Better Than Health Insurance

Photo by Amy Theilig”Location, location, location,” say the real-estate people, which is why they'd think the guys who run Long Beach's new Blue Nile Café are crazy. It's in the artsy East Village, where people take every stimulant they can get, and that's why Blue Nile shares an intersection with two other coffee shops: neighborhood fixture Passport and new hippie-centric Garden of Pan (now with drum circles!). The Village Grind is just around the corner, La Muse and It's a Grind are down on Ocean, Starbucks is on Pine, and . . . well, 90802 is one jittery ZIP code.

Certainly no one ever went broke banking on a chemical dependency, but how much caffeine can one neighborhood take? Maybe there's a limit. But that wouldn't bother Blue Nile, because, as they might respond to the real-estate people, they've got much, much more.

Like every good coffee shop, it's a happy place to just mooch around: Jackie Mittoo on the stereo, a Good Foot T-shirt on the cook, flyers for Divine Forces Radio and Club Crucial on the counter, TheBellJarand TheInternationalBartender'sGuideon the shelf—and you haven't even been upstairs yet. There's a computer lounge about to go in, and there's a second-story sofa set with a cheerfully continental view of Broadway: squint through the rococo vintage arch that gives the Blue Nile such a distinctive face and, you know, you might be in Brooklyn, or London, or . . . well, that might be the caffeine typing, but it's still a very cosmopolitan experience. If I had a laptop, I'd sit there all day. If I had a Graham Greene novel (and I have several!), I'd sit there all lunch. Which I have. And which I will right now, I think.

Even better, Blue Nile's hours are brutally convenient: open at 8 a.m. like a lot of coffee shops, but closing at midnight seven days a week when almost everything else in Long Beach and Orange County is long since lights out. That's genius part one: there's nobody for blocks around serving anything that late at night that's not bad-news drunk food like hot dogs wrapped in bacon and nasty-ass tacos. And with development in the East Village just about to push into overdrive—Koo's and House of Hayden are already running, the tony Basement Lounge opens this week, and luxury loft-condos a block or two away arrive this summer—there will be plenty of hungry, tipsy and still sorta health-conscious people with no one up to take care of them except Blue Nile.

And that's genius part two: the food that goes with that cup of coffee. Blue Nile isn't just a place to soak up the spins with a sandwich. It's like the best friend you don't deserve: stumble by late at night and get a sandwich so homemade you'll think of your fourth-grade brown bag days. The (soon-to-be-popular) chicken wrap—chicken, the usual veggies, whatever bizarre fetish items you wanna add; I'd discourage pickles, but do your thing—are great cold or warm, bulging like flexed biceps in their tortillas.

There's also a Greek wrap with hummus and kalamata spread and a sun-dried-tomato-and-veggie-sausage wrap. And feel free to ask for modifications: the Blue Nile is veggie-friendly already with tofurkey-and-jack sandwiches and veggie BLTs standard on the menu, but they're also vegan-friendly with just a word or two—veganaise, soy milk, fake bacon; everything but the cheese, for which they are searching diligently.

Selection, selection, selection: Blue Nile grills veggie burgers, melts avocado melts (excellent with one of four salads drowned in dressing on the side), and whips up hummus, eggplant cutlets, bagels with lemon pepper and cream cheese for the morning. And, of course, the coffees: espresso, macchiato, chai, mocha, tea, right down the line. And smoothies—I almost forgot the smoothies! Everything is organic, fresh, healthy, revitalizing, rejuvenating, resuscitating—sorry, I've had a lot of caffeine, but after eating at Blue Nile once a day for a week, I feel more alive already. Health insurance is great, sure, but this is pretty good too.


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