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Jongewaard's Bake 'n' Broil

June 14, 2007 | 11:01 am

Cakes_2 There are great restaurants and then there are great places to eat. Great restaurants are those places you go for the meal that will change your life. Great places to eat are the ones you go to to enjoy the everyday pleasure of a good dinner. It has been my great fortune to eat in a lot of great restaurants, but most often you’ll find me sitting in great places to eat. In fact, in one particular great place to eat: Jongewaard’s Bake 'n' Broil in Long Beach’s Bixby Knolls neighborhood. Its food will never be mistaken for cuisine — nothing is reimagined and garnishes are usually limited to a single sprig of parsley — but over the last 15 years, I would guess that my family has averaged at least two meals a week there, and if I was being completely honest, probably more. If you’re lucky, you have a place like it near you.

Strictly speaking, I guess you’d call Bake 'n' Broil a coffee shop. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the menu tends to burgers and fries, though they also serve prepared dishes like pot roast and an absolutely killer chicken pot pie. They also have salads and soups (split pea is best, but frequently sells out). Still, if I had to single out one thing Bake 'n' Broil does better than anything else, it would be their cakes and pies, which are all made in-house and are the kinds of things pastry chefs have in mind when they dream nostalgic: red velvet, carrot and German chocolate cakes and boysenberry and banana cream pies.

Breakfasts are particularly good. The omelets are well-cooked and the huevos rancheros are much better than you have any right to expect in a place named Jongewaard’s. In season there are fresh fruit pancakes. And for that once-a-year splurge breakfast, they make a cinnamon roll French toast that has the atomic weight of gold and a flavor to match.

There’s a horseshoe-shaped counter that is usually crowded with regulars, and of these there are plenty. A hard core of them eats dinner at Bake 'n' Broil every night. This takes dedication. The restaurant takes no reservations; you just put your name on a list when you arrive. At peak times (meaning, roughly, any time between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. and 8 pm.), the wait can be more than 30 minutes. No matter, you meet the most surprising people here. One regular is a professor at Cal Poly Pomona’s restaurant school. Another is a drummer who has played with Sting. Yet another is a prominent farmers market grower.

What draws all these people? Mushroom burger, boysenberry milkshake and red velvet cupcake would be one easy answer. It's not the dream of eating something they've never had that brings folks to B 'n' B. Instead, it's the promise of being well fed with common food prepared uncommonly well. But there’s more to it than that. Bake 'n' Broil and other restaurants like it represent the idea that eating well — even if the food is quite simple — is something that is meant to be a daily pleasure, not just a special occasion.

Jongewaard's Bake 'n' Broil, 3697 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; (562) 595-0396.

-- Russ Parsons

Photo by Russ Parsons