My oysters, with horseradish, Tabasco sauce, lemon, and hot sauce.
“I’ve got a hundred bucks that says we celebrate!” I say.
“Uh huh,” says Annie. “Now, on this braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht?”
It’s like five o’clock. Dark already. We’re just starting out along the Imperial Beach pier. Been hanging around piers a lot lately, just ’cause you know these breezy places will be as covid-free as it gets.
My lobster sandwich
Plus Annie wanted to celebrate the end of this crazy year, so we could start 2021 with a clean slate.
But where do you go to celebrate anything right now? This is when I had my brain flash. “IB! Fish place, pier. Might do take-out. We can eat on the pier!”
So that’s what we’re doing: walking the planks towards this glowing little gedunk at the end of the pier. “America’s most southwesterly restaurant,” says its sign.
“You’re lucky,” says the lady at the counter, Susan. “We’ve just had a shipment of oysters come in today. It’s rare. Many fishermen don’t fish any more. Their restaurant markets have dropped out. So today we’re celebrating, with oysters and champagne.”
“Oysters and...champagne?” I say. This being a diner and all, you don’t expect it.
Susan brings our grog, Guinness ($2!), and two small bottles of champagne ($8 each).
“Oh yes. Henri Marcel. Blanc de Blancs, from the Champagne region in France itself. Eight dollars for a little bottle. And also, we have bottles of Guinness Stout on special for $2.”
Say what? Two bucks for a Guinness?
“How about champagne and fish and chips,” says Annie. “I’m hungry.”
“Fish and chips and champagne? Well, why not?” I say. “But I like champers and oysters! Classier combo. How much are the oysters?”
“Well, $32 for a dozen, $16, half dozen.”
Ouch. Still, I’m thinking, have this C-spot burning through my pocket.
Sydnie dances at end of the pier. Lots of kids come for fish, fries, fresh air, fun, quiet.
Oh, what the heck. “Let’s get the oysters and the champers, and that Guinness,” I say.
“Uh, excuse me,” says Annie. “Oysters ain’t gonna fill us up.”
She has a point. I check the wall menu. Tons of stuff, and it starts off really cheap. A cheese quesadilla goes for $2.50. That climbs to $8.95 for a grilled chicken quesadilla, or $9.95 for a grilled shrimp quesadilla. I mean, you can get away with $3.95 for nachos and jalapeños, or a basket of crisscut fries. Or one of their staples, fish taco (probably cod) which goes for $4.50. Or for a dollar more, you can choose your fish: halibut, swordfish, salmon, mahi mahi, shrimp. Burrito versions cost mostly double. The one I want sometime is the garlicky shrimp burrito. It’s $13.50. So is their “signature dish,” fish and chips (you get 6 pieces of lightly-battered cod), though if you just want three fish, you’ll pay $8.50. Most in the “platter” category go for $15. Same choice of fish, plus fries and coleslaw. For $4 extra, you can substitute grilled veggies.
One slice of carrot cake costs $7.50.
They also have an interesting “sesame crusted ahi salad” for $16.50, or a lobster salad for $24.95. Sandwiches and rolls start at $8.50 (for the fried fish) and go up to $18.95 for the lobster roll with fries.
“That is a good one,” says Susan. “It’s butter-grilled lobster — double claws — with Italian parsley, and sizzled with a lemon squeeze, and they tuck it in this brioche roll, which is really buttery, and crispy-tender. People come back for that.”
“Captain’s Platter” sounds good too, because you can take a 12 oz. combo of any fish you want for $20. And yes, they do burgers here too (cost from $7.50), but hey, we’re at sea, right? Let’s stay fishy.
Half an hour later, Annie and I are sitting outside on the deck, waiting for our orders. I confess I have gone crazy. For starters, I ordered the dozen oysters - only divided in two because Annie wants hers sautéed and breaded and I want mine raw in the shell. We also ordered a side of crisscut fries ($3.95), a half-order of fish and chips ($8.50), a lobster roll with more crisscut fries ($18.95), two mini bottles of “champagne,” ($8 each), and a can of that $2 Guinness. Talk about Two-Buck Chuck!
Waves rumble through underneath us. The lights of the California coast stretch north, like an exotic foreign land. That wind starts to bite. Then Susan calls for us to go bring out our stuff. Oh man. An array of boxes. We both agree, the food is truly good. “Fish is superb,” says Annie. She’s eating the fish and chips and her breaded oysters now. “And I’m from Scotland. We know good fish.”
The long (1/4-mile) walk out the the Tin Fish gedunk is worth it.
I suddenly wonder: How is this legal? Selling food, grog, when everybody else seems to be shuttered up. “We’re allowed to sell anything to go,” says Susan. “Outside, it’s public property. What you do with it is your business. We can’t stop you sitting down.”
So I get back to sipping champers and slurping raw oysters from my big ice bowl. What a luxury. They have everything from horseradish to Tabasco to lemon to flavor them up. So good.
But the climax comes with the lobster roll. Mama Mia! The warm, sweet meats of the lobster claws in the feathery-light brioche are kinda sublime. I’ve never been seduced by the whole lobster mystique before. Until tonight. So simple but buttery-lush. Don’t have to add anything by way of sauces.
Uh, price? Four bucks worth of change from my Franklin.
“Whew,” says Annie as we walk the pier’s plank deck back to America. “I truly don’t know how we got through it.”
“So close,” I say. “But worth every penny.”
“No, you plonker. I’m talking about this last year.”
Oh, right. Guess she has a point there. That 2020 was scary. Here’s to a better 2021!
- The Place: Tin Fish, 910 Seacoast Drive, Imperial Beach, 619-628-8414
- Hours: 11am - 7pm daily (weather permitting)
- Prices: Cheese quesadilla $2.50; grilled chicken quesadilla, $8.95; grilled shrimp quesadilla, $9.95; nachos, jalapeños, $3.95; crisscut fries,$3.95; codfish taco, $4.50; swordfish taco, $5.50; garlicky shrimp burrito, $13.50; fish and chips, 6 pieces of cod; (3 fish, $8.50); big shrimp platter (8 pieces, with fries, coleslaw), $14.95; fried clam platter, $14.95; sesame crusted ahi salad, $16.50; lobster salad $24.95; fried fish sandwich, $8.50; lobster roll with fries, $18.95; Captain’s Platter (12oz of any combo of fish), $20; hamburger, $7.50; dozen oysters, $32
- Buses: 933, 934
- Nearest Bus Stops: Seacoast, between Elm and Evergreen