A muffaletta sandwich, served with caper berries
“How many times have I driven past this place?” I muttered to myself. Too many to count. A better question might be, “How long have I been missing out?” The answer to that, I now know, is eight years and change.
1706 S Coast Highway, Oceanside
It’s not like The Privateer Coal Fire Pizza is off the beaten path. It sits on the Coast Highway in South Oceanside, a stretch of road I like to cruise whenever I’m in the area to drink beer, hit the beach, or specifically seek out restaurants to try. A few years ago, I even wrote something about how the dining scene has blossomed along this stretch of South Oceanside. Honestly, it’s a little embarrassing that I totally missed this cornerstone of that transformation.
From what I’ve gathered, The Privateer is what happened when of a pair of friends who grew up surfing only a few hundred yards from here decided to open a restaurant together. They championed scratch cooking from quality ingredients, putting together a menu of pizza, as well as hot sandwiches, pasta, and burgers. What the restaurant’s website terms “blue collar gourmet dining.”
Surfboards stick out the back of a car parked at The Privateer.
I finally came looking for it when someone in a foodie Facebook group suggested it was a good spot to find a muffuletta sandwich. Turns out, I never noticed it when driving by because it sits behind a good-sized parking lot, and shaded patio. Which makes me all the more red-faced because these are both valuable restaurant assets, especially these days. There’s even a wine bar and market next door, also called The Privateer. Which gives me an idea how successful the venture has been with people who actually live in the area, versus people like me, who show up every so often to bury our heads in the sand.
It explains why this “blue collar” spot has such a robust wine list. Though I stuck to North County beers represented here, including from Oceanside’s Northern Pine Brewing and surf-friendly Vista brand Helia Brewing.
The muffaletta ($13) on its own would have been worth the visit. Though made not on the round, sesame seed-crusted Sicilian bread that gives the famed New Orleans sandwich its name, the dense, slightly sweet roll used instead offered a fair approximation. Privateer makes its version with pepperoni, soppressata, and provolone, though it’s the olive salad that makes the sandwich memorable.
The Privateer signature pizza, featuring chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke with a walnut pesto sauce
Also memorable: the sandwich was served with caper berries, which I can’t recall ever eating at a San Diego area restaurant, blue collar or otherwise. They look sort of like olives with a stem and peel, but the brined berries are filled with tiny pink seeds, and eat sort of like savory, pickled figs.
With every minute that passed, I found myself becoming a bigger fan of the Privateer, and I hadn’t even gotten my coal fired pizza yet. Though it slings regular pizza sizes at dinner, the lunch menu includes $11-13 personal size pies. You can order up to three toppings, with tomato-based sauce, or you can also get the restaurant’s signature pizza. That’s topped with braised chicken, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, black pepper, and flor di latte — mozzarella’s more delicate cousin. But most surprising is its sauce: walnut pesto.
It takes a lot of confidence and consideration to make a chicken and walnut pizza your number one, and the Privateer is up to the task. The nut’s earthiness compliments the char of the pizza’s chewy, coal-fired crust. It makes me want to more deeply explore the menu, with its house-made meatball sub, and fish tacos. There’s a lot to tackle here, and I’ve got to make up for the years I’ve been missing out.