The Firkin Pub & Grill Replaces—and Improves on—a Favorite Watering Hole

Firkin good. Photo by Erin DeWitt

The achingly sober void felt by Long Beach locals this summer upon the closing of nearly three-decades-old Irish sports pub EJ Malloy’s thankfully only lasted about two weeks. Many regarded the Broadway EJ’s as their home bar, their regular, and that’s a hard thing to give up. (The Atlantic Avenue and Britton Drive locations are still open.)

Enter Mia Cornelius and Bruno Rocha, a married couple who live less than a mile from the Broadway pub. Though he has an extensive restaurant background, she’s an engineer, but with the help of OG EJ’s players, including former owner Brent Brakebill, they decided to buy their first restaurant. But why would an engineer buy a restaurant? “A kitchen is a manufacturing system, albeit small,” Cornelius explains, “and whether you’re making a rocket or a burger, they all go through a process with certain steps that can be analyzed and improved upon.”

One thing that didn’t need improving? The staff. The Firkin Pub & Grill’s debut Facebook post proudly announced the entire EJ Malloy’s staff would be on hand, meaning both front- and back-of-the-house employees, some of whom had worked at that location for more than 20 years, got to stay put. “They have been amazing and so helpful through this transition,” Cornelius says. “We never would have been able to be this successful without their efforts.”

Cornelius and Rocha also went with a “freshen-up” approach rather than a complete overhaul. The architectural layout and seating design remain unchanged, but the patio was revamped. The private, garden-like outdoor space was transformed into a stylish al fresco area. (The fire pit remains.) Near-future plans include installing a patio entrance along the side of the building, so dog owners can bring their pups to lunch.

Beer snacks. Photo by Erin DeWitt

The menu, however, is a complete do-over. Where EJ’s had (and still offers at its other locations) elevated bar food such as loaded nachos, burgers and even some pretty colorful salads, the Firkin focuses on from-scratch gastropub fare, with nearly half the menu vegan or available as such.

The Heart Cakes appetizer, a top seller, is a veggie-centric version of traditional crab cakes, but the Firkin swaps the crustacean for chickpeas, hearts of palm and artichokes. Each order comes with three amber fried patties, with crispy edges that yield to a delicately flaked center, drizzled with vegan tartar sauce and topped with pickled red onions, then presented alongside a garden salad.

A playful shift on a bar-food classic, the Smoked Pickled Egg appetizer is served sliced over a mound of Goldfish crackers. Stained a light tea color around the exterior, the egg’s tang is rounded out by a soft smokiness—and the smiling crackers are an appreciated swap for ol’ pretzel sticks any time.

The menu’s Entrées, Burgers & Sandwiches section includes curry bowls, steak frites, White Castle-inspired sliders and maple-tempeh sandwiches, but don’t skip the classic Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich. The thinly battered fried chicken is made dark with vinegary hot sauce, dressed with coleslaw and fat pickle slices, and finished with a soft, squishy burger bun. Depending how many beers deep you are, you may want to dip the whole thing in ranch.

And to save you a Google search, a firkin is a cask for beer, about a quarter-barrel in size, that essentially resembles a mini-keg. To celebrate the pub’s official grand opening, to be held Nov. 9 through Nov. 11, Cornelius and Rocha will tap their first firkin of cask ale, a beer made exclusively for the restaurant by Costa Mesa’s Barley Forge Brewing Co. After that, a different firkin of cask ale will be introduced every two or three weeks, all from rotating local breweries.

The Firkin Pub & Grill, 3411 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 433-3769.

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