It’s hard to describe the Beachcomber Café and Bootlegger Bar without first understanding the Crystal Cove Historic District. I call this spot a “toes in the sand” experience, with a Restaurant, Bar, Rental Cottages, an Experience Center and Private Event Space. For those wanting to take out of town guests somewhere really special, this is an iconic “SoCal experience”.
This location also has such a rich history, which I will touch on briefly and there is more at the end of this article as well. If you have not been to this historic spot at Crystal Cove, it is really worth a visit. The Crystal Cove State Park has 3 ½ miles of pristine coastline. The Historic District was first developed as a South Seas movie set in the 1920’s. The community thrived and loved its relaxed, friendly atmosphere and picturesque landscape.
Over the years, 16 iconic movies were filmed here. In 1979, the Crystal Cove State Park Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. For decades, filmmakers have been attracted to the beachfront site and its relaxed, tropical vibes. From “Treasure Island” in 1918 to “Beaches” in 1988, Crystal Cove has been a popular spot to make movies. Starting in 1918, film makers fashioned huts with palm fronds – and it became an ideal location to shoot. Built as a seaside colony in the 1930s and 1940s, Crystal Cove endured over the years as a magical escape for visitors. Thanks to the efforts of the Crystal Cove Alliance, all of the original cottages are still standing today – spared from the hands of developers. Today many of the cottages have been authentically restored to reflect the era between 1935 and 1955, when the Cove evolved as a community. And most can be rented overnight. The Coastal Commission just approved a plan (March, 2017) to complete a renovation of the remaining 17 cottages to their original splendor. This is a big win!
I had the pleasure of attending a recent media event taking us on a delicious tour through some of the Chef’s new “spring “menu items” here at Beachcomber. We were first welcomed by Tad Belshe, Managing Partner, whom I had met at The Lighthouse Café in Newport a few months ago. What a wonderful fellow and full of stories and history and a passion for all of the iconic restaurants in their portfolio. He introduced Chris Seevers, the General Manager of the Restaurant who we enjoyed meeting so much. He had all kinds of inside information for us and seemed to know everyone that passed our way on the pathway to the beach. And then there was the shy, star of the show, Carlos Olivera the Executive Chef. His cuisine speaks for itself! Carlos is an Orange County local from Costa Mesa and is a veteran in the kitchen with over 15 years of experience.
“My passion for food began in my childhood, cooking alongside my mother in Oaxaca, Mexico. I love to use fresh seasonal ingredients to create dishes that are as colorful as they are flavorful. Spring is the season for that color, so I work to create beautiful spring dishes with equally delicious flavor profiles.” Carlos Olivera, Executive Chef
As we buckled in to the famed Bootlegger Bar we were welcomed with a refreshing Pimm’s Cup prepared in a Mason Jar. How perfect is that, and it tasted like a cross between an iced tea and a lemonade concoction. I saw someone order a Bloody Mary, and I just had to bolt over there to take a picture of this behemoth beverage. It looks more like a meal versus a drink! It featured their house-made mix and all the adornments you can dream up. Literally! Each evening they raise the “Martini Flag” and pay tribute to the cocktail hour, just as it has been done since way back. It was fun for us to all participate in this ritual.
The Chef began our Tasting Menu with a trio of items that are normally ordered individually, however he wanted us to have a taste of many different items. Thank you Chef, as this was a perfect solution! The first plate consisted of a trio of appetizer delectables. These are typically ordered individually. This included:
–Mahi Mahi Spring Rolls with zucchini, carrots, green onions, mango papaya salsa and a Huli Huli Dipping sauce.
-Tiny Ahi Tacos with an Asian Slaw and Sriracha Aioli sauce. This was my absolute favorite!
–Grilled Marinated Artichoke Hearts with a Lemon Aioli sauce.
Next up were two entrée samples. The Seared Yellow Tuna was served with a Wasabi Potato Puree, Purple Asparagus, Forest Mushroom Wine Sauce and Watercress. It was so beautifully plated and delicious. The Chilean Sea Bass was pan seared and served with bok choy, Forest Mushroom Tortellini and floating in a tiny sea of fish consommé. This was a very delicate dish and left me wanting more.
And what meal is complete without a bite of dessert. Here, Chef went all out with a taste of his quite famous Beignets dusted with powered sugar and other delicious sweets to end our evening with fond memories!
Reviewing the larger “New Spring Menus” items I think are definitely fan favorites include:
For Breakfast- I will say right up front I am not a big fan of eggs, so that being said….
-Beignets– Now these are a winner! A basket of these puffy treats is just perfect with a cup of joe and is served with syrup, powdered sugar and whipping cream.
-Lemon Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes– served warm with a mixed-berry compote, powdered Sugar and Whipped Cream.
-Crab Cake Benedict– Blue Crab Cakes with Hollandaise atop an English muffin. And there are three other choices… from the Classic, to Pulled Pork or Salmon!
-Huevos Rancheros- Two eggs, Turkey Chorizo Hash, Pepper Jack Cheese, Sauteed peppers & onions, Pico de Gallo, Sour Cream and Avocado on a crispy Corn Tortilla
-Mahi Mahi Spring Rolls– Mahi mahi with zucchini, carrots, green carrots, green onions, mango papaya salsa and a huli huli dipping sauce.
-Clam Chowder- This is a Cavanaugh Family Recipe—a creamy chowder, with clams, potatoes, bacon and is served by the cup or baked in a sourdough bowl.
-Salmon Cobb Salad– Grilled and Blackened Salmon, crispy Bacon, Cherry Tomatoes, Bleu Cheese, Strawberries, hard-boiled Egg, Mixed Greens, red onion, roasted Almonds and passion Fruit Vinaigrette.
–Grilled Cajun Trout– Served with Lemon Garlic sauce and Lyonnaies Potatoes and grapes.
–Albacore Tuna Salad Melt and Soup– White Albacore Tuna, with Herb Aioli, diced red onions, artisan sourdough, white cheddar cheese and cup of the Tomato Bisque with Bleu cheese.
–A plethora of Appetizers include many favorites, from the Lemongrass Chicken Skews, to the Calamari Ahi Tacos, Crab Stack Spring rolls, and three different soups and salads too.
-As for Main Courses, there are a staggering thirteen from which to choose. There must be something for everyone here! My favorites include the following:
–Island Roasted Chicken Half roasted chicken with huli huli glaze, coconut rice and bok choy.
–Honey Maple Glazed Kurobuta Pork Chop Roasted pork chop, braised rainbow Swiss chard, baby potatoes.
–Seared Crusted Yellow Tuna Served with Wasabi potato puree, purple asparagus, forest mushroom wine sauce, watercress
–Braised Short Ribs beef short ribs with red wine sauce, Walnut Gorgonzola Ravioli and Wild mushrooms.
Making Reservations At The Beachcomber Café They only take reservations through Open Table, however they reserve the majority of their tables for walk-ins. Should you walk in and have to wait they will give you a beeper and you can walk along the pristine beach while awaiting your buzzer. What a way to wait, right? The best advice is to not arrive terribly hungry. If not in a hurry, this is the spot to just press “pause” and slow it down (or hit the bar)!
Parking Information For The Beachcomber Café Please note that parking is available at the Los Trancos parking lot which is located on the east side of Pacific Coast Highway, across from Crystal Cove. You may pick up The Beachcomber Shuttle at the picnic bench area adjacent to the park’s office building. Bring your Parking Ticket with you to have it validated. Depending on length of stay additional fees may be applicable. Check the signs. The shuttle ride is $1.00 per person. Guests can also walk along the pathway down to the Café.
Private Events and Celebrations- The Beachcomber boasts five unique catering spaces: on the sand, the historical Beaches Cottage (featured in the move Beaches starring Bette Midler), Cottage 34 Deck, the Beach Promenade (with great views of the ocean below) and the Educational Commons.
The Beachcomber Café at Crystal Cove 15 Crystal Cove Newport Coast Telephone: 949-376-6900 Fax: 949-644-4625 Catering: 949-644-8759 Reservations: Limited reservations are available online and via OpenTable http://thebeachcombercafe.com/_crystalcove/index.aspx
For The History Buffs-
Please see below for some interesting information about this historic area, and more on how to rent the cottages as well.
Crystal Cove Alliance and Their Cottage Rentals-
This group has played an integral role in the preservation and restoration of the vintage beach cottages in Crystal Cove State Park’s Historic District. A total of 29 of the original 46 cottages have been restored, preserved to capture the lifestyles between 1935-1955. As previously mentioned, sixteen of these historic cottages have been turned into overnight rentals for the public, managed by Crystal Cove Beach Cottages under the CCA umbrella. (More will be added as the renovations are completed.) Each year, over 25,000 guests take a trip back in time to stay in California’s last surviving intact beach community. To reserve a Cottage for overnight stays, please visit the California State Parks camping reservation website at: www.reserveamerica.com . The remaining restored cottages have been put into public service providing food (Beachcomber Café and Shake Shack), educational venues (Education Commons, Visitor Center, Cultural Center, Rotating Exhibition Cottage, Beaches Film & Media Center, and the Park & Marine Research Facility), and supporting Park Operations (Guest Services). www.crystalcovealliance.org .
Exploring “Crystal Cove Historic District”
The Crystal Cove State Park has 3 ½ miles of pristine coastline. The Historic District was first developed as a South Seas movie set in the 1920’s. The community thrived and loved its relaxed, friendly atmosphere and picturesque landscape. Over the years, 16 iconic movies were filmed here. In 1979, the Crystal Cove State Park Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built as a seaside colony in the 1930s and 1940s, Crystal Cove endured over the years as a magical escape for visitors. Thanks to the efforts of the Crystal Cove Alliance, all of the original cottages are still standing today – spared from the hands of developers. Sixteen cottages have already been authentically restored to reflect the era between 1935 and 1955, when the Cove evolved as a community. And most can be rented overnight. More will be coming on-line as their restorations are completed.