Whether it’s the Harvey Wallbanger on the cocktail menu — that swingin’ ’70s take on a screwdriver — or the base of the bar built to look like a library card catalog, Beginnings restaurant in Atlantic Beach takes inspiration from books of the past. And yet, like the name, it points to the future.
Beginnings joins Lost & Found, which opened last year in Long Beach, to jump-start what could become a restaurant boomlet that caters to locals in this pocket of the South Shore. It succeeds with a menu of craft cocktails and accessible dishes assembled with a creative flair. And it’s so popular already that snagging a seat can be a challenge.
No detail is left unscripted in the décor. Self-described literary geeks and owners Ben Freiser and his wife, Heather, reference classic literature throughout the restaurant, from walls adorned with framed beginnings — the first pages of famous novels — to the bookcase/secret door to the restrooms.
Sometimes it’s overkill, such as a menu that casts off convention by listing starters as “prologue” and “chapter one,” while entrees fall under contrived titles such as “the plot twist” and “Melville’s corner.”
Beginnings is a departure from the booze-centric Speakeasy and The Beach House in Long Beach that Freiser co-owns. But booze is not ignored.
In fact, the cocktails range from respectable to impressive, courtesy of Steve Magliano, who’s also the cocktail consultant for Lost & Found. If you’re a traditionalist, stick with menu listings in “The Canon,” for a Vesper, an Old-Fashioned or a Sidecar (remember cognac?). “A Passage to India,” falls under “Advanced Reading,” a seductive rum cocktail warmed up with cardamom.
Executive chef David Bryer, formerly at Hush Bistro in Farmingdale, does best here when he sticks to straightforward takes on comfort food.
Bonchon wings are a delightfully messy starter with soy, honey, garlic and ginger. Want them hot? Ask for Dante’s Inferno. Another starter, St. Louis-style ribs, points to the lingering influence of Hush. This is good for us. The “clam love” is ideal for sharing, spiked with andouille sausage, served with toast to soak up the butter and white wine elixir.
The burger remains a good bet, a house-blend of ground beef dressed with pickles, your choice of cheeses, bacon and a fried egg on brioche. Go for the fries, served on a board, skin-on, properly salty, with crisp ends and soft interiors.
The salads are not as satisfying. The Wedge, for example, looks like a scene from “The Shining,” a knife through the center of a quartered head, with heavy-handed Ranch squiggles. Market greens with tomato, cucumber and red onion are refreshingly minimalist in comparison.
Among entrees, stick with gastropub fare. Ramen feels out of place on this menu, while the root veggies served with potato puree do not.
The massive Tomahawk rib eye for two, served with fingerlings, is as pink as ordered and perfectly seasoned with salt. But my favorite is the codfish and rice cake. A lively interpretation of fish and chips, it’s seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns and dried chilies.
Miss the dinner hour? There’s always the Bar Bites menu, a short list of uber-casual fare. Until 1 a.m. weekends, diners can snack on deviled eggs or a plate of barbecue chicken and pickled onion that also makes an appearance inside a grilled cheese club on the main menu.
There’s something for everyone at Beginnings, which could explain why it’s often so very crowded. I visited twice on weekends and was told I could not add my name to the waitlist for a table because the list stretched for hours.
So on most visits I ate at the bar. By the time I left, it was three-deep with a wait at the door.
There’s some irony that a library-themed restaurant can get quite loud. But that it appeals to young partyers as well as retirees is not for lack of trying. Instead it reinforces that Beginnings in Atlantic Beach has been a long time coming.