to come in because this place gets packed.”

And for the Zaferia neighborhood, it provides them a link to a bourgeoning pizza scene that has largely been disconnected from East Long Beach: That margherita pizza? It’s a master class example of sourdough pie, the crust thin, the crumble perfect, the fold not floppy, with its folded, triangular crust creating pockets of doughy, tomato-y flavor that is the perfect send off after devouring a slice.

Their charcuterie board? Arguably the city’s most valuable at $20, where cheeses, fruits, and meats accompany Harmony’s olive oil-soaked focaccia and house-fermented mustard.

“It’s great to see a whole new influx of customers get to know who we are and what we do,” Harmony said.

And please, for the love of the Carb Gods, visit. Take in the art of Harmony, the mastery of Levi’s brewing, and give recognition to a place that long been one of our finest.

Long Beach Beer Lab has two locations: 518 W Willow St. and 4000 E. Anaheim St.

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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