At Last Cafe: Love At First Bite
2010-02-26 · By Chandra Clewley
I am in love! Yes, that’s it! Throw the towel in! I am in love! At Last Café must be named such, because finally there is something divine in this district of Long Beach. Perhaps, I could be so bold as to say, all of Long Beach? Although, there are still so many places left for me to try, at this point I have found a favorite.
I made reservations for two on a Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. and walked in to a packed house. I am so glad I had thought to call ahead! It isn’t difficult to pack At Last Café, as they have 6 to 8 tables inside depending on the size of the parties. There are also two tables on the sidewalk outside.
The tiny restaurant has framed write ups and reviews of the food from different magazines and a great photo spread of a garden, decorating the walls. You can see directly into the kitchen and the waiter; Cesar greeted us warmly when we walked in. The blues music seemed to put us all in a mellow and good mood. I felt so welcomed!
I took a friend, and we ordered the Red Truck Pinot Noir to start which was amazingly reasonably priced. As a matter of fact, At Last Cafe has about 10 wines, maybe more, to choose from and none of them caused me to wince from the price. The mark up for the bottle was less than 100% which is the usual these days.
We shared with Cesar that we were new to the restaurant, and so he recommended the Brick Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, the Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes and a side order of the Macaroni and Cheese.
The Brick Chicken is literally cooked under a brick and is served moist, flavorful, and just mouth watering with gravy. The tender pot roast is a classic, hearty throw back with delightful baby vegetables and warm gravy that on a cold night, is delectable. The macaroni and cheese had homemade bread crumb croutons that added texture and it made me want to order a full size bowl.
There is definitely a hint of hearty, robust French cooking on the At Last Cafe menu and in the dishes in combination with American standards such as meatloaf, and the pork chop.
Once we were served and had a chance to dig in, John McLaughlin, the executive chef/proprietor came out (all 5 feet) from the kitchen to say hello to the tables. I just love when a chef will participate with the diners, and this was no exception.
John told me about his experience going to the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, New York which impressed the heck out of me. How many people can say that they are of the same alumni as Michael Chiarello, Anthony Bourdain, Rocco De Spirito, Todd English, and Steve Ells?
John went on to be the executive chef for a couple of well known hotels in the area before opening JM Chef Catering. As an afterthought, it seems, he provided a handful of tables in the kitchen area for the locals in the neighborhood. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives just finished taping at the At Last Café last week, and what did Guy Fiore want? The Brick Chicken and Pot Roast, naturally, among other things. With this being said, you think reservations are warranted now? Wait until the show airs.
After the restaurant cleared out around 8 p.m., John sat down with us and shared a little bit more about At Last Café, as we finished our wine. It seems that the popularity even took him a bit by surprise, as he had intended on growing the catering business. He acknowledges that with the growing popularity of the store front, he will eventually have to expand. Like all good things, At Last Cafe will have to be cautious not to over expand. John has had to add several part timers to his staff, especially for his catering events and has a loyal dishwasher that he introduced to us.
At Last Café is approachable, welcoming, delicious and unintimidating. You receive generous portions at a great value, and even the wine list is fairly priced. As a guest, you can sense the pride in ownership that John has and I just can’t say enough about this restaurant. Make sure to make reservations, and I wouldn’t recommend it to a party of more than 4-5 just to keep the intimacy. I cannot wait to return to this delightful Orange Avenue gem!
At Last Cafe is open Tues-Sat from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and serves beer and wine. Reservations are highly recommended.
Visit At Last Cafe at 204 Orange Avenue in Long Beach, 90802. For information, call 562)437-4837