More than a few neighborhoods in Long Beach wish they had an Olives, the 12-year-old gourmet grocer in Belmont Heights that still sets the bar for how to do posh grub without pretension. Yes, there’s a fancy by-the-pound olive bar and more than a few kinds of heirloom-grain boxed pastas on the shelf, but there are also employees who remember the sandwich you tried last time you came in, jars of the owner’s favorite hot sauce out for sampling and an entire display case of prepared dishes, culled from whatever was delivered from the city’s own Farm Lot 59 that day—all inside a store not much larger than the deli counter serving as its nucleus.
For most of its existence, Olives made good on the grocer aspect of its identity, with half-gallons of milk and basics like sandwich bread and fresh produce readily available. Their main daily draw, however, was always the deli counter, filled with affordable daily creations like citrusy Brussel-sprout salad, chunks of meaty lasagna, sour-cream stuffed twice-baked potatoes, basil-topped eggplant rotalini and more that you could take home and heat up for lunch or dinner as if you made it all yourself. A by-the-pound salad bar and a list of 54 (and growing!) made-to-order sandwiches also bring in the lunch crowds.
Over the last few years, Olives doubled down on the healthy, home-style meals it does best. Owners Laurie Semon and Erin O'Hagan phased out the refrigerated produce section, closed down their 6-year-old sister store in Belmont Shore and expanded the original location on Broadway into the next-door storefront, opening a wine-and-shared-plates, dinner-only spot called Taste.
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For Long Beach Lunch purposes, we’re just stoked we can still get down with those under-$8 sandwiches, made with the same meats you can buy by the pound to go, put on bread from Homeboy Bakery. Some, like The Shore (turkey, avocado, lettuce) and The Breakwater (sliced steak, blue cheese, sun dried tomato pesto), are interpretations on local landmarks. Others, like Paula’s Pomodori (chicken, fontina, artichokes, Parmesean spread) and the Spicy Steve (all the hot Italian meats on salted focaccia), are named after the staffers or regulars who invented them. Then, there’s the classics: a roasted pork Cubano, a bacon-loaded BLT, an egg-salad sandwich on white bread.
The store’s best hits happen when an American classic is given the Olives twist. Boring tuna salad here has a helping of smushed cranberries, making it sweet enough to sit on bread, but hearty enough to double as a dip. And their macaroni salad ditches the limp, mayo-y mess found at your great aunt’s potluck for puffy elbow macaroni tossed in an addictive yellow curry paste.
Order sandwiches (and whatever else looks good – check the daily specials!) at the counter and while you wait for your name to be called, grab something to drink out of the chill case of bottled sodas, iced teas and juices, then meander back to the single cash register to pay for it all. From there, you can take it home, eat it at the beach or just nosh outside at one of the few bistro tables that line the sidewalk and be thankful that at least there’s still one neighborhood in Long Beach that has a gourmet grocer like Olives.
3510 E Broadway, Long Beach; (562) 439-7758; olivesgourmetgrocer.com