Addicted to cream pies (among other things) at Jongewaard's Bake-N-Broil
Harold and Kumar had burgers as their elusive objects of desire; ours was banana-cream pie. Our first night at Jongewaard's Bake-n-Broil in Long Beach, we asked for it after we finished dinner, only to be told by an apologetic waitress that they had just sold the last slice.
The evening after that, we thought we had a plan. Surely, if we placed the dessert order before the waiter brought out our meals, we'd secure our pie. After all, it was well before the dinner rush. But when we tried, he said he didn't have a pen. He walked away, presumably to get something to write with. Ten valuable minutes passed before he reappeared. And when he did, he seemed to have forgotten about us. We flagged him down, and this time, he took down our order. But later, he returned with bad news—they had just sold the last slice.
Foiled again, we mumbled to ourselves about how close we came, convinced that those lost minutes made the difference. The chocolate-cream pie he brought us in its stead, however, was terrific.
In fact, every pie we tried as a surrogate for the banana cream was terrific. The fresh peach was a revelation. Shimmering in sweet, translucent goo—consisting of nothing but the skinned wedges of the fruit piled mile-high atop crumbly pie crust—it was bursting with juice. Every forkful caused nectar to dribble out the side of our mouths.
Their cakes were also wonderfully moist, perfect with ice cream. The chocolate cake wasn't overwhelmed with sugar, as most of its ilk tend to be. And their red velvet was covered under a cloak of white icing textured with nuts.
As for the food: Before Swanson bastardized it as fodder for their frozen TV dinners and Sysco preprepared cafeteria grub, this is what an all-American meal tasted like. They've got the classics here—the kind of roadside-diner and coffee-shop standards that sink to the bottom of your belly like a warm anchor. The pot roast looked as regal as osso bucco, flaking away in tidy and tender sheets of beef. Chicken-fried steak used "cube steak" as a descriptor and was frosted with peppery country gravy. It ate halfway between filet mignon and a good burger. The fried chicken breast came smothered in the same creamy sauce.
All are part of the Jongewaard's dinner menu, each offered for less than $11 and including soup, salad, potato or rice, and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. Though they may use canned green beans as a side, attention to detail is paid in the other components.
Their buttery garlic croutons were homemade, transforming what would have been just a side salad into something special. Also, the raspberry vinaigrette was riddled with actual raspberries. However, it was the French onion soup that demonstrated the lengths Jongewaard's goes to impress. The broth itself was perfect, a scalding, heady mix of beef bouillon and a fistful of sweet onion. And the top of the cup is sealed with a layer of melted cheese—a finishing touch I'd expect in a tony establishment, not in a diner where burgers and bowls of chili rule the roost.
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It's touches like this that have won loyalists. At their Norman-Rockwell-meets-Martha-Stewart lunch counter, there are stories of some folks eating three meals a day here. And you would, too—there's just something about a place where pies cool on metal racks and layered cakes are placed enticingly at eye level. You can imagine Long Beach's version of Jerry, George and Elaine convening nightly in one of their booths, sipping coffee out of thick mugs, talking about nothing—for Jongewaard's is a restaurant that nurtures habitual repeat visits.
But what about our coveted banana-cream pie? On our third visit, we found success. Though they were again officially sold out of the slices, they made a whole pie from scratch just for us to take home. Perhaps it was better this way because we're going to be seeing these people again—and often. They didn't have to witness how we destroyed the pie, relishing every last pudding-laced piece of fruit, dropping crumbs all over our shirts and getting whipped cream everywhere.
Jongewaard's Bake-n-Broil, 3697 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, (562) 595-0396. Open Mon.-Fri., 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Dinner for two, $20-$30, food only.