The end of June marked week one at Black, the newest watering hole on the Broadway Corridor and the only straight bar brave enough to plop itself east of Alamitos Avenue and below Fourth Street. The Agenda Show ensured that the self-described skater bar remained full of too-cool, out-of-town visitors for the majority of its first few nights, with a door man checking IDs outside during operating hours and affordable cocktails for anyone willing to wait in the short line to get in.
That first Saturday afternoon, however, was all locals, including curious gay couples and neighborhood dive-bar addicts who slid into cushy booths, ordered drinks from the roving cocktail waitresses and played pool by the natural light flowing into what used to be Paradise Bar’s perpetually empty dining room.
Food, despite a full on-site kitchen, was limited to just two entrée options: a standard pub burger and a vegetarian burger.
But Black isn’t serving an ordinary veggie burger, one made with mushy mushrooms or textured soy product that dries out as soon as it hits a griddle. Just as the Social List started doing in March and Ruby’s Diner has done since April, Black is serving the coveted Impossible Burger—a plant-based patty only sold to a limited number of restaurant accounts that looks, tastes and even “bleeds” as if it were a medium-rare hunk of ground beef. Even more than its cousin the Beyond Burger (available at Hamburger Mary’s and Veggie Grill), the appearance and taste are so true carnivores probably won’t notice it’s not really meat.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are both California-based firms that operate like problem-solving tech startups, using test kitchens that resemble chemistry labs to try to re-create the flavor and complexity of meat without all the environmental issues that meat production causes. After years of research and development, Beyond settled on a pea protein base with beet juice for “blood,” while the Impossible team created a next-level secret sauce, so to speak, that gives its mock meat a hyper-realistic aroma, taste and feel.
The key ingredient to the Impossible Burger is soy leghemoglobin (a.k.a. “heme”), a substance found in nature in the roots of soybean plants. To reduce reliance on soybean plants, though, Impossible creates heme instead by genetically modifying yeast and jump-starting a fermentation process in its lab.
Heme is an iron-rich molecule also found in muscle meat, and it makes plant-based patties not only look like the red-then-brown we’re accustomed to, but it also gives them a slightly metallic taste that conjures up nostalgia for the overprocessed glut of McDonald’s hamburgers. This distinctive taste lends itself to classic preparations, so even though the Impossible patties are as thick as a hefty gastropub burger, they are most commonly sold with a standard slice of yellow (often vegan) cheese, lettuce, onions, tomato and Thousand Island dressing.
This is how it comes at Black, where Jeff Boullt (of Social, Playground and more OC heavyweights) is the current kitchen manager. Add-ons including avocado, grilled onions and a fried egg can easily push this iteration into new-favorite-pub-burger territory, meat or not.
On that first Saturday afternoon, when locals finally had a chance to explore what took over the beloved Paradise, a gay couple sat staring at two burgers, each with a few bites taken out. They’d ordered one of each of the beefy Black Burger and an Impossible Burger and were trying to determine which was which.
“She must have mixed them up. This is the meat one,” the first guy said, referencing the cocktail waitress as he squinted at a juicy, pinkish patty surrounded by craggy char.
“No, this one is definitely the meat,” said the other, pulling off a bit of the other patty and inspecting it before tossing it into his mouth. “I can totally taste it.”
Black, 1800 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 676-4465; blacklbc.com.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.