Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber, Clearwater, Florida

One of the great pleasures in life for me is discovering a restaurant that is well-preserved mid-century modern in design that also has terrific food. Before I travel somewhere I always pull out my vintage copies of Duncan Hines’ Adventures in Good Eating (I have one from the 1940s and one from 1962) and the AAA Tour Book (I have copies from 1953 and a 1959-60) and look in the areas where I’m going for restaurants that still exist (via an online search). I found Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber this way. From the 1962 Adventures in Good Eating:

Heilman’s Beachcomber…”Back-to-the-farm” fried chicken dinners served family style, seafood delicacies and N.Y. cut sirloin steaks. L., $1-$3. D., $2.25-$3.

The next thing I usually do is do an image search and check out pictures of the place on Yelp and Tripadvisor to see if it’s been remodeled. In most cases they are. In the case of the Beachcomber it looked remodeled on the outside but there weren’t good photos of the inside so my hopes weren’t that high, though I still put it on the top of my to-dine-at list. I’m glad I did!

 

Heilman's Ohio

Heilman’s, Lorain, Ohio – image by http://danielebrady.blogspot.com

 

In 1920 Ross Heilman and his brother Alton opened a small grill on Broadway in Lorain, Ohio. They expanded into a larger building in 1936 and renamed it Heilman’s Marine Dining Room and Grill, decorating it in a lightly nautical theme.

 

Marine Dining Room, Lorain, Ohio - image by http://danielebrady.blogspot.com

Marine Dining Room, Lorain, Ohio – image by http://danielebrady.blogspot.com

 

Ross Heilman’s son Bob opened Heilman’s Beachcomber in 1948 in Clearwater Beach, Florida.

 

Original Heilman's Beachcomber, Clearwater, Florida - image by William Bird on Flickr

Original Heilman’s Beachcomber, Clearwater, Florida – image by William Bird on Flickr

 

Ross’ other son Hubert opened a Heilman’s restaurant in Fort Lauderdale in 1958.

 

Heilman's Fort Lauderdale, Florida - image by SwellMap on Flickr

Heilman’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida – image by SwellMap on Flickr

 

In 1959 the Beachcomber was badly damaged by fire so it was rebuilt. The new Heilman’s Beachcomber had two dining rooms, The Seascape Room and The Gallery, and the  Jester Bar. I’m not sure but I’m going to guess that the Seascape Room is now the front dining room where you enter that has large windows on two walls while the Gallery Room is the split-level dining room and bar to the right as you enter (part of it can be seen in the vintage postcard view below).

 

early postcard of Heilman's Beachcomber's Gallery Room - image by William Bird on Flickr

early postcard of Heilman’s Beachcomber’ – image by William Bird on Flickr

 

In 1961 a fourth Heilman family restaurant opened: Heilman’s Ranch House on West Erie in Lorain, Ohio, not far from Heilman’s Marine Dining Room. It was decorated with pine walls, cattle hides, longhorn skulls and lariats, and was open 24-hours serving “ranchburgers” and other American fare. In 1964 the Beachcomber expanded by adding the “Room For One More Room”. In 1968 the original Heilman’s closed, leaving the Fort Lauderdale Heilman’s (closing year unknown), the Ranch House (closed, 1974), and the lone survivor to date: Heilman’s Beachcomber. Bob Heilman passed away in 2007.

 

later postcard of Heilman's Fort Lauderdale - image by William Bird on Flickr

later postcard of Heilman’s Fort Lauderdale – image by William Bird on Flickr

 

Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber today

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

entrance - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

entrance – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

As I stated above, the Seascape Room was somewhat remodeled recently with some sailboat wall sculptures (but the chandelier is still there) along with the outside of the building (I haven’t found any pics of the outside of the 1959 Beachcomber before the remodel).

 

early postcard of Seascape Room

early postcard of Seascape Room

 

recent photo of Seascape Room via Tripadvisor

recent photo of Seascape Room via Tripadvisor

 

As you enter the second dining room (which I think is the Gallery Room) you first notice that it is spilt-level, with tables on the first level and booths and tables on the second level. At the front of the room is a wonderful mural, white banquettes, and a wood beam ceiling, all of which can be seen in the vintage postcard above (now with fabric between the beams).

 

mural - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

mural – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

On closer inspection you can see that the mural, portraying Caribbean island activities such as preparing food, fishing, and playing music, is actually in mixed media (such as, the boat section is really made of wood). And then you spy the Beachcomber character in the mural, who wears a striped shirt, a white linen suit with the pants rolled up, and a white Captain’s hat (he also appears on the menus, old matchbooks, and there is a statue of him in one corner of the Gallery Room).

 

detail of mural - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

detail of mural – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

One of the fine folks at Tiki Central traced the origin of this beachcomber character to a 1940s painting by Albert Dorne (there are also some dandy matchbooks and other ephemera to view).

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

beachcomber statue in Gallery Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

I like the Beachcomber’s use of classic house plants, a nice touch that adds to the vintage feel (more restaurants should start using house plants again).

 

Second level of Gallery Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Second level of Gallery Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

copper wall sculpture in Gallery Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

copper wall sculpture in Gallery Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

There is live piano music nightly in the Gallery Room next to the bar. I enjoyed the piano player’s mix of old standards and classic rock ‘n roll songs. Live music is a tradition at the Beachcomber: in the 1960s they featured Ruth Crane on the Hammond organ. Speaking of the bar, the back wall of the bar is all rocks and on the right side of the bar is a gorgeous long stained glass mural of abstract bottles, which is signed and dated ‘1959’.

 

stained glass in bar - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

stained glass in bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

detail of stained glass - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

detail of stained glass with rock wall behind – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016 (open to enlarge)

 

 

 

Behind the Gallery Room is another small dining room with a copper fireplace, which I think is the Room For One More Room.

 

 

 

Room For One More Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Room For One More Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

The Menu consists mainly of seafood, several cuts of beef, and their famous fried chicken. They have some classic specialties such as vichyssoise, served in a bowl on a bed of crushed ice, fried frogs legs, clams Casino, oysters Florentine, escargot, chicken livers, and their version of the Hot Brown, an open-faced sandwich of roast turkey on toast with Mornay sauce baked until it’s browned and topped with bacon, tomato, olives, and asparagus (it originated in Lousiville, Kentucky, at the Brown Hotel in 1926 but the Beachcomber says they’ve made it this way since 1948). Dinners are served with a chilled relish tray of house made relishes & spreads with crackers, salad (or soup with the fried chicken dinner), vegetable, and a basket of their homemade banana bread, muffins, and rolls.

 

relish tray of (clockwise from LL) farmers cheese, apple butter, beet horseradish, and corn relish - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

relish tray of (clockwise from LL) farmers cheese, apple butter, beet horseradish, and corn relish – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

The service was outstanding. Thank goodness that Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber survives and thrives. I can’t wait to return.

 

Bob Heilman, 1921-2007

Bob Heilman, 1921-2007

 

 

Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber
447 Mandalay Ave, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767
(727) 442-4144
Open Mon-Thu 11:30am-10:30pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-11:00pm, Sun 11:30am-10:00pm

 

Los Caracoles, Barcelona, Spain

Last year I returned to Barcelona for the first time since 2004. The city I loved then has gotten better and better, with more dining and drinking options and more sights to see. I especially loved seeing some Modernist architectural wonders that I missed in 2004 as I concentrated on the most famous Gaudi sights on my first visit (I’m glad I did then because the lines were much, much longer this time). Highlights this time for me were Lluís Domènech i Montaner‘s astounding Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau (just opened to the public in 2014), both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And I braved the crowds to see the awesome interior of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, which is getting close to completion (due in 2026).

 

Barcelona

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

One of Barcelona’s oldest restaurants, Los Caracoles (aka Casa Bofarull) was opened in 1835 by the Bofarull family. Today fifth generation family member Aurora Bofarull runs the restaurant. Over the 180 years since it was founded, Los Caracoles (the snails) has attracted many celebrities, presidents, and other notables.

 

Barcelona

old postcard

 

Los Caracoles is located in the Gothic Quarter just off Las Ramblas. The outside corner of the restaurant features a chicken broiler visible through glass doors. If you stand there long enough you may see a chef come outside to baste the chickens. Once inside the door you enter the atmospheric bar with high ceilings, wooden cabinets and barrels, and a huge wrought iron chandelier.

 

Barcelona

bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

After passing through the bar you walk right through the kitchen!

 

Barcelona

kitchen – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

At the end of the kitchen the host escorts you to your table through a warren of dining rooms, each with their own historical charms. Photos are everywhere of famous Spaniards and people from around the world who have dined at the restaurant.

 

Barcelona

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Barcelona

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The menu is traditional Catalan/Mediterranean. Their specialties are snails, mussels, garlic prawns, beans Catalan style, butifarra sausage with beans and mushrooms, roasted chicken, steaks and chops, paella, and a large seafood platter. I opted for the snails, which are served in sauce and with toothpicks to dig out the morsels. Note these are not like the escargot you may have had in the US or France. These snails are smaller and the meat is dark brown to black and slightly chewy but tender. Not for the squeamish about snails!

 

Barcelona

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Note the cute snail shaped crispy bread!

 

Barcelona

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

For my main dish I had delicious butifarra sausage with beans. And for dessert some crema Catalana, which is a must when in Catalonia! Bon profit! (Bon appetit in Catalan)

 

Los Caracoles
Carrer dels Escudellers, 14, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Phone: +34 933 01 20 41
Open daily 1:00PM – 12:00 midnight

 

Anthony’s Fish Grotto, La Mesa, California

I grew up in La Mesa, California, a suburb of San Diego. According to my mom, we went to Anthony’s Fish Grotto next to the Interstate 8 freeway in the 1960s or 70s but I don’t remember. The last time I remember eating there was in the 1990s. I recall liking it but I was mad when they replaced their huge, beautiful sign with fish of different sizes (see postcard below) with a boring blue and white glass sign. After some friends’ recent visit to Anthony’s Fish Grotto in La Mesa, I decided to try it again.

 

Anthony's founders, 1946 - L to R: Anthony Ghio, Tod Ghio, Catherine "Mama" Ghio, and Roy Weber - photo by Anthony's Fish Grotto

Anthony’s founders, 1946 – L to R: Anthony Ghio, Tod Ghio, Catherine “Mama” Ghio, and Roy Weber – photo by Anthony’s Fish Grotto

 

In 1946 Catherine “Mama” Ghio and her sons Anthony and Tod with her son-in-law Roy Weber opened a small diner at 965 Harbor Drive in San Diego to serve Mama Ghio’s seafood dishes from her secret fish batter and sauce recipes. Anthony was host, Tod prepared the fish, and Mama and Roy did the cooking. The restaurant was a hit and in 1951 the business expanded, opening a larger restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway and a modern new restaurant in La Jolla.

 

20894691094_78f044bb31_o

 

A wholesale fish market was added in 1954, which still serves as the source of the seafood at Anthony’s, obtained from both local fishing boats and distant seas.

 

In 1960 Anthony’s hired popular local architect C. J. “Pat” Paderewski to design a modern new restaurant next to a historic pond in La Mesa and to boldly redesign the La Jolla location.

 

Anthony's La Mesa, 1961 - photo by Modern San Diego

Anthony’s Fish Grotto La Mesa, 1961 – photo by Modern San Diego

 

The La Mesa location opened in January, 1961, and is still open today.

 

Antony's Fish Grotto La Mesa postcard

postcard of La Mesa Anthony’s showing original sign at upper left (replaced in the 1990s)

 

The La Jolla restaurant closed and unfortunately was demolished in 1983.

 

Anthony's Fish Grotto La Jolla, 1961 - photo by Modern San Diego

Anthony’s Fish Grotto La Jolla, 1961 – photo by Modern San Diego

 

In 1966 a brand new Anthony’s Fish Grotto was built on the downtown San Diego waterfront.

 

Anthony's Fish Grotto San Diego, 1966 - photo by Modern San Diego

Anthony’s Fish Grotto San Diego, 1966 – photo by Modern San Diego

 

Designed by the architectural firm Liebhardt & Weston, it included the main Fish Grotto and a fine dining restaurant, the Star of The Sea Room, where jackets and ties were obligatory.

 

Star of the Sea Room

 

The 1970s saw the opening of the Seafood Mart (1973), the Chula Vista Fish Grotto (1974, closed 2011), and Anthony’s Harborside (1976, closed 1991). In 1983 a Fish Grotto opened in Rancho Bernardo (now closed) and in 2006 the Star of The Sea Room was remodeled and rebranded, only to close two years later, becoming a private event space.

Mama Ghio passed away in 1994 at 97 years of age, but Anthony’s is still run by the Ghio family: Anthony’s son Rick, Tod’s son Craig, and Roy’s daughter Beverly.

 

entrance to La Mesa Fish Grotto - photo by Dean Curtis

entrance to La Mesa Fish Grotto – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

My recent visit was to the La Mesa Fish Grotto, which doesn’t have a bay view like the San Diego one, but it has fanciful grotto decor inside a mid-century modern building. You enter the restaurant through a huge clam shell-shaped portal past a rock grotto with a waterfall.

 

inside entrance - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

inside entrance – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Inside the foyer and bar area the walls are covered with rock with nooks and crannies that contain sea flora and fauna. It’s well done so it doesn’t seem tacky.

 

foyer - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

foyer – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The main dining rooms are in a modern post & beam building (as seen in the 1961 photo above) with large picture windows overlooking the pond, which was originally used as water storage for a wooden flume that was constructed in 1885-88 to carry water from Lake Cuyamaca. Fountains shoot out of fishes’ mouths into the water and there is a fountain in the middle of the pond.

 

view from main dining room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

view from main dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The dining rooms have many booths along the picture windows, upholstered in aquatic colors, as well as a few tables and some large booths along an interior rock wall, which features a beautiful mosaic tile mural of Poseidon (aka Neptune) and Amphitrite riding a combination horse and sea creature. There is also a large dog-friendly patio for dining alfresco next to the pond (which you can see in the photo above).

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The menu is pretty extensive so, as in all seafood restaurants, order wisely. It is usually a good idea to ask your server what is fresh that day and what preparation they recommend (at Anthony’s you can get your fresh fish prepared in various ways). I tend to order a simple preparation such as grilled or sautéed with a simple pan sauce such as a Picatta sauce because heavy sauces can often overpower fish. On my recent visit to Anthony’s La Mesa I ordered fresh wild king (Chinook) salmon, described as line-caught, which is rated as a good choice by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines. I ordered my salmon grilled with the lemon-dill sauce on the side and with redskin mashed potatoes and homemade cole slaw with creamy pineapple dressing. The fish was fresh and cooked perfectly. Everything was delicious including appetizer we had, crispy Brussels sprouts with bacon.

 

food

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

As I mentioned before, Anthony’s has been in the news this year. The restaurant’s lease with the Port of San Diego expires in 2017, so the Port planned to negotiate the site’s redevelopment with two local restaurant chains, excluding Anthony’s. After this news was released the Ghio family asked the port to consider their proposal for a new plan for the site and the Port agreed to do so. Whatever the Port decides, you still have time to visit Anthony’s Fish Grotto in San Diego or La Mesa. Le Continental recommends the La Mesa location for its atmosphere over the San Diego location, which is in a nice modern building but is furnished with cheap looking furniture that looks like it should be in an ice cream parlor or deli and not a seafood restaurant with a harbor view (wood furniture would have been a better choice, imo).

 

Anthony’s Fish Grotto
9530 Murray Dr, La Mesa, CA 91942
(619) 463-0368
Open daily 11:00am – 8:30pm (9:00pm on Friday and Saturday)

 

 

No. 9 Fishermen’s Grotto, San Francisco, California – CLOSED

UPDATE: Fishermen’s Grotto was purchased in 2016 and closed for remodeling. As of June 2017 it remains closed.

One of my favorite web sites during the pre-commercialization heyday of the World Wide Web was the Los Angeles Time Machines site (latimemachines.com). It started in 2004 but it had the look of a 90s web site, basic but chock full of great information. Sadly, in late 2011 the author took the web site down for health reasons and it has never come back. There are a few remnants from the site, namely some outdated Google Maps made from the locations that were listed on the site. This map has hours (which may not be correct anymore) addresses, and year opened, while this map just has short descriptions of the sites. For Mad Men fans, here is a Google Map by the latimemachines.com site showing classic restaurants that were used as filming locations in the early seasons of the TV show. Why I bring up L.A. Time Machines is because the site had a list of Top Ten Overall Time Machine Restaurants in the Los Angeles area.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

In the Bay Area, Le Continental’s award for best all around time machine experience goes to No. 9 Fishermen’s Grotto!

 

Mike 'Pa' Geraldi - photo by Fisherman's Grotto Facebook page

Mike ‘Pa’ Geraldi, 1934 – photo by Fisherman’s Grotto Facebook page

 

In 1931 Mike Geraldi, a fisherman from Sicily, started selling the fish he caught at a stand  at No. 9 Fisherman’s Wharf. In 1935 he opened Fishermen’s Grotto, a full service seafood restaurant on the site.

 

Fisherman's Grotto, 1936 - photo by Fisherman's Grotto Facebook page

Fishermen’s Grotto, 1936 – photo by Fishermen’s Grotto Facebook page

 

Although the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood and tourist attraction in San Francisco extends from Pier 39 to Ghirardelli Square, the original wharf where Fisherman’s Grotto is located was created in 1906 from the remains of Meiggs’ Wharf enlarged with rubble from the great San Francisco earthquake. It still acts as a working wharf with many fishing boats operated by the third generation of long-time Italian fishing families. In the early days of the wharf these fisherman would set up stands offering their days catch. Some had large pots to cook Dungeness crab to be sold as crab cocktails in paper cups. Later many stands evolved into restaurants, including Castagnola’s (the stand opened in 1916, but the restaurant opened later), Alioto’s (1925, the restaurant in 1938), Sabella / La Torre (1927, the restaurant starting in the late 1940s), Pompei’s Grotto (1946), The Franciscan (1957), and Scoma’s (1965). Most of the above restaurants have been expanded, remodeled, and updated. The only ones that retain a classic feel are Pompei’s Grotto, Scoma’s (though gradually it is being updated), and Fishermen’s Grotto, which is the oldest and the best-preserved restaurant on the Wharf.

 

Fishermen's Grotto, 1940

Fishermen’s Grotto, 1940 – photo by Fishermen’s Grotto Facebook page

 

Look at the front of the building in the historic photos above and you can see that the Fisherman character was there from the start. It’s still used throughout the restaurant and on many of their souvenir items available in the gift shop. Yes, there’s a gift shop. And they regularly put out vintage items from their old stock that are for sale!

 

Venetian Dining Room postcard - caption reads "Gaily decorated first and second floor Venetian Dining Rooms of Fisherman's Grotto give visitors a view of world famous Fisherman's Wharf and fishing fleet." - by Ashleyanne Krigbaum's Flickr

Venetian Dining Room postcard – caption reads “Gaily decorated first and second floor Venetian Dining Rooms of Fisherman’s Grotto give visitors a view of world famous Fisherman’s Wharf and fishing fleet.” – by Ashleyanne Krigbaum on Flickr

 

Venetian Dining Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Venetian Dining Room today – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The original building’s dining room is called the Venetian Dining Room, which is festively painted in gold and has padded wooden booths with striped poles like those on Venetian gondolas. Some even have lamps at the top, and all have hat/coat hooks. This is one of my favorite historic dining rooms anywhere and it’s kept in perfect shape! Make sure you look at all the historic photos lining the walls, as well as at the views outside to the harbor. Originally there were Venetian dining rooms on both the first and second floors, but now the remaining one is on the ground floor.

 

Venetian Dining Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Venetian Dining Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Fishermen's Grotto, 1950 - photo by Fisherman's Grotto Facebook page

Fishermen’s Grotto, 1950 – photo by Fisherman’s Grotto Facebook page

 

In 1953 Fishermen’s Grotto expanded on the north end of the building, purchasing and incorporating the Vista Del Mar restaurant next door, which opened in 1951. The swanky Fireplace Cocktail Lounge and beautiful Florentine Dining Room opened upstairs, commanding sweeping views of the harbor.

 

stairway to upstairs Fireplace Lounge and Florentine Dining Room

Stairway today to upstairs Fireplace Lounge and Florentine Dining Room

 

Fireplace Lounge, 1950s - photo by Fisherman's Grotto Facebook page

Fireplace Lounge, 1950s – photo by Fisherman’s Grotto Facebook page

 

Florentine Dining Room, 1950s - photo by Fisherman's Grotto Facebook page

Florentine Dining Room, 1950s – photo by Fisherman’s Grotto Facebook page

 

Also added around this time (on the first floor) were the gift shop and the Grotto Tavern, a cozy small bar with the Fisherman etched in the glass doors, wonderful tufted red vinyl high-backed bar stools, blonde wood ceiling and walls, and a large mural of an Venetian scene.

 

Grotto Tavern entrance - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Grotto Tavern entrance – note the old sign from the crab stand with such low prices! – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

closeup of Fisherman - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Imbibing Fisherman – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Grotto Tavern, 2005 – cash register has since been replaced by computer terminal – photo by Dean Curtis

 

Gift Shop - photo by Dean Curtis, 2012

Gift Shop – I took this photo of part of the gift shop in 2012 when they were renovating it. Thankfully the gift shop is still as beautiful as ever. – photo by Dean Curtis, 2012

 

In the 1960s the Fireplace Lounge and Florentine Dining Room were remodeled a bit. The lounge received new blue vinyl chairs, blue tufted-vinyl, high-backed bar stools and new carpet in the fisherman motif, but the rest of the lounge remained the same, including the honey-stained wood walls with diamond-shaped panels, the stained glass windows, also in a diamond pattern, the coffered wood ceiling, the light sconces, the curving wood bar, and the back bar with decorative carved wood treatments and a statue of Poseidon with (perhaps) Amphitrite, one of his many mates. This is the way it looks today. Absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, a TV was added sometime around the early 2000s (I don’t recall its presence when I first visited the bar in the late 1990s). But the fish tank is still there to distract you from the TV, and the fireplace is as well. The last time I visited on a recent weekday summer night the fireplace was lit, though it may not be every night through the year. On my recent visit we were told that the Fireplace Lounge is staffed only on Friday and Saturday nights, though we were served a drink in the bar after we asked nicely.

My phone photos are very dark since I didn’t want to use a flash, so they can’t do justice to the beauty of the room. But hopefully they can give you some idea. Compare them with the B&W photo above of the Fireplace Lounge in the 1950s to see how little has changed.

 

Fireplace Lounge - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Fireplace Lounge showing fireplace and fish tank – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Fireplace Lounge - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Fireplace Lounge – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Fireplace Lounge bar - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Fireplace Lounge bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Fireplace Lounge - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Fireplace Lounge – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Fireplace Lounge bar - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Fireplace Lounge bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The Florentine Dining Room also has not changed much since 1953, with the exception of new carpet, chairs (which don’t look much different from the original ones), and chandeliers which look like they were added in the 1960s. The gorgeous open beamed ceiling and wavy wood treatments back-lit by recessed lighting are still there in all their glory, as well as picture windows galore, with views of boats in the harbor in the foreground and the city and the Golden Gate bridge in the background.

 

Florentine Dining Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Florentine Dining Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The dining room is huge, so it can accommodate the summertime tourist crowds (it seats 265 diners). As you make your way into the dining room there is another bar (three in one restaurant!) that is a real novelty in San Francisco. The back bar is sunken below floor level so the patrons can drink and dine while seated in lounge chairs instead of bar stools. A brilliant bar concept! The only other sunken bar I recall is the one that was in an old Italian restaurant in Hayward, CA, called Banchero’s, which closed in 2012. I really miss that place!

 

Florentine Dining Room

Florentine Dining Room looking towards the west – the sunken bar is just out of view to the right

 

powder room

 

Near the host stand and the ladies’ powder room (yes, it’s still called that in this time machine) there is a table with some souvenir pamphlets you can take home, and a display case of other souvenirs available in the gift shop downstairs (ask when it closes so you don’t miss the gift shop). And check out all the memorabilia on the walls downstairs, inside and outside).

 

memorabilia

 

The menu is seafood, of course. Their Boston clam chowder recently won a local award. I recommend any of the Dungeness crab dishes, such as the crabcake, crab Louie (my favorite), and the whole or half crab roasted in olive oil, garlic, and lemon. Local Dungeness crab season runs from November until the summertime, but the season normally continues in Oregon and Washington until mid October, so it’s fine to order it here year ’round. Dungeness crab is currently a sustainable seafood resource. There are also pasta and meat dishes on the menu. My friend recently tried the filet mignon and it was excellent. I would not recommended the dishes with bay shrimp, which are usually frozen in most restaurants, or the seafood dishes with heavy sauces that tend to overpower delicate fish. As in most seafood restaurants order with care so you get the freshest local seafood possible. It’s easy to ask the server “what was locally caught today?”

 

FG map

 

Fisherman’s Grotto is still owned by the Geraldi family, after 80 years! Take that, Bubba Gump! Forget the national chain restaurants in Fisherman’s Wharf. Instead take your business to a locally owned, family restaurant like Fishermen’s Grotto, Scoma’s, Alioto’s, or Pompeii’s Grotto. When I moved to the Bay Area in 1992 many locals told me to avoid Fishermans’ Wharf. It’s full of tourist traps, they said. I went anyway, and discovered Fishermen’s Grotto. So, sometimes it’s better to ignore locals’ advice and check it out for yourself!

 

FG fishermanI was surprised to see such low scores on Yelp for Fishermen’s Grotto. I always take Yelp with a pillar of salt, but it seems that people either ‘get’ classic restaurants or don’t. One of Le Continental’s rules on classic dining is to lower your expectations a little. Go to this incredible time machine with the goal of dining as they would have in the 1950s: have a martini at the Fireplace Lounge or sunken bar, dine on some crab and spaghetti, soak in the views listening to some Sinatra or Dino that plays softly in the background, and be thankful that you still can have such an experience. Then go have an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe.

 

Fishermen’s Grotto
2847 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 673-7025
Open Sun-Thu 11:00am – 10:00pm, Fri- Sat 11:00am – 11:00pm
They validate parking for up to two hours at the garage at the north end of Taylor St., just past the restaurant.

 

Scoma’s, San Francisco, California

This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of my favorite seafood restaurants in San Francisco. I also love Tadich Grill, Sam’s Grill, and others, but for the most consistently fresh and well-prepared seafood, Scoma’s has been my place since I heard about it from “Gentleman” Jim Lange, long time Bay Area radio DJ and host of Dating Game, who in the 90s was on the wonderful “easy listening” pop and big band AM radio station KABL. Back then I drove a ’68 VW Fastback with the original AM radio and it was so nice to have an AM station with good 1940s/50s/60s music instead of talk or news. Sadly, the station, which started back in 1959, changed formats to “soft rock” (an oxymoron, right?) in 2000, but listeners complained so they went back to pop, only to gradually mix in more and more 70s and 80s soft rock until it eventually quit in 2004 (it came back as an online only station in 2007).

 

photo by Michael Seratt on Flickr.com

photo by Michael Seratt on Flickr.com

 

Scoma's in Alameda

Scoma’s in Alameda

Scoma’s opened in 1965 when Al Scoma, one of the partners at Castangola’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, and his brother Joe bought a small 6-stool lunch counter on pier 47. They eventually expanded it into a large mutli-room restaurant that can now seat 350 people. In 1969 Al and Joe partnered with Victor and Rolando Gotti of Ernie’s restaurant in San Francisco to open the still-open Scoma’s Sausalito in a Victorian building that’s on the National Register of Historic Sites. In 1974 Joe Scoma left to open Joe Scoma’s in Emeryville (closed). There was even a Scoma’s in Alameda at one time (at the foot of Sherman Street before the Marina Village development was built).

In 2002 the city named the street the original Scoma’s is on ‘Al Scoma Way’ – that’s how much of a local institution it is. It’s almost always busy – in 2012 alone they served 450,000 diners – and it’s still owned by the Scoma extended family. In 2015, their 50th year, they plan “a few upgrades to the restaurant’s bar and dining room, though nothing major will change”, so I urge you to visit very soon to see it before anything changes (and to get some Dungeness crab while you still can).

 

photo by Erik Rasmussen on Flickr.com

photo by Erik Rasmussen on Flickr.com

 

Scoma’s has their own 46-foot fishing boat, which leaves early every morning to catch the freshest seafood off the coast, from salmon to Dungeness crab when it’s in season (generally Nov-Mar). Next to the dock is a fish processing station that has windows so people waiting for a table can look at the fresh fish being prepared for cooking. Scoma’s is a partner with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, so you can count on the freshest seafood, local when possible, and always sustainable (though it never hurts to ask your waiter for details on anything on the menu).

 

photo by  Kevlar Shea Adams on Flickr.com

photo by Kevlar Shea Adams on Flickr.com

 

The restaurant has multiple levels, but every visit except one (when I was seated on the second floor in the rear building) I’ve been seated in the main first floor dining room overlooking the wharf (as seen in the photo above). The walls are wood-paneled with paintings of a nautical theme, but mostly it’s about the lovely views of Fisherman’s Wharf (next to the restaurant). There are some photos of celebrities and sports figures on some of the walls to the right of the host stand as you enter the restaurant, so take a look around while waiting.

 

Inside view:

 

 

scomas

 

The menu at Scoma’s is long, but some of their specialties are helpfully presented as Scoma’s Classics: shrimp and scallops alla Gannon, “Lazy Man’s” Cioppino (an excellent easier-to-eat cioppino with shelled crab meat), crab or shrimp Louis, mixed seafood grill featuring the day’s fresh catches, and shellfish sauté sec (mmm, I’m getting hungry). When it’s in season, I often get the garlic-roasted Dungeness crab. Other local specialties include petrale sole doré and grilled sand dabs, and they have classic lobster Newburg and Thermidor (at reasonable prices). I highly recommend halibut when it’s available. Each time I’ve had it at Scoma’s it’s been tender, juicy, and succulent, not dry and overcooked like I’ve had in some other restaurants. Meat lovers can get steak, ribs, or a hamburger.

 

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To get to Scoma’s find your way to the corner of Jefferson and Jones and head down the pier (Al Scoma Way). Valet parking is complimentary.

 

Scoma’s
Al Scoma Way
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 771-4383
Open daily 11:30am – 10:30pm