Erin and Phil Shipley met in Manhattan Beach seven years ago at Hennessey's. She'd just finished her shift at Mangiamos, and he was visiting from his home in Birmingham, England and (of course) hitting the local pub. It was love at first sight and soon the two of them were living the SoCal gypsy life of food service/hospitality workers.
Phil had been obsessed with the Beach Boys even before he met met his beach girl—and called her his 'Wild Honey' in reference to the band's LP. So, when they found a spot of their own, back in the beach town where their romance began, it's no surprise they christened it Wild Cafe.
The old Four Daughter's Kitchen space on Highland Avenue is still the same ocean blue, but the interior has been given a more modern feel with some Edison lighting, polished blond tables and distressed aluminum chairs. At one end, a big screen plays old-school surfing films, or sporting events, or Chaplin movies, depending on the time of day and the owner's whim.
The concept is family casual dining with shareable plates. It's a relaxed, kick-back sort of place where you can enjoy a glass of wine and something healthy and fresh.
I've stopped in twice, once for breakfast. I can report they make a perfect pancake, light and fluffy with a hint of buttermilk tang, which isn't as simple as it sounds. My spouse enjoyed the Hang Ten scramble, eggs with bacon, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, onion and cheese over O'Brien potatoes. It is a hearty, meaty, man-sized dish. There's a dozen other options from breakfast burritos to avocado toast, most running around $11.
The lunch/dinner menu hits all the highlights you'd expect of a city cafe; small plates, salads and bowls, sandwiches, burgers and tacos. There's something to please everyone, and without getting too adventurous, the kitchen puts a new spin on some old favorites.
The bruschetta has the usual crostini topped with olive oil, diced tomato and basil pesto, but adds the smoke of caramelized onion and a bit of prosciutto along with a generous drizzle of reduced sweet balsamic.
Short rib sliders are precisely what you'd expect, and delicious. The slightly sweet brioche bun cradles a dollop of rich, braised beef, a spoonful of caramelized onion, a smear of spicy horseradish and a bit of arugula to freshen it up.
Truffle bacon mac & cheese is light enough on the truffle oil that the kids will still eat it, but that addition, along with bacon and a crunchy panko topping, make it special. Add a nice blend of three cheeses, fontina, mozzarella, and for extra silkiness, Velveeta, and it's a winner.
The wine bucket, or in our case bottled water bucket, is a child's pink plastic sand pail, which adds to the whimsy of the place.
Dinner offers a couple special entrees along with the daily menu. Thursday is whole lobster and a bottle of pink Champagne for $35. Friday is 'date night'—with any two dinner entrees, they toss in a bottle of Pinot. The kitchen is still refining and defining the selections, but you can expect a meat and a fish option.
The night I dined I chose a grilled salmon with a cilantro-poblano rice, fresh grilled asparagus and mango chutney. The salmon was expertly cooked; a beautifully caramelized crust and tender center. The mango chutney, sweet and tart, and the asparagus al dente. Even the rice was thoughtfully seasoned, and the plate very pretty and well-balanced.
Dessert offerings also vary. I was brought a flourless chocolate cake with caramel sauce, candied pecans, bacon, whip cream and strawberries. While not exactly 'wild,' it was perfect for sharing, and a luscious ending to a pleasant meal.
Cafe Wild is located at 3505 Highland Avenue in Manhattan Beach. For more information visit Cafe-Wild.com.
Manhattan Beach resident Eileen Shields is a regular restaurant profiler for The Beach Reporter. Aside from discovering fabulous beach city eats, she spends time traveling and writing fiction. Links to her work can be found at eileenshieldswriter.com.