A Unique Long Beach Café that Promotes Local Business
By Gina Ruccione, Cuisine and Restaurant Writer
You could ask anyone in Long Beach about the food at Berlin by Portfolio Coffeehouse and the answer is always the same: “the food is absolutely amazing.” Everything is organic, locally sourced, seasonal and served with a creative, fresh flare.
Berlin is unique in many ways, but it also bears an air of nostalgia for me. It’s reminiscent of my high school days in Italy, where I would spend afternoons lingering in cafés, snacking and sipping coffee until late in the evening. So it comes as no surprise that the concept was inspired by European cafés. It’s meant to be a place to hang out, drink great coffee, snack and then stay a while. Beer and wine are also available, so that also helps the process.
If there’s anything I like about living in Long Beach and the surrounding Harbor Area, it’s the sense of community. People have a tendency to eat local, shop local and there is a sense of pride with regard to supporting the community. As someone who has lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County, I can tell you that it’s a rarity anywhere else in the county. Many of the places that I choose to frequent in Long Beach and San Pedro actually have owners who work side-by-side their employees. If there’s anyone who does it with more finesse than Kerstin Kastner at Berlin, please let me know. She’ll give anyone a run for their money.
Her business optimizes the “localism” mantra that other restaurants strive to achieve. She partners with several other businesses in Long Beach and has formed synergistic and collaborative relationship that I have yet to see anywhere else. They have partnerships with five different local coffee roasters and seven different pastry vendors. They Also feature local artists’ work on their art on the walls. Adjacent to Berlin is Fingerprints, a funky, retro record store that sometimes hosts musicians and features free concerts. Of course, Berlin has collaborated with Fingerprints to accommodate the crowds that swarm in the evenings to watch the live music. Quickly adapted into dinner and a show, it truly boasts a community effort.
Perhaps the most interesting partnership is that with Farm Lot 59, a local, sustainable garden in Long Beach that grows fresh produce and flowers. When I first learned of the relationship between the two businesses, I was intrigued. I met Kastner at the garden one morning to scope out the scene.
Berlin sources as much produce as possible from Farm Lot 59, which is probably why its food tastes so wonderful. Farm Lot 59 was founded in 2010 and is tucked away in a somewhat industrial area in Long Beach. The urban, one-acre farm grows its produce and flowers the old-fashioned way, without all of the horrible pesticides. Best known for its rare items like micro greens, herbs and tomatoes, Farm Lot 59 also grows many other items and even has farm fresh eggs from its hens.
Much of the produce that is sourced from Farm Lot 59 has piqued an interest in the community and, as Kastner explained, it has adapted into a somewhat educational process for those who eat at Berlin, because many of the items can’t be found anywhere else in Long Beach. Farm Lot 59 also inspires Berlin to create different daily specials and allows it to get very creative with menu items. The morning I spent with Kastner at Farm Lot 59, I watched in awe as she sorted through different kinds of rare heirloom tomatoes. I’m incredibly picky about tomatoes and most of the time they don’t taste right. These were incredible. However, I was most intrigued by the sprouts, which are grown from corn kernels. I’d never seen anything like it and the sprouts are sweet and crunchy, not bitter in the slightest.
A couple of days later, I went back to Berlin to check out some of the new specials. I was pleased to see grilled halibut on the menu featured with the same heirloom tomatoes and corn sprouts I sampled earlier. That was truly my first farm-to-table experience.
I’ve never had a bad meal at Berlin. And, I do mean never. Aside from the daily specials, popular menu items include the Earth salad and Halibut in ginger broth. The salad incorporates interesting sprouts and radishes, which adds just the right color and crunch. Dressings are all made in-house and I typically add the steak, which comes from grass-fed and antibiotic-free beef (as if you had to ask). The halibut is beautifully executed, pan-seared and served in a ginger broth. It’s light and full of flavor. If you just want a light snack, I would recommend the smoked salmon flat bread. The combination of the red onion, dill-cream cheese, capers and lemon oil really compliments the salmon.
Berlin is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.
Time: 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 7 to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Details: (562) 435-0600; http://berlincoffeehouse.com
Venue: Berlin Bistro, 420 E. 4th St., Long Beach
Gina Ruccione has traveled all over Europe and Asia and has lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County. You can visit her website at http://www.foodfashionfoolishfornication.com.