When chef Eddie Ruiz first attached his name to Public Beer and Wine Shop in downtown Long Beach with two friends last April, he’d only lived in the city for a year. As the owner of Corazón y Miel in Bell, the L.A. native first made a name for himself as one of the young, inspiring Chicanos spearheading a new movement in elevated Mexican food in Southern California, a trend now being dubbed Alta California cuisine.
His upscale flagship restaurant was in an unlikely location – on the main drag in a deeply working class community – but Ruiz loved educating people on what traditional dishes like ceviche, tacos, huaraches and more could be when put in the hands of a creative mind. “If you’re at my house, I’m always cooking and handing you stuff saying ‘Here want to try this?’ It’s just part of my upbringing,” he says.
So when Ruiz took over the kitchen at Public, a small combination taproom and bottle shop on the bottom floor of the Walker Lofts, he immediately thought he could use the small cold-prep kitchen to house one of his other dreams – a raw ceviche bar. And it’s true that in the early days of Ruiz’s ownership, Public held on weekends what equated to a Corazon y Miel pop-up, serving selections from his restaurant’s antojitos menu, including queso fundido and the signature ceviche de corazón (shrimp, octopus, burnt peanuts).
But Ruiz, along with co-owners and partners Gino and Annaliese Espinosa, quickly realized that downtown Long Beach had never seen anything like the food Public wanted to serve. Residents had barely gotten used to the idea of a wine and craft beer bar that also had a chill case full of rare bottles to go—that is, if they were able to find the low-key hidden storefront at all.
“We were getting to know the neighborhood,” Ruiz says. “They didn’t want ceviche with their beer. They wanted bar menu stuff and more approachable fare, so that’s what we did.”
In addition to occasional dishes that fit his whimsy (think: Tacos de Mi Abuela with bone-marrow frijoles), Ruiz added things like bacon-wrapped hot dogs, brisket sandwiches and macaroni and cheese to the weekend food menu.
Since closing Corazón y Miel last summer to focus on a new gig with Chicas Tacos and SLS Hotels, however, the chef says he’s been treating Public like his home kitchen and is ready to debut yet another menu revamp, one that goes back to Ruiz’s roots with barbacoa burritos, lengua tacos and the triumphant return of the ceviche de corazon.
“We really want to change the misconceptions that downtown is all clubs for 18-to-24-year-olds,” he says. “These are things I’d want to serve you if you were in my house and we were drinking a beer together.”
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In addition to a new menu, which will launch this week, Ruiz and the Espinozas are beginning to host collaborative beer dinners with far-out, funky local breweries and have let several up-and-coming chefs (ramen!!) use the small kitchen — which lacks a frier, a grill and other chef luxuries — for occasional pop-ups. The first quarterly beer dinner earlier this year was with Cellador Ales, a San Fernando Valley barrel-aging experiment, to which Ruiz paired ceviches and braised meats with the brewery’s latest sour releases. A second dinner, with Pomona’s Homage Brewing, will take place June 24.
This new menu change also heralds another first for Public: instead of only being available Wednesday through Sunday, food will now be an option every day of the week. “Public is becoming our take on what a bar should be in downtown Long Beach now that we’ve learned more about the neighborhood,” Ruiz says. “We want to do bar food, but do it our way.”
Public Beer and Wine Shop, 121 W. 4th St., Long Beach, (562) 499-0415; publicbeerwineshop.com