Seal Beach, California
Here’s the kind of place I wish my neighborhood had: cozy, casual, unpretentious. Great food and amazing cocktails. A fun spot to hang out with friends, or to meet new ones. A Mom & Pop operation, run by people who care. I call it my “local” even though it’s an hour away from where I live. Give me a place like this and I’ll gladly make the commute versus wasting time at the local mediocre-to-shitty chain restaurant. 320 Main sits near the beginning of Seal Beach’s Main Street, a lazy window-shopping stroll down to the Seal Beach Pier. It’s about a half-hour from Downtown Los Angeles, just south of Long Beach, just north of Huntington Beach.
Proprietor Jason Schiffer is the man behind 320 Main, heading the food and drink program. Nothing crosses the bar or is brought to your table without his stamp of approval (his care doesn’t stop at the doorstep; he’s also on the Board of Directors for the United States Bartenders’ Guild Los Angeles, and co-founded the Orange County Bartender’s Cabinet social group). Wife Rebecca Schiffer handles special events and happily bustles around, making sure everyone is being taken care of. Chef James Wilschke and his crew crank out delicious dishes while bartenders Dave Castillo and Shaun Cole mix some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had at the restaurant’s centerpiece bar. Come on Sunday and you’ll catch Matt “RumDood” Robold serving up tiki classics and new twists.
Cocktails here are a mix of the classics done to perfection and a rotating array of new creations. Drinks like the Old Fashioned and Gimlet (with a housemade lime cordial, even – you won’t find a bottle of that awful Rose’s Lime Juice here) share the spotlight with Bumbo (a Caribbean-inspired tiki-style drink with rum, lime, and allspice) and the Hu Hu Hala-Kahiki (jalapeño-infused tequila, mezcal, lime, and a housemade pineapple shrub). The local patrons in Seal Beach love the Moscow Mule (yes, with fresh, spicy, housemade ginger beer). Food and drink are evocative for Schiffer – he created the Michigander (applejack, Cynar, honey, and lemon) when feeling homesick for his native Michigan in the fall.
A Midwestern-comfort-food-with-an-angle perspective fills out the lunch and dinner menus: a meatloaf burger with Sriracha glaze, “Quack & Cheese” (macaroni and cheese and smoked duck), New York strip steak with beet and potato “red flannel” hash. The so-carnally-stupid-it’s-awesome Bone Luge is featured with a custom “Cool Runnings” shot (Smith & Cross rum, Becherovka, and Oloroso sherry). Come for brunch on the weekends and treat yourself to French Toast and Chicken-Fried Chicken – with a Ramos Gin Fizz, of course. Day drinking is never frowned upon in a sleepy working-class town like Seal Beach.
My impression is that the locals here like to have a good time and are, one-by-one, becoming converted to The Word of The Craft Cocktail. Example: there’s an “Antique Lemon Drop” on the menu. The word “Antique” is small, “Lemon Drop” is big. People glance at that and order it, not expecting what they’re about to get: malty, funky genever instead of vodka. I asked Schiffer how many of those get sent back – he said, “none.” Just like that, one more person ventures beyond vodka into a strange new world – but cocktail evangelism, orthodoxy, and snottiness are nowhere to be found here. They understand the key is service. If a customer wants a simple Vodka Soda highball, they’ll get it without mumbled condescension. Now: if there’s an opportunity to have a conversation with a curious person about broadening their horizons, they’ll happily suggest just the right thing. I’ve seen it happen there time and again – that wide-eyed lightbulb-going-on look people get when they feel their mind expanding.
320 Main is what happens when people give a shit about what they do.
Tuesday – Thursday 11:30 am – 10:00 pm
Friday & Saturday 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Sunday 11:30 am – 9:30 pm