Moment of truth: Junior lifeguard candidates, about to jump.
5091 Niagara Avenue, on the pier, San Diego
Fresh air! That’s the answer to catching coronavirus (if you believe those 240 scientists who claimed it can be transmitted through the air). And there’s no fresher air than here, half a mile out on the longest concrete pier in the world.
It’s a beautiful, sunny, windy afternoon on the Ocean Beach Pier. Armadas of pelicans fly slo-mo, arrow formation, overhead. Gulls line the railings. People flick lines out to catch dinner.
Except this afternoon, there’s a notice.
“Jumpers Only Beyond This Point.”
Olivia with my burger.
Say what? But they mean it. Dozens of kids in red and lime-green swimming gear are lining up to jump off the pier, four at a time, and then swim out to some kind of pontoon below. Tons of screams, yells, stern adult loudspeaker voices. “OK. One, two, three, four!”
Turns out to be a junior lifeguards training program.
But what I’m interested in juts out just beyond, a little old cantilevered cafe with a crazy-beautiful name, “Walking On Water Cafe,” aka WOW Cafe.
Oh yeah. Been here. The owner is a strong Christian. Also, generous with her lobster tacos. I tried one. Man! I still remember it. Ton of lobster flesh, shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, cheese, white sauce. Eight bucks, and from memory worth every cent. But there were other things I swore I’d come back for. Like their clam chowder in a bread bowl ($10), their fish and chips ($13), and maybe the best deal, their Ocean Beach Pier Sinkers, breaded and deep fried cream cheese-stuffed and jalapeños, $5 for four. Oh, and their fish and chips — most popular dish on the menu, the lady said, second only to their lobster taco. Cost $13.
Underneath the mustard, a half-pound burger patty.
But now I’m seeing this gal hauling out a burger that looks deliciously burn-grilled, hand-molded, big.
This is Olivia. Political science and economics major working as a server here during her covid vacation. Says I can sit anywhere outside. Oh yes. They do have a nautical-looking dining room reaching over the water, but Newsolini’s orders: no eating inside for three weeks.
Not a problem! The railing along one side’s set up with stools for eating, and they have a bunch of tables on the other. And in this breeze, they’ve locked umbrellas to the railing so they don’t fly away.
As I sit down, I notice a bunch of seagulls on the roof, tracking my every move. Hmm. Better watch those guys. And that reminds me! Last time, when I was here on a stormy lunchtime, with waves cresting along right outside the window, there was Igor the Pelican. Igor had visiting rights into the restaurant and would grab your arm with with his beak if you didn’t come up with at least a couple of French fries.
No sign of him now, though, so I try to pay attention to the blowaway menu Olivia left with me. First up, I see there’s only one burger. Costs $10. But it’s a half-pounder, and comes with the place’s own hand-cut fries.
But tons of other choices, including a lobster Caesar salad for $14. Or $9 for the salad and $5 for the lobster add. Or the “ultimate nacho supreme,” promising a ton of chips with nacho cheese, shredded beef, sour cream, and the usual fixings for $13. Olivia says it’s big enough to split between four as an appetizer.
The crew, poised for raid.
And hey hey! Breakfast is all day. Lobster omelet (3-egg) runs $14, with potatoes and toast. And the basic “Pier Combo” of two eggs, potatoes, and toast goes for $8. Best deal? Probably two pancakes for $4. But my eye also flicks to the Fisherman’s Special. Has two eggs, potatoes, three buttermilk pancakes plus bacon or sausage, for $12.
First up, I invest $5 in four “OB Pier Sinkers.” And then I order the burger, and add cheese for $1 more.
The jalapeño-cream cheese sinkers are fun. Plenty of heat in there, gentled down by the deep-tasting shell of breadcrumbs.
But then, oh wow. This ragged half-pound of beef between two buns. You can see it has been ground right here and then molded by hand. Tomatoes, pickles, onion, swishes of mustard, ketchup and mayo color it up. I take one big bite, and the combo, but specially the burnt edges of the patty, make this a scrunchy winner. Only thing I want is a touch of salt and pepper. I get up and head for the door where Olivia’s standing.
She’s looking at me, horrified.
“I just wanted some salt,” I say. But she’s pointing towards my meal. I turn around. OMG. Three of the roof seagulls are on my plate, grabbing bun, meat patty, bun. In and out in seconds. Two other gulls come in for the fries. Now they land 20 feet along the railing, and start enjoying their lunch. I turn and lunge towards them. The one with the top bun is nearest. He does five gulps while he batters off a young gull with his wing. The bun’s as wide as him, but he squishes that whole thing in. I can see it outlined as it floats down inside his neck.
“Do we call the police?” I say.
“I’ll get you another one,” Olivia says. “They’re just used to people giving them food. Uh, are you new here?”
Whatever, she’s good to her word, and I enjoy finally chowing down, slowly, while the gulls watch from the roof, waiting for me to blink. Hey, this is the wild world out out here on the sea.
- The Place: Walking On Water Cafe, (Ocean Beach Pier Cafe), 5091 Niagara Avenue, Ocean Beach, 619-226-8653
- Hours: 8am-8pm, daily (till 10pm, Saturday, Sunday)
- Prices: Lobster (3-egg) breakfast omelet, potatoes, toast, $14; pier combo (2 eggs, potatoes, toast $8; two pancakes, $4; fisherman’s special (two eggs, potatoes, 3 buttermilk pancakes, bacon or sausage, $12; lobster taco, $8; clam chowder in a bread bowl, $10; fish and chips, $13; Sinkers (cream cheese, jalapeño, deep-fried bread crumbs), $5; fish and chips, $13; 1/2-lb burger, fries, $10; Caesar salad, $9; add lobster, $5; ultimate nacho supreme, (cheese, shredded beef, sour cream) $13
- Buses: 35, 923
- Nearest bus stops: Cable and Newport (35); Cable and Narragansett (923)