Plus a tasty recipe for lentil-based veggie balls.
By Linda Kissam
I am a busy person. I like to cook. I love a good glass of beer or wine. I search out great tapas places with an impressive wine and food menu. I am also very good at task management, although I sometimes suck at finding time for friends…or myself for that matter. So when I heard Gelson’s market had created a new store experience that speaks to my strengths and weaknesses, I thought I better head right over to see how I could use it to my advantage.
The newly opened Gelson’s supermarket in Long Beach features a wine bar. Yup, it’s the first one in their chain. You can find it to the left of the juicy organic oranges and next to the inspiring display of olive oils. The Gateway Wine Bar is nestled in towards the front of the store. It features a selection of hot and cold small plate options to accompany a small but impressive list of thoughtfully selected beer and wine. Did I mention there is both bar seating and table seating? The Gateway may be small in footprint, but it is mighty in its experience value. It gives the terms “neighborhood bar” and “busy people solutions” a whole new meaning and vibe.
I set up an appointment to spend some time with “Ray” one of the two main wine servers at the bar. My interview and experience more than met my expectations. I went with my husband to get a male perspective. I needn’t have done that as there were plenty of male customers enjoying the bar. Ray greeted us with a tasty menu, a big smile, and welcome and attentive service. I thought this might be just for us, but no, everyone got the same personal service.
The seasonally adjusted tapas menu featured nine choices from $5 to $9: four microbrew beers, eight wines and three nonalcoholic beverages. There was also a special wine choice not on the menu. I ordered a Veuve Clicquot glass of Champagne ($8). My husband ordered the Strand Brewing Beach House Amber Ale. Both were full-glass pours. We paired our choices with the Vegetable Meatballs ($8). Wow, wow, wow. Can we all say, “Winner?” The beer and Champagne speak for themselves of course (amazing), but the meatballs are a stand-alone star. It wasn’t until my husband was halfway through his portion of the meatballs that he read the menu and figured out the four very large, very good meatballs weren’t made with meat. That is a first. Usually I get “the face.” You know, one bite and then the face that clearly says, “Oh my gawd you’re trying to get me to eat healthy again.” Did I mention there is a chef on premises whipping up the tapas as you order them? Repeat with me, “Yum, fresh yum, fresh, yum fresh.”
When we first arrived at 2 p.m., there was just one client at the bar. By the time we left 45 minutes later, there was a full house. This is a very popular place. I saw an equal amount of beer as wine being consumed. The average age was 40-plus and tres international. A beautiful marina within walking distance explains that observation, but I am sure the age/type client profile skews depending upon the time of day. All are welcome – except children. Adults only, please. Ray shared that his customers come in for a variety of reasons. They come to unwind or relax, have some alone time, or share a few moments with friends. The two men sitting to my right were waiting for their wives to arrive at which point they would be walking to the local movie house. A single man to my left said with a twinkle in his eye he needed some liquid courage to help him navigate all the temptations in the store that were not on his shopping list.
Ray says he likes working for Gelson’s as they have the same values and standards he enjoys and has found at his other jobs (food and beverage manager at large hotels). He looks forward to coming to work every day because he has “lots of fun, has great repeat customers, and enjoys meeting new clients (many of which are international) every day of the week.” He recommends trying the Mini Lobster Role ($7), the Caprese Salad ($9) and the Charcuterie Plate ($7). Choose your favorite brand name wine from the menu, or he is delighted to suggest something based on your taste preferences. He tells me the average client stay is 45 minutes and last call comes at 7:45 p.m.
I can tell you that I loved this place. I can see it as my own version of “Cheers,” but with better produce and killer freshly-made soups. Once Ray recognizes you, he yells out a friendly by-name greeting as you sit down or flash by with your grocery cart. This bar even got my husband’s two-thumbs-up, no-complaints seal of approval. I’d say that was worth the trip in itself. Did I mention the “no tipping” policy?
If I think even on a surface level, I can figure out at least three things I can do at Gelson’s. I can have a drink before or after I begin my shopping. This may seem unusual to some people, but it makes a whole lot of sense to this Wine Diva. I can park my husband at the bar for a tall, cold beer and a snack while I wheel myself unencumbered around the natural and organic pet foods section, and take time to linger at the inspiring meat department. I can also combine picking up some take-home sushi or roasted chicken with a wine drink meet and greet with a good friend. Now if that isn’t amazing task management, I give up.
Besides the wine bar, other amenities at the Long Beach Gelson’s include a second-floor terrace overlooking Alamitos Bay, a coffee bar, snazzy baked goods from Renaud’s Patisserie and Bistro and made-to-order sushi from Red Shell Foods. Seriously if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you are just not trying.
Please enjoy a “taste” of Gelson’s via the recipe below. A special thanks goes to Yvonne Manganaro, Gelsons marketing guru, and Executive Chef Peter Fiore for allowing me to share the extraordinary meatball recipe below with you. And Ray…what can I possibly say to you that would ever cover the personalized time you spent with me, helping me to fully understand the Gateway Bar experience?
Featured image: Ray greets us at the Gateway Wine Bar at Gelson’s. Photo by Linda Kissam.
Compliments of Executive Chef Fiore
Yield: 8-10, golf ball size.
• 2 cups lentils
• 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 carrots, chopped
• 2 celery stalks, chopped olive oil
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 3 tablespoons tomato paste
• 8 ounces Button Mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
• 3 large eggs
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/2 cup bread crumbs
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
• 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
Ingredient Prep Notes from Executive Chef Peter Fiore
• The vegetables should be chopped uniform and fine, ¼-inch if chopped by hand. A food processor will also work.
• Bread crumb choices: Both soft and hard will work, but soft is a better choice. My recommendation is day old bread crumbed in a food processor or blender. Only hard are available in our stores.
• You can substitute dry herbs for fresh. If using dry, cut the volume by half.
• Lentils: We use brown, but this recipe will work with any variety. I would stay away from the khaki, as mushy will not yield the best result.
Combine the lentils and 2 quarts water in a medium stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are soft (but not falling apart), about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and allow to cool.
Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil to a large frying pan and sauté the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and salt over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for three minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 more minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, add the lentils to the vegetable mixture.
Add the eggs, Parmesan, bread crumbs, parsley, and walnuts to the cooled vegetable mixture and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated. Place in the refrigerator for 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into a 9 × 13-inch baking dish and use your hand to evenly coat the entire surface. Set aside.
Roll the mixture into round, golf ball-size meatballs (about 1 1/2 inches), making sure to pack the vegetable mixture firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, allowing 1/4-inch of space between the balls and place them in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid.
Roast for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through.
Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving
Serve 4 balls over warm Marinara Sauce (a high quality jar sauce will work).
6255 E. 2nd Street, Long Beach, CA 90803
Open 12 noon – 8 p.m. daily
Complimentary beer & wine tastings. Contact store for more information. www.gelsons.com/