Ambrosia is, in Greek mythology, the food of the Gods, consumed with nectar, the drink of choice. It was the Greek equivalent of the manna consumed by the Hebrews as they fled Egypt. And it must have tasted really, really good — because it was apparently all the gods consumed.
I always thought being God meant you had a really big buffet — Las Vegas big! — to choose from. Same meal every day seems a bit dull. My dog has the same meal every day. But then, well, he’s a dog. And it’s a dog’s life.
There’s more than one dish on the menu at Café Ambrosia in Long Beach, a lot more. They specialize in Greek cooking, with a sub-specialty in Mediterranean, and a section of “Traditional American Favorites” on the menu, just in case you happen to show up in the mood for a triple decker club sandwich or a tuna melt.
There’s a bacon and avocado cheeseburger as well. Though given my druthers, the option of a gyro platter with pita bread, tzatziki dip, egg lemon soup and orzo pasta definitely wins out.
Like a number of restaurants in Long Beach, Café Ambrosia looks like an old house, which it may well have been, before it was turned some years ago into a restaurant space, with a large, dog-friendly outdoor patio, and a couple of interior spaces, one of which is decorated with all sorts of stuff — statuary, a fireplace, twinkle lights, artwork and the like, all homey and cozy.
It’s an easy spot to be in; folks talk with other tables about what they’ve ordered, and — if you’ve shown up with your pooch — tell dog tales and admire your hound’s affable disposition. Though I do imagine that being a dog around chicken kebobs can be a tad trying. And not diving in can challenge humans as well — this is flavorful, aromatic chow — and probably at its best when it leans toward the Mediterranean. For there’s something about the flavors of the Med — Land of Olive Oil, Garlic and Very Healthy Eating — that speaks to an ancient sense deep within us.
The fancy word for that is “atavistic.” And with that first bite of hummus, those of us with roots in that part of the world are transported back to our eating habits from several millennia ago. Not a bad feeling at all.
Thus, at Café Ambrosia, you probably want to get busy with the appetizers — the tasty stuffed grape leaves (our old friend dolma, one of the great dishes of Med Cuisine), the spinach and feta cheese in filo pastry that tastes so good, saganaki cheese set ablaze at your table, yogurt and cucumber tzatziki, the garlicky potato mash called skordalia, eggplant baba ghanouj — and of course hummus.
Add on a Greek salad, made Greek with lots of tangy feta cheese, and you’re in pretty good shape. (Though a nice glass of Greek retsina never hurts to ease it all down … ). But if more is needed, or at least you need something to split, the gyro platter is a fine selection, along with the beef kabob and chicken kabob, and the falafel platter as well, a reminder that the food of the Med it most excellent for those of the meatless persuasion.
Indeed, there’s a charbroiled veggie platter, given the retro description of “Greek Low Calorie Delicacy” as if it’s rare and unique, of eggplant, zuke, tomatoes, peppers, onions, olives and, of course feta cheese and pita bread. For something different, there’s Greek spaghetti, topped with shredded “Greek Village Cheese” or feta.
And while I’m dealing with the veggie leanings of the restaurant, there are cheeseless, yogurt-free sections of Vegan A La Carte, Vegan Plates and Vegan Dessert. Though the changes needed in many of the dishes are little to none. Hummus has always been vegan. Ditto falafel. And so good, you won’t miss the meat, not at all.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at email@example.com.
Rating: 2 stars
Address: 1923 E. Broadway, Long Beach
Information: 562-432-1098, www.cafeambrosialongbeach.com
When: Lunch and dinner, every day; breakfast, Saturday and Sunday
Details: Full bar. Reservations important.
Atmosphere: In what looks to be an old house from the early years of Long Beach, with a very large outdoor patio, and lots of bric-a-brac within, this Greek and Med cafe offers traditional dishes at reasonable prices, with a popular weekend brunch, when sitting on the patio is especially pleasurable.
Prices: About $20 per person
Suggested dishes: Appetizers ($2.99-$14.95), Salads ($6.99-$15.95), Pita Sandwiches ($10.95), Traditional Greek Platters ($13.95), Entrees ($14.95-$33.95), Pastas ($10.95-$17.95), Vegan Plates ($9.49-$14.95)
Cards: MC, V