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Feminist Food and the ‘Queerest Coffee’ in Long Beach ~ Wide Eyes Open Palms

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]ide Eyes Open Palms. The name doesn’t immediately say “café” or “kitchen.” Nor does it quite conjure up images of warm baked egg dishes, green and grain bowls, seasonal fruit jams, or gluten-free pastries – the stars of the coffee bar’s daytime menu. If I hadn’t seen the T-shirts they sell, I definitely would not have guessed that Wide Eyes Open Palms is the name of a place that pours “the queerest coffee in town.”

But step into the sunny sidewalk café on Cherry Avenue in Long Beach, and all of the above comes to full life. A dapper butch with perfectly pomaded barber cut hair pours foamy lattes and tempts guests with hot caramel desserts, while the fierce fem chef cuts, slices, and dices piles of market-fresh fruits and veggies for the day’s delectable dishes.

Welcome to Wide Eyes Open Palms (WEOP), owned and operated by chef and baker Kat McIver, and her partner, barista, and beverage-maker Angie Evans. The Long Beach neighborhood café and kitchen prides itself on its ultra-local produce, sustainable sourcing of animal products, and overall feminist philosophies that guide their community-oriented food and beverage service.

Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

Café + Kitchen

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]EOP’S daily breakfast, lunch, pastry, and beverage menus reflect the area’s freshest and most seasonal fruits and vegetables, procured mainly from three weekly Long Beach farmers markets at the Marina, Bixby Park, and in downtown Long Beach.

“If we get a bumper crop of something, we’ll feature it on the menu for two or three days,” McIver told L.A. Taco. “Right now, the guava lends itself ideally to jam because of its perfume, texture, and flavor,” she said. “So does rhubarb and Fuyu persimmon.”

A baker at heart, McIver showcases the natural flavors of local seasonal fruits through her decadent jams and pastries. The jams are a popular item with WEOP customers, who delight in generous slices of locally-baked artisan bread spread with layers of seasonal fruit preserves and fresh house-made mascarpone.

Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

Evans, WEOP’s resident beverage expert, likes to use the fresh fruits in her unique creations. One specialty, called a shrub, is a soda made with fermented apple cider mixed with fresh fruit purees. The resulting tart and fizzy sipping drink is reminiscent of a kombucha. WEOP’s shrubs and other homemade drinks are all nonalcoholic, though Evans added, “These would make great cocktails with your favorite spirit at home.” I drank up the quenching pomegranate and fresh-lime shrub as I imagined it mixed with a shot of vodka, or perhaps tequila over ice. Very nice.

The farmers market veggies shine in WEOP’s savory dishes, including hearty grain bowls and salads. McIver turns late fall bounties of cauliflower, sunchokes, mushrooms, carrots, and greens into satisfying soups and frittatas du jour. A popular vegan soup at WEOP is the “creamy broccoli soup” made with cashews, with optional cheese crisps for those who want a touch of dairy added.

“My goal with each dish is to showcase the beauty of the ingredients from the farmers,” McIver said. “We don’t need a bunch of ingredients to make fresh, locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables delicious if we present them in clean and simple ways that enhance their natural flavors and textures.”

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Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

From Farmers’ Market to Table

[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]cIver and Evans have a soft spot for the Long Beach farmers’ markets, and not just because the couple met at one nearly nine years ago. The deep relationships cultivated by McIver and Evans with their farmers’ market suppliers are integral to WEOP’s menu and whole operation.

“We always shop at the farmers’ markets. We know a percentage goes right back into helping to keep the market going,” McIver said. “It’s good not just for the restaurant, but for the community and the farmers, growers, and food artisans whose products make our meals possible.”

Evans and McIver have been building these vital local food connections since they first started their coffee and pastry business at the Bixby Park Farmers’ Market on Tuesday nights, where WEOP began humbly as small stall in November 2013.

“It was the first farmers’ market we sweet-talked our way into,” McIver recalled. “We had a pop-up tent and two tables at our first market. I served homemade pastries and jams, and Angie served pour-over, single-origin coffees she’d pick out from local roasters.”

Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

The pastry and coffee pop-up merged the pair’s respective passions — McIver’s for baking and cooking with farm-fresh ingredients with Evans’s barista-trained devotion to a perfectly brewed cup of locally-roasted coffee. When long lines started forming, Evans perfected two-at-a-time pour-overs to keep the line moving and the customers happily caffeinated.

After three and a half years of serving their signature pastries and coffee, McIver and Evans earned enough seed money to take their concept from a tent-table at the farmers’ market to a brick-and-mortar café and kitchen on Cherry Avenue. They opened Wide Eyes Open Palms in April 2017.

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The Feminism Behind the Food

[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]cIver and Evans had a concept, a plan, and a menu ready to go for their new spot. They just needed a name and a motto. It came to McIver one day while she was steam-cleaning someone’s floor, back when she and Evans had a green-cleaning business called Eco Dykes. “I just screamed it at [Angie] in the other room. Wide Eyes Open Palms! It’s more a feeling, like a mantra, something to live your life everyday seeing anew with wide eyes, open palms, ready to give and receive.”

Evans concurs. “The name is hard to explain, but it has a lot of feeling.”

“Lots of restaurants say they do seasonal, local, organic, farm to table, all of that, but sometimes that’s not enough,” McIver continued. “What do those things mean? How many people are listening to the earth? What is the earth giving us during any given season?”

“We like ‘feminist food’ because it reflects an explicitly political, feminine mother-earth energy – how we eat, and the kind of space we want to create here,” McIver said. “For us, feminism isn’t just a gimmicky idea on a T-shirt.” From the sign on the door that announces that racism, sexism, fatphobia, transphobia, and homophobia will not be tolerated, to the specially blended teas and tinctures for menstrual cramps, WEOP integrates feminism at all levels of operation.

These days, Big Ag companies makes us sick with E. coli romaine lettuce and salmonella eggs in a corporate food system in which so much of this country’s food supply chain is ruled by violence, industrialization, and toxic paternalism. Even organic veggies belie their ostensible cruelty freeness when greedy growers force farmworkers to pick kale and strawberries in wildfire smoke. In these dire conditions, a small community effort like WEOP restores some earth- and people-friendly balance with their feminist food politics for conscious eating.

“Feminist food” also half-jokingly describes the chef’s specialties. As McIver and Evans tell it, “We thought, ‘What do we call the food that Kat likes to make?’ It’s mostly veggie, with meat used sparingly and in smaller portions, sustainably produced. Was it lesbian cuisine? Women’s food? Dyke bites? Granola crunch?” I laugh with McIver and Evans as they describe food that all too well fits the stereotypical lesbian palate and mother-earth eating habits one might have found at the Lilith Fair back in the day.

Photo by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

For Evans, who studied English and Women’s Gender, Sexuality at Cal State Long Beach, WEOP represents feminism as practice, because it informs so much of what they do and how they do it – from staffing and labor decisions, to negotiating with suppliers, and simply being a good neighbor to the long-time residents in the classic Craftsman homes just a few doors down.

She adds with a laugh, “We’re kind of like an Ani DiFranco concert here. There’s definitely a lot of women who come here, a lot of lesbians, and the cool straight girls with their cool boyfriends who don’t bother anyone. But people like it here, and we welcome them. They can sit wherever for however long, do their tarot cards or read, have a cup of tea, and relax.”


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