If you’ve found yourself on Washington Street, just west of Lincoln Boulevard on any given weekend, you’ve seen the line. It forms in the minimal shadow of an outmoded, stark gray brick of a building that with its neon blue “Drive” font lettering over the roof looks like a blend of a 70’s dive bar and a windowless motel. The clusters of twenty-somethings in full day party attire form the faintest line up the sidewalk, like a scatter plot trending toward brunch. They are the physical manifestation of the 4-star rating and 2,626 reviews on Yelp for their target: Venice’s mercurial brunch bastion, 26 Beach.
There’s no denying it, this place is popular.
But as shameless judgmental food snobs, we turned our noses up. A cautious online exploration uncovered a Cheesecake Factory-length menu (gasp!), with two pages of burgers (no!), two pages of salads (what??), and an entire page of french toasts (How dare they!) Critical acclaim seemed measured – the papers, Eaters, and Thrillists were quiet, save a single article from eight years ago literally about their sushi-topped hamburgers.
On it’s face, 26 Beach had all the makings of a kitschy, young, sceney bad time, with jolly-rancher-sweet cocktails and inept bone-in chicken salads.
But you see, we’d been dieting. Self-depriving of even the simple pleasures, and so the more chaotic fare began to look more and more appealing. Like the self-depriving Comte de Reyanud of the film, Chocolat, we were a tinder box of food lust. And so we indulged in a brunch reservation, and, well…
26 Beach broke our bougie, and it will break yours, too. All of the elitism and hateration could not save us from the incredible, delicious, and bizarrely consistent food and drinks the place had to offer.
We began with the Rosé Mojito – since the Pineapple Mojito had left the menu – and it catapulted to among our favorite cocktails available today.
It was fresh and crisp with just the right amount of sweetness; light and summery with notes of watermelon and strawberry uppercut by the mint. This drink tasted how a poolside back massage must feel. With so, so much lotion.
We followed it up with a Lillet Frosé and a white sangria, both magical, balanced, and perfect for a sunny May morning in L.A.
The red sangria and Guava Basil Margarita remain firmly on our Must Try Next Time list.
Delving into the French Toast litany, we tried the Lemon Ricotta French Toast that had constituted roughly 40% of the Yelp photos and review ravings.
Half-loaf-thick golden brown slices slide our way, with just the slightest crunch under the fork giving way to soft custardy perfection. Scarlet drizzles of their raspberry coulis latticed the peaks of amber bread, and with the cool sweetness of the blueberries and sharp tang of the lemon blended to make a masterpiece of decadence.
Eager at least for protein, we went bold with our orders of Royales – the large, popular egg scrambles that often ran three to four meats deep. We began with the arguable fan favorite, the Eggs Diablo. Applewood smoked bacon, corn, and peas, topped with a diablo salsa over brown rice and black beans. The heat was medium, the Southwestern flavors were high, with an addictive balance of rich-and-salty from the bacon and salsa with clean, cooling sweetness from the corn and peas.
Then, of course, being Rum & Biscuits, we had to try the Makin’ Jamaican Royal, with chicken, red onion, bell peppers, black beans and brown rice, all topped with a jerk sauce. We may have been overly optimistic, but we simply couldn’t go this far (and be this surprised) only to find out years later that all this time 26 Beach had a chef from Port Antonio who made the best jerk in Southern California.
In the end, the dish was not a Caribbean messiah, but it was tasty! The sauce was low heat, and sweet like barbecue as so many tend to be in the area, but it nevertheless complimented the savoriness of the chicken, onion, and peppers, in one hearty and satisfying dish.
But let’s get to why we really came. And why we nearly couldn’t leave.
Cue Jennifer Lewis and Josh Gad: THIS motherf**** RIGHT HERE. The Peach Melba French Toast.
Two dense, chewy, creamy cylinders of croissant nestling what by themselves would have been a hell of a dessert: fresh firm peaches (not the wilted, basically chutney’d bullshit you think of with most peach pies and treats), heaps of slow-melting vanilla ice cream, crunchy pecans and their berry-flavored melba sauce. The violent difficulty of cutting into the toast only hastened the carnal blending of each element. It was a serendipitous process, but if we could have done so appropriately, we would have just as quickly tore the croissants apart with teeth and hands, like a bear eating an Alaskan salmon.
With this dish, we knew it was a wrap. We would be back here many times. We would bring family and friends here. People visiting us from out of town; people we loved and who trusted us with their limited meals and time. We would brave in the millennial clusters on the sidewalk, maybe even rock the same Daisy Dukes when it warmed up.
Much like it’s interior, which was something like Alice in Wonderland meets Geisha Baby Shower, with this dish, 26 Beach itself entered the pantheon of Things We Want to Hate but Can’t Help but Love. Right in the mix with LeBron James, Piña Coladas, and T-Pain – which is to say, high up.
Has 26 Beach taught us a lesson about being open-minded and not judging a restaurant book by it’s cover? Can we maybe walk away from this experience a bit more willing to abandon pre-conceived notions and not be so bougie. Hardly! But while we’re slow to change, we’re quick to recognize something special, and to broadcast its gamesmanship no matter how embarrassingly skeptical we may have been when we entered the arena. In this unusual instance, a mile-long menu was less the unfocused disappointment of non-commitment, and more the explosion of imagination that a one-sheeter couldn’t stretch to contain.
Far from using dozens of dishes to try to cover all the classics, 26 Beach dishes seem to fill the gap of what you (or they) have dreamed of but never seen. That’s how the fuck you get French Toast like that. And that’s why we’ll keep coming back – for years maybe – our noses firmly level.