Long Beach needs to update its official seal to include a plate of bacon and eggs. Sure, the town already has a world-class aquarium, its own Grand Prix and the Queen Mary. But its biggest attraction, in my opinion, is the never-ending array of breakfast joints where you can tuck into a meal first thing in the morning. You want pancakes? The Potholder Cafe boasts one with the circumference of an area rug. French toast? Starling Diner starts its by soaking a French baguette in crème Anglaise, baking it, then injecting it with mascarpone. A genuine diner experience? Jongewaard's Bake-N-Broil is a modern Rockwellian landmark serving three square meals a day and slices of pie for dessert.
And then there's the newest entrant: the Breakfast Bar, which serves a morning item unlike any Long Beach has seen before. Owners Josh and Pamela Beadel call it an omelet casserole, but it's neither an omelet nor a casserole. Since it dissipates like an eggy cloud in your mouth, it most closely resembles a cheese soufflé. Ask your waitress about it, and she reveals the recipe: a piece of bread soaked overnight with egg, cheese and milk, then baked in an au gratin dish.
“Most people don't even taste the bread,” she adds. And she's right. But learning the secret ingredient somehow makes the omelet casserole that much more mysteriously magical. It also makes you grateful the Beadels, who used to work for George's Greek Cafe and Congregation Ale House, decided to set out on their own and transform a shuttered Mexican joint attached to a motel into this place, if only to ensure there was an outlet for this dish. The recipe, the menu says, has been passed down for three generations, invented by a great-uncle named Marcee. He gets full credit on the menu, but the potato pancake it's served with is entirely attributable to a kitchen that knows a breakfast potato side dish has to be simultaneously crispy, fluffy and toe-curlingly steamy. The potato patty is all these things, making it the casserole's equal, with the outer-crust crunchiness of a tater tot and the interior temperature of a baked potato, requiring nothing else except maybe a dash of hot sauce.
If there's another potato-based dish that could compete with it, it's the Hung Over, which is listed in the appetizer section because the Everest of hot fries smothered in cheese-laced scrambled eggs, cut-up sausage, gravy, onions, peppers, pico de gallo and spiced sour cream is designed to be shared. Yet, if you're there by yourself, sitting in one of the semi-secluded back booths, you might realize the scrambled eggs are also miraculous—creamy, wiggly, with just the right amount of wet—and it'd be a shame if you didn't finish it all right there, your plans for lunch and dinner be damned.
It's also about then, as you sip the invigorating cucumber lemonade—a specialty cocktail made with soju and enough cucumber curls to qualify as a salad—that you survey the scene. The Breakfast Bar has been open for less than six months, yet it already has a cast of regulars, their heads buried behind newspapers. On weekend mornings, there are likely to be hipsters, Goths, blue-haired retirees, even a few conventioneers, all devouring poached eggs smothered with Hollandaise and spinach on the sun-bathed patio. This, you realize, is why breakfast is Long Beach's most popular meal. No matter where you were last night or end up later, pancakes, eggs and bacon taste good now. Plus, these pancakes, made from freshly ground whole wheat and berries, couldn't be fluffier if they were made out of cotton balls.
Though burgers and sandwiches are offered, you see hardly anyone ordering them. Even past noon, the closest thing to lunch food the Breakfast Bar's customers consume is the breakfast guacamole or the fried chicken wings and waffles. The former has black beans in it, along with hard-boiled eggs, ground country sausage, pico de gallo, cheese and half an avocado sliced and laid down atop the molcajete—what you'd get if you merged an egg salad and a ceviche, then served it with tortilla chips. The chicken-and-waffle dish is an obvious nod to Roscoe's (blocks away), but here, the waffles are floppy, flat things you're supposed to dip into one of the three sauces. One of them, a buttered syrup, tastes like molten butterscotch. The gravy, which has strings of cheese in it, is a meal unto itself, another recipe the Beadels inherited from a family member.
Yes, Long Beach was already rich with morning food before the Breakfast Bar came into town, but it's now even more so. So let's talk about that seal.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.