Belmont Shore in the summertime is about as far from Paris, France as you can get. The oceanfront locale and its onshore breeze, the chaotic flurry of visor-wearing tourists and the sea of college-age day drinkers constantly stumbling down the enclave's main drag, Second Street, is the near cultural opposite of the espresso-sipping visitors and erudite locals that stroll the romantic brick-lined streets of central Paris.
But enter Babette's Feast--a bakery and cafe nestled on the far west end of the beachy strip--and you can escape into a romantic world where warm eggy crepes full tummies each morning and the people-watching on the patio is accompanied by the relaxing lull of a central fountain.
A decidedly unlikely middle ground in the midst of the area's pricey sit-down restaurants and grab-and-go sweets stands, Babette's Feast is a counter-service breakfast and lunch spot with an unparalleled selection of tarts, pastries, cookies and cakes made fresh on site each day. The only clue that you're in Southern California is the Vietnamese owners, who have stuck pretty firmly to the cuisine of their colonial power, save for the menu's lone "Asian coffee" option, which loads a regular coffee with the Vietnamese standard of condensed milk.
After years of only going in for an on-the-run caffeine fix or to buy boxes of their colorful macarons (new flavors include chocolate ganache and green tea--a dozen for only $20!), I decided to make Babette's my new summer lunchtime hangout; its shady patio and secluded location being the only place to get any real French flair in Long Beach.
Grilled paninis and French-roll sandwiches make up the majority of the lunch options at Babette's Feast and each can be ordered as a full or half-size a la carte or in a combo with a side. American meats like bacon and tuna and turkey are on site if you choose, though I've always opted for the French-style fillings instead: smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and green onions, prosciutto with pesto and melty brie, and the house rosemary chicken salad, made with vinegary capers and mayo.
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Add a side of the French onion soup--the translucent sweet onions in a not-too-salty brown broth are covered with a half slice of Swiss draped delicately over a sopping piece of bread--or a champagne vinaigrette salad to any sandwich, and the $7 combo will still come with a cookie or a bag of chips (try the raspberry tart, a shortbread layered cookie dusted with powdered sugar).
Beyond sandwiches, there are quiches, lunch crepes, veggie tortes and a savory chicken-and-mushroom vol au vent. And yet, those crispy little bullets of filled French bread--here, devoid of the herby, pickled flavors of a typical SoCal banh mi--continue to call my grumbling stomach to Belmont Shore at lunchtime.
When a European vacation seems a world away from summertime in the LBC, Babette's Feast is always there, hiding between two very un-Euro neighbors (a Super Mex and a Wells Fargo), ready to soothe those cravings for French pastries, fresh espresso and the laid-back atmosphere of a distant Parisian cafe.
Babette's Feast, 4621 E. 2nd St., Long Beach, (562) 987-4536