Most of the little corner stores in Long Beach are unkempt liquor stores that recent city initiatives refer to as "blights on the community." While those may be harsh words for the many neighborhood Swisher depots, it's true that these markets rarely stock fresh produce, healthy food items or even quality alcohol.
But Kress Market is a game changer, an upscale New York-feeling corner market on an empty block of mid-Pine Ave. that stocks all-organic produce, gluten-free tortillas and high-end whiskeys without an ounce of hippie pretentiousness.
Feel free to buy some veggies and bread from the sweet Latino owner for your own homemade 'wiches or for a quick Kress lunch without dirtying your own kitchen; there is always the neighboring deli, connected to the retail space by a hallway lined with tables and local art.
Instead of the occasional bodega food counter that cranks out munchies like frozen burritos and subs made from pre-sliced sandwich meat, Kress' is an affordable gourmet eatery with imagination that easily stands on its own.
The menu seems simple enough--10 salads, nearly a dozen sandwiches, three paninis along with a few simple appetizers. Reading through the ingredients, though, its easy to tell the care and thought that went into crafting each item as most are not entirely what you'd expect.
The turkey-avocado sandwich, for example, comes with chipotle aoli and bitter arugula greens, the chicken sandwich comes on an unlikely butter croissant and there is a papaya salad that pairs the sweet tropical fruit with cilantro, red bell peppers and pumpkin seeds.
Sometimes, you can even see the staff rushing next door to grab ingredients from the store or hear the whirr of a meat slicer, reassuring you that no part of the $7.50 is going towards pre-made goods.
By far the most interesting things Kress makes, however, are its two signature dishes: the Kress sandwich and the Kress salad.
The sandwich is a masterpiece of color, textures, flavors and nutrients, with layers of carrots, cucumbers, beets, alfalfa sprouts and yogurt all piled in a multigrain ciabatta with a grilled chicken breast. If it's true that the more colorful your plate is, the healthier the meal, then this sandwich is a rainbow strata of well-rounded nourishment, proof that eating right doesn't mean eating flavorless.
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The Kress salad is even more diverse with red bell peppers, kiwis, strawberries and goat cheese all tossed in a cilantro dressing, making a meat-free melting pot that somehow makes even more sense while sitting at a sidewalk-side table in the center of the most diverse city in the country.
Downtown isn't the place yet where an overly epicurean East Long Beach spot like Olives or Gelson's could thrive, but with an influx of conscious loft dwellers (some of whom live upstairs in the Kress Lofts), it was only a matter of time before the standard local liquor store got a serious upgrade.
Kress Market, 443 Pine Ave., Long Beach, (562)436-8300, kressmarket.com