January 2, 2019 – It’s been 11 months and 13 countries since I last saw Monterey County and I’m happy to be home for the first time in a long time. After working as a food-and-drink writer and editor here for more than a dozen years, there were a number of standbys I was hungry to visit (including Gianni’s Pizza, Peter B’s Brewpub and Jose’s Mexican), but I arrived most eager to experience all the new developments.
That made my week here, in essence, an accelerated year-in-review of an intriguing 2018.
I beelined for Broadway in Seaside, where the major makeover—including new sidewalks, fewer car lanes and a pretty new bike lane—present a clear upgrade. But it’s also clear the real revolution lingers ahead, as at least a half dozen businesses will need to fill in before it starts to resemble a destination.
That starts with Counterpoint Coffee recording studio-cafe concept by Max Georis, opening as soon as two weeks from now (and by the end of the month at the absolute latest), at 565 Broadway Ave.
Georis, son of Walter Georis of Casanova acclaim, imported his music studio from Los Angeles after around 10 years dedicated to composing, mixing and producing. Recently another passion has evolved to pair with sound.
“I’ve developed a coffee obsession,” he says. “I’ve been studying its culture and its science, and I’ve found coffee is strikingly similar to recording, seeing how little adjustments affect the overall project.”
In addition to espresso-based drinks, pour-overs and cold brews, he’ll offer small-batch wine and beer, cheese-charcuterie boards, basic breakfast options and some type of sandwiches.
“I really want to showcase coffee,” he says, “but there will be something for everyone.”
About a block away at 600 Broadway, his brother Klaus is scheming a restaurant project inspired by his time spent cooking in Europe. The as-yet-unnamed spot, he says, will be “wood-fire focused,” and could open as soon as mid-year.
“It will be local seasonal fare, heavy emphasis on fermentation, whole animal butchery and cookery,” he says. “But more importantly it will be somewhere that is reasonable. I hope to have all walks of life in there—students from CSUMB, affluent people from Carmel.”
He envisions a la carte snacks and bites and a five-course tasting menu for around $55, with wine leaning toward natural and biodynamic choices.
Another big Broadway anchor-to-be, Other Brother Beer, appears to have made some progress in the last year, but is still a long ways off.
Director of Business Operations Michael Nevares says the team is currently arranging rebar to pour a slab of concrete on the brewery side. He adds that all the permits and brewing equipment are in place, and estimates another half year or so of construction.
“We’re aiming for a summer opening,” he says. “We are very excited with the direction Broadway is going.”
Around the corner sits The Meatery, the upscale deli from talented chef/butchers Jason Balestrieri and Kevin Hincks, and another of the year’s coolest debuts. Signature sandwiches like the Reuben and ham-and-gouda have earned a loyal following, and the charcuterie boards rank among the best in the area.
While Seaside gradually reinvents its downtown, Pacific Grove has seen a mini renaissance in recent months. It opened its first new pub in more than a decade (was Pelican Tavern really the last time one was launched?), and while The Monarch has all the ambiance of a nine-hole golf course clubhouse, the fire-pitted patio is great to have in play and a full bar complements sturdy pub fare.
Down the street at 589 Lighthouse Avenue, Poppy Hall is everything I hoped for from California comfort food kings Philip Wojtowicz (founding chef of Big Sur Bakery) and Brendan Esons (formerly Big Sur Roadhouse)—including grilled quail, rotating fresh crudos of the day, cornflake-crusted wings, smoked salmon-wrapped scallops, crispy oysters and more.
At nearby 545 Lighthouse, Wild Fish presents another noteworthy addition stacked with seafood such as spice-rubbed local rock cod served whole and listed on the menu with the specific boat that caught it.
Two notable Carmel additions arrived with Soerke Peters’ sophisticated comfort food spot Etats-Unis French American Bistro—think Mangalitsa bacon burgers and smoked salmon baguettes—and cute little family-run Stationæry, whose favorites include French toast “bread pudding” and a patty melt on brioche. (Sadly, on my visit, the pudding and brioche were out.)
But for wine-tasting heavy Carmel, this has been the year of beer, with Carmel Craft bringing a local taproom to the Barnyard and the real coup, Yeast of Eden, taking over the big beautiful Homescapes space in the ground floor of Carmel Plaza.
From the team behind award-winning Alvarado Street Brewery, the Yeast of Eden beers aren’t just delicious, they’re pioneering. An ambitious mixed fermentation program blends beers fermented in a range of cask conditions, deepening flavor and complexity. Servers are well versed on the program and work as much as educators as wait staff; our man Christian directed us toward a tasty golden sour ale called Skeptics & Believers that took a bronze at the Great American Beer Festival. (Now I’m a believer.) The food, meanwhile, matches the creativity and pedigree, with slow-smoked mushroom street tacos, miso-creamed kale and bánh patê sô, a yummy Vietnamese puff pastry meat pie.
The banh pate so evokes another important Vietnamese newbie by the Chopstix family in the original Chopstix location on Fremont in Seaside, Plates Com Tam, which specializes in homestyle broken rice dishes.
One of the biggest revelations of the week, though, had to be the Sunday brunch at Captain + Stoker in downtown Monterey. I knew the coffee would be good and I hoped the community atmosphere would be everything intended by a philosophy built around doing things together (tandem bikes!)—it definitely did—but the mini menu was the most impressive element.
Chef Greg Delgadillo studied at Michelin starred In de Wulf in Belgium before working at a range of standout San Francisco restaurants including Saison. The menus he does 9am-1pm Sundays are small on scale and big on imagination. While the “pig + fig” caramelized carnitas sandwich and sauteed endive salad with poached egg both looked yummy, I had to get the whelks in escargot butter because, well, I’d never even heard of whelks.
He cooks the whelks, which he sources from Monterey Abalone Company, in a savory garlic butter that’s later poured over the little fried sea snails and a mushroom duxel, from a seashell. It works.
“I try to do one thing a week that’s outside the box,” he says. “The kind of food you’d get in France or San Francisco.”
The food contributes to a buzz that was a primary concern for co-owners Tyler Ellis and fiancé Kelsea Richmond’s when they took over the spot from its creator in July, just a couple of months after it opened.
“We’re all about good energy, creating good vibes,” Ellis says. “The most rewarding thing is hearing, ‘Hey, I’ll see you tomorrow.’”
“We were worried people might not see what we were trying to create,” Richmond adds. “We’d rather have a place that was social and fun—so it’s nice when people understand why we don’t have an [electrical] outlet for their laptop.
“We didn’t expect to be appreciated as much as we are.”
And with that bit of gratitude, Captain + Stoker furnished a fitting end to an eventful 2018. There’s a lot to appreciate out there and there’s a lot more to appreciate on the way.