62 W. Park Ave., Long Beach
AMBIENCE: A cozy neighborhood restaurant with funky vintage accents.
ESSENTIALS: Dinner, 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. Major credit cards, street parking, indoor and outdoor seating. Call for reservations.
In a cozy, narrow room lined with banquettes and accented with vintage pieces, LB Social in Long Beach delivers straightforward seasonal fare that’s consistently good and often great.
That’s because chef-owner Matt Hisiger is running the kitchen that was formerly Sugo. He was the chef at Panama Hatties in Huntington when the long-closed restaurant earned four stars from Newsday in 1998. Unlike his work at Panama Hatties — or later, at the catering facility H on the Harbor in Port Washington — Hisiger has embraced casual dining. Yet casual does not mean loose, and that attention to detail reveals his experience.
Back at the red Formica bar, it’s more about craft cocktails than happy hour specials — of which there are none. “I like to think of happy hour as a state of mind,” says bar manager Zach Adams. A farm-to-glass kind of guy, Adams likes to use fresh herbs in cocktails that show off small-batch spirits.
From a bar-stool vantage point, you’ll notice an antique-looking dispenser with icy perspiration. It’s filled with anise-tinged absinthe, the formerly verboten spirit legalized about a decade ago that has come back with a vengeance. If absinthe doesn’t appeal, Adams will create a bespoke cocktail for you. And yes, you can find a glass of rosé or a local craft beer or two on the menu. (There were no cocktail napkins or side plates, however, so the bar fell into a state of disarray.)
LB Social aims to be a locals kind of place, even if you’re not a resident of Long Beach. On one visit, I talked to a handful of folks who had walked a few blocks from their homes on a sultry night, here for a drink and a half-dozen Blue Points from the raw bar, or clams with sausage and greens.
Other options for starters include a casual take on steak tartare molded into a disk, the meat seasoned with shallots, herbs and capers and garnished with an egg, sunny side up, more show than satisfaction. The grilled octopus is better, served with an elegant side of greens dressed simply with lemon and olive oil.
The salads fall among the better greens I’ve had at a restaurant, since they’re salted and dressed just enough. Take the chopped salad, with roasted corn, grape tomatoes, provolone cheese, cucumbers and a champagne vinaigrette, with a balance of vegetables to greens that have been cared for, so they’re not wilted or stemmy and are pleasant to eat.
For dinner, roast chicken reveals the tone in the kitchen. Lots of restaurants treat chicken as a concession plate, which is a mistake. Not here. A perfectly cooked breast and thigh displays crisp skin and juicy meat, served on a succotash of favas and corn. You should order this.
An entree for the gluten-averse is the delicate zucchini linguine with shrimp, clams and mussels in a seafood marinara, while skirt steak with broccoli rabe and whipped potatoes will satisfy a conservative diner. Order it with a side of fried fingerlings, salty, crisp and irresistible.
LB Social cuts it as a neighbor with a friendly menu and a welcoming atmosphere.