Shake's Old Fisherman's Grotto
When choosing between lunch options, I always lean towards a place with a good sign.
I was pretty excited when I spotted this neon sign, jammed with swirly letters. Shake's? What was that? We would find out.
Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey
While traveling down the California coast last fall, Don and I wound up in Monterey around lunchtime. Cannery Row? Fisherman's Wharf?
Both sounded touristy, but curious. I pushed for the Wharf. Monterey's history goes way back. There was a stone pier here, in the 1840's, then a commercial fishing wharf, in the early 1900's.
Pink and Yellow
We headed down the colorful wharf in search of lunch. There was something a little Disneyland-ish about the pastel buildings, with the playful rooflines. But I kind of loved the bubble gum pink, of Carousel Fine Candies.
The yellow of Old Grotto building, reminded me of banana taffy... or was that a mustard yellow. I was hungry!
There was something inviting about this whole exterior. First I spotted a carved fisherman character, wearing a yellow slicker and holding a fish. He stood beside an open market, displaying foods on ice. No one was welcoming us on this day, with samples of clam chowder, but evidently that's a thing at OFG!
Further down, beneath the black and white awning, I spotted another character. He was of the human kind. Wearing a black vest and tie and a white apron, he welcomed passersby. Maybe he just ran out of chowder. Or maybe that tradition stopped with Covid.
Just past the entrance there was another, statue-type greeter. He wore a white suit and hat and held an OPEN sign.
The statue stood near a quite impressive display of food and wine. Don and I continued on, since we had planned on a light, informal lunch. We weren't dressed for a classy meal.
But after exploring a while, we didn't find anything nearly as interesting as this old place.
We wandered back to take a closer look and saw the red sign. "Voted Best Clam Chowder 15 years in a Row".
A Less Welcoming Sign
We headed over to get our name on a wait list. Then I took better notice of the statue of the man in the hat. This was actually a statue of Sabu Shake, Sr., the original owner of the restaurant. His smile was welcoming, but the sign near his feet was not.
Just days before, Don and I had vacationed (and dined out) with our 20 month old grandchild. Our sweet memories were so fresh, that the strict Kid Policy made me frown. That seemed pretty bold in this day and age of acceptance. But we were hungry and didn't boycott the restaurant... which is just what many did about 7 years ago, when someone posted a photo of the sign on social media. Suddenly the media, from Fox News to the New York Times, took notice. Even though quiet children (without strollers or highchairs) are welcome, the place stays pretty kid free. Which I guess is a plus to some customers, because they sure weren't hurting for business.
In We Go
When our table was ready, I tried not to overthink the kid rules. Don and I embraced our old age and child-free status and went on in.. determined to behave ourselves.
The wood and leather interior made it feel like we were stepping into a the 1950's, when Sabu and his wife Isabella first opened this restauran, as The Chowder House. They raised their 6 sons while they ran the restaurant in Monterey.
Cozy Throw Back
We could have gotten on a waiting list for a table overlooking Monterey Bay Harbor.
But all the tables and booths look comfy with their tufted leather and glowing lamps. There was even a little Frank Sinatra playing.
I took a quick peek upstairs, when I checked out the restroom.
There were plenty of booths with views up there. Lots of wine bottles, too.
I imagine you need a reservation to grab one of these tables on the weekend.
Near the restrooms I found some framed photos. This one intrigued me. Why was this old newspaper about the Titanic, displayed?
I read later that Pakistan-born, Sabu Shake, lost most of his family in the 1930's, on a sinking ship. It couldn't have been the Titanic, in the thirties. I wonder about the connection.
I took a photo of this framed portrait of the Shake family. It must have been taken before the 6th son was born. I read up on their history and learned that Sabu emigrated (with nothing) in the 1950's, to Sacramento. He met Isabella, an Italian Catholic. They married, then moved to Monterey. Sabu found work as a dishwasher on Fisherman's Wharf.
Sabu's hard work paid off as he moved up the ladder, working at various restaurants on the Wharf. In the late '50's the Shakes bought the restaurant that is now, Old Fisherman's Grotto. Over the years all the boys worked in the restaurant. The oldest son, Chris, is the owner now.
Down I Go
I headed down the rather grand stairway, to fill Don in on what I saw and learned.
Poor Don is used to me getting sidetracked, on restroom visits.
It was time to order and absorb some flavor along with the restaurant history. I couldn't resist the Pear and Gorgonzola Salad with candied walnuts.
I knew it was silly to not order seafood, but I went for the fall special of sweet potato soup. The thick soup with swirls of sauce and crispy sweet potato, was just right!
Chowder and More
While Don sampled the award winning, (creamy-clam-packed) chowder, I snooped on the table behind him. There was a man with dark hair and white dress shirt, who chatted frequently with staff. VIP?
Now as I look back at the photo of the host's desk, I zoom in and wonder if this dapper man sitting behind us, could have been owner, Chris Shake.
After enjoying our little lunch feast, we took a peek at the bar.
There were no guests enjoying the cozy-classic space, but there were lots of pineapples. Hmmm?
Lots of Photos
There were also tons of framed photos! I eagerly searched the walls for pictures of celebrities, that I might recognize. I spotted no familiar faces, but I learned later that Mother Theresa and Jim Carrey have both been guests. Very different kinds of guests.
All the images appeared to include Sabu Shake Sr and/ Chris Shake, with guests.
I assume this is Sabu and Chris, but I have no clue who the woman is.
Now that I've read a little more, I'm a lot more curious about the Shake family and their restaurant. Chris evidently started working in the kitchen at 11. He dropped out of school after 7th grade, to work and train for the family biz. He owns OFG, but he and his brother own hundreds of food businesses in Monterey. That's pretty wild.
The Whole Wharf Experience
Old Fisherman's Grotto has been a part of the Wharf scene, for over 60 years. I felt like our whole lunch outing was a fun combination. Sitting and dining in a classic seafood restaurant AND Strolling and exploring the Wharf and nearby historic buildings.
That was sort of a perfect package and we almost passed it up, because we thought it might be too formal.
What Will I Remember?
Our visit was pretty quick, because we were on the road. But even then our meal was delicious and relaxing.
I loved learning some little tidbits of Shake Family history. It was intriguing. I have a lot of respect for hardworking families. But I'm afraid I'll always have a bit of a nagging guilt that we dined in a restaurant that tries to keep kids away. We trained our kids to dine politely in restaurants, by taking them to restaurants. It makes me sad to think that we would have been frowned upon, if we'd had our sweet granddaughter with us.
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.