The Golden Tee Restaurant and bar
Happy Landing: The Golden Tee burnishes its identity as a cherished local (semi-) secret.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
The Golden Tee Restaurant & Bar is a prize hidden in plain sight. Most locals visit the Monterey Peninsula Airport, but far fewer visit the second-floor Golden Tee, though it does have a faithful following.
Way back in the 1900s, one could check in at the airport, then relax at the Tee until the final boarding call, but 9/11 ended that privilege. Owner Michael Reta said their business wasn’t heavily affected because 80 percent of customers are non-traveling locals.
Reta’s father opened Golden Tee in 1966. Now Reta and partner Melinda Scardina run the Tee and the two food concessions in the main terminal. (The newest is inside security, and both open at 4:30am.) Up at the Tee, one chef has been on the job since 1975 and several servers have been schlepping plates for more than a decade (or two). Regulars come for the familiarity, the friendliness, the location and the traditional dishes that remain largely unchanged.
THE TEE IS REALLY ALL ABOUT WARM SERVICE, A SATISFYING MEAL, AND AN ACTIVE SCENE, BOTH INSIDE AND OUT.
The top floor of the airport is a tasty cultural snack. Its rotating exhibits of art and history are easy to digest and have provided many a jolt of pleasure as I’ve paused en route to a flight. Currently, Pioneering Women of Monterey County features photographs and inspiring histories. Pieces of History, 1770 to 1970 presents several showcases with memorabilia.
The observation deck adjacent to the Tee is the place to view the runway. Once inside, there are wide views of the Monterey Bay beyond the runway and hangars lining the north ramp. The Santa Cruz skyline is visible (when the fog isn’t) and at night, the blue lights add space-age beauty. There’s a regular-folks vibe to the place, and that’s probably the attraction for business dealmakers, politicians and media personalities sighted over the years.
There’s a small dining room with a bar and a large dining room without a bar. I’ll bet you can guess which is the quieter. Fans of the TV show Cheers will love the U-shaped bar where patrons often engage in one conversation, and no canned laughter is necessary. Others will prefer the spacious main dining room, which has more tables along the windows.
I hadn’t been to the Tee since a remodel was completed last December. New, neat and clean, it does the job, but it seems an opportunity was missed to take advantage of the setting. A friend and I brainstormed makeover ideas that included aviation memorabilia, photography, a stunt flying video, and walls covered in flattened airplane siding. I know. I know. It costs money.
The Tee serves reliable comfort food, 9am to 9pm. It’s not haute cuisine, but the regulars love it. I ran into someone from Carmel Valley who makes the drive for the good clam chowder and sand dabs. Prices are consistent with similar restaurants on the Monterey waterfront – higher than average due to the location – but count on walking out with a bag of leftovers.
The menus cover too large a territory to map here, but everyone except vegans can find plenty to eat. Local wines, hot sourdough bread, housemade dressings and sauces round out a hearty meal. There are children’s menu items, too.
The lunch menu is loaded with salads, seafood, Italian dishes, burgers, sandwiches, omelettes and eggs Benedict with housemade hollandaise. Most prices range from $9.95 to $12.95. Shrimp, crab and calamari steak come in many forms (in cocktail, on salad, in sandwiches, on platters). Combo plates are the ticket for nondeciders.
In the evening, there are full dinners of Italian specialties ($16.95 to $19.95), seafood ($18.95 to $23.95), and beef ($22.95 to $26.95). A la carte items include burgers, sandwiches, and spaghetti with meatballs or meat sauce, most at $9.95 to $12.95.
During a breakfast visit, I overheard the neighbors order Bloody Marys, something not readily available at 9am. Our server recommended the eggs Benedict – Canadian bacon, crab and shrimp, or avocado and tomato ($9.95 to $13.95). But I ordered calamari and eggs since they’re an uncommon treat.
I thoroughly enjoyed two breaded calamari steaks with the excellent housemade tartar sauce. The hash browns are the standard grated style and the toast was a nice swirl of light and dark rye. On a dinner visit I tried sand dabs ($18.95) with a crisp, fresh house salad and twice baked potato. The blue cheese dressing was more proof that the housemade sauces shine. The Tee is really all about warm service, a satisfying meal, and an active scene, both inside and out.
The kitchen would do well to dump the outside source for desserts and take them in-house. The Rockslide Brownie ($4.95) and Caramel Apple Granny ($5.95) lacked the multiple notes one hopes to experience when the varying elements of a good dessert (or any dish) hits the palate. I could only get one, maybe two notes from the sugary goo.
The Golden Tee and its environs are especially dynamic if your visit isn’t confined by anything so limiting as a plane departure. It’s a fun place and parking is validated. Hopefully, your expectations will be, too.
GOLDEN TEE RESTAURANT & BAR Monterey Peninsula Airport, 200 Fred Kane Drive, Suite 201, Monterey • 9am to 9pm daily.• 373-1232.