The opening of 4th & Olive late last year sent my eyes rolling so far in the back of my head I feared they’d come out the other side. Inside of the same building that once housed one of the seediest marijuana dispensaries in Long Beach — less than one block from my first slumlord apartment in the city (where a Coroner’s van was parked outside the day I rented it) — someone was putting out white tablecloths and serving pricey food from an obscure region of eastern France.
It sent my hater-brain reeling. Can anyone who lives within walking distance even afford a $9 pretzel? Do people know where Alsace-Lorraine is? Even if they did know, would they want to try Alsatian food? Why Alsace? Was it the only cuisine left untouched by restaurants catering to rabid foodies who crave authentic experiences? Why here? Why now? Why? Why? Why?!
At first glance, 4th & Olive appeared to be a lost L.A. concept plopped onto an unlikely corner in Long Beach, a city that’s never been known for its fine dining scene and is only now getting used to supporting chefs who support our growing number of urban farms.
But in the last eight months, 4th & Olive has grown on me (and others in the city), thanks to its thoughtful presentation of the subtle grace of Franco-German fare along with owner Daniel Tapia’s heartwarming vision for a place that provides employment for disabled veterans like himself.
It also helps that there’s a happy hour that puts meaty handmade bratwursts and seasonal-vegetable small plates within financial reach (which is when you’ll also want to traverse the restaurant’s well-curated taplist of fruity, funky, food-ready local and European beers at a fraction of the price).
No doubt while you’re sitting there — crunching on a sparse bacon-and-leek Alsatian flatbread with a Brouwerij West Moneyhorse in hand — Tapia himself will come by and introduce himself. The Navy vet started the restaurant, he says, because his use of a cane made him a target for discrimination elsewhere and he never wanted his fellow vets to feel un-employable like he did.
He chose Alsace, which has been toggled between French and German ownership for centuries, because it’s cuisine is filled with simple food that’s not so simple to make. Chef Alex McGroarty, an alum of West Hollywood meat heaven Salt’s Cure, developed the menu and runs the kitchen (he’s also the subject of this week’s On The Line!).
Return after happy hour to try more McGroarty-crafted examples of Alsace’s unique food identity, from house duck-liver mousse to tangy yellow sauerkraut to slabs of cured bacon so perfect it’s worth splurging on the signature choucroute garnie sampler platter ($44) just for a taste.
Though meat is a focus, vegetables are always in rotation too. In the Spring, a hearty, flavor-packed white bean cassoulet made me feel like I was slurping the season. This summer, McGroarty added a small plate of roasted squash, fist-sized green and yellow balls atop an herb-y French cream sauce. Even a year-round plate of pickled vegetables and assorted house-ground mustards satisfies.
As 4th & Olive settles into the neighborhood (and casual Long Beach diners like me learn to accept how much it truly costs to make food from scratch in a kitchen that lacks a can opener or a microwave), it’s become clear that instead of being misplaced, Tapia’s idea makes sense in Long Beach, but is merely ahead of its time.
A restaurant staffed mostly by disabled veterans is a nice nod back to the city’s rich Naval history (our base closed in the ‘90s). And Long Beach might be one of the only places where an Alsatian menu might actually resonate. After all, the city straddles both L.A. and Orange counties, and is situated in the center of a region that remains massively influenced by its centuries spent owned by a neighboring country.
Like 4th & Olive itself, Long Beach has always been a place betwixt and between, too early for its own bold ideas, but forever inspired by the people, land and flavors from both sides of the border. This time, let’s hope diners catch up.
743 E. 4th St Long Beach; 562.269.0731; 4thandolive.com