Long Beach Lunch: Cafe Ambrosia
Charter cable customers who live in Long Beach are familiar with the grainy local television commercial for Cafe Ambrosia. A man with a heavy Eastern European accent touts the vegetarian-friendly, Mediterranean-inspired food at the Alamitos Beach restaurant as the camera pans over happy customers clinking wine glasses and b-roll shots of the lush open-air dining opportunities.
What the commercial doesn't mention is that Cafe Ambrosia is a calming urban oasis of a bistro that will get you drunk and full for cheap while transporting you worlds away from the intersection of Broadway and Cherry Ave.
Of course the all-day drink specials ($3 well drinks and $1.99 glasses of mimosas, bellinis or champagne!) help lubricate the feeling that the wine-cellar-looking interior and cozy outdoor-fireplaced patio is nowhere near the chaos of one of Long Beach's most bustling driving corridors. But it's really the high surrounding walls covered in leafy vines, plastic tables canopied by broad umbrellas and friendly service coupled with generous portions of hearty health food that makes lunch at Cafe Ambrosia seem more like a session in your friend's forested backyard than a meal at any actual restaurant.
Sarah Bennett Keftedes (Greek meatballs) platter
An extensive leather-bound menu lists off pages of Ambrosia's offerings, including everything you'd expect from a Mediterranean kitchen and more. Dips like baba ganoush, hummus, skordalia and tzatziki ($4.50) come with a basket of pita for starters; the beef, chicken or pork kabob platters ($11.99 lunch price) are enough for two to share; and pita sandwiches ($8.99) are able to be filled with not only meat, but flash-fried tofu or house made falafel patties.
Beyond the usual suspects, however, lurks some more eclectic Greek fare like the hand-formed Keftedes--garlicky Greek meatballs available in a savory sandwich or floating in a tomato sauce on a platter--and the pasta dishes, which range from traditional to Americanized. Build your own heaping plate of carbs by choosing a pasta (spaghetti, penne or fetuccini), a sauce (alfredo, tomato, pesto) and a meat (gyro, keftedes, beef kabob) or order prefab concoctions like the simple Greek Spaghetti, which tosses either feta or shredded "Greek Village Cheese" (similar to mizithra) around with garlic and olive oil.
Sarah Bennett Falafel pita
Meat-free food is another specialty that Cafe Ambrosia prides itself on, and a full page of the menu highlights all the ways the place can satisfy vegetarian and vegan appetites too: stuffed veggie dolmas, veggie mousaka, and platters loaded with vegan loafs, falafels or tofu topped with roasted red pepper sauce.
Though its Charter commercial is no longer in constant rotation on TV, Cafe Ambrosia continues to lure locals into lunching in its verdant secret garden not with crude videography, but boozy deals and massive selection of fresh healthy grub. For less than $20, you can escape into this Gayborhood favorite knowing that no matter what you'll be leaving relaxed, renewed and--with any luck--buzzed.
Cafe Ambrosia, 1923 East Broadway Long Beach, (562) 432-1098, cafeambrosialongbeach.com