You can tell when a beach town has spiffed itself up. It gets hard to find a hamburger.
It took some searching around Manhattan Beach to come up with a place suitable for kicking off a column about BeachFood. It’s a very definite category of food, but I have trouble defining it. Sometimes, BeachFood is a burger and fries from a stand on the sand. Sometimes it’s lobster at a pricy place with a big picture window that looks out at the surf.
At its essence, BeachFood is what tastes good while the waves are pounding nearby. It could be a ripe plum on a clear summer day. Or maybe something battered and deep-fried. Perhaps something that began its life in the sea and is served with a fine wine.
Sloopy’s is a Manhattan Beach treat, and it has been for more than forty years. It specializes in burgers and milkshakes, but also offers an extensive menu of healthy and gourmet options and boasts of “farm-fresh ingredients” and “sustainable fisheries,” words I don’t remember being on the menu in the Seventies.
One of Sloopy’s greatest pleasures is the open-air garden that serves as a dining area. It’s far more comfortable than it has any right to be, and though it’s a tiny area in terms of square footage, it always feel spacious.
I tend to be a creature of habit, so when I pop into a place that has great burgers, that’s what I gravitate to. Though I hadn’t been to Sloopy’s for several years, the Classic Cheeseburger (Angus beef with cheddar, cracked pepper mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles) was everything I remembered. It has a rich, crisp taste. The price, $7.75 including fries, is more than I last paid for it, but not outrageous for a pleasant meal in the sunshine.
Of course, pulling out the stops for a great burger like Sloopy’s means you really should throw caution to the wind. I knew I’d feel bad if I let my wonderful burger get lonely on the table without one of Sloopy’s phenomenal milkshakes ($3.95, 75 cents extra for a malt). The choice was a tough one, since there are 18 different flavors to choose from—vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, raspberry, banana, pineapple, cantaloupe, peach. blueberry, peanut butter, mint, coffee, organic espresso, mocha, root beer float, Coke float, oreo, and caramel.
I stared at the menu board far longer than it took to read each flavor. I was trying to match up in my imagination the way each flavor might match the burger.
Finally, hesitantly, I announced my intention for the Coffee shake. An odd choice, I realized, but it was rich and cold and strong. And it tasted great with the burger.
And that, after all, was the point of the whole meal.
3416 Highland Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA