A new look at an old community classic, LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
In the days before fast-food ubiquity, for those of you who can remember back several decades, it was an old saw of the highway that you could tell a good place to eat by the plethora of semis parked outside a particular diner. The presumption was that the regular denizens of the drive, i.e., the truckers, knew the best emporia of gastronomical delight – or at least where the meat loaf was good and the waitresses wore skimpy outfits. Applying that concept locally – not about the skimpy outfits but about the good seafood – one might follow the fishermen and wharf rats to see where they go to eat. It wouldn’t be a surprise to many long-time Montereyans that they would find them strolling over to LouLou’s. Officially, it’s LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle; it’s that bright yellow place on the Municipal Wharf No. 2, just off the beach. The original LouLou was a nurse up at the Community Hospital – I find it difficult to call a medical facility CHOMP – but she just loved cooking up the denizens of the deep for those who liked fresh seafood. Finally, though, she decided to chuck the double-duty and move to Thailand, so she called a young friend and told her she had to buy the place. Allecia Garrett hadn’t finished her second decade on this planet but she’d already been on her own for a number of years. She knew many of the ways of the world, and she had the chops to take up the challenge. Today, six years later, the proof of the pudding is right there in the food. Garrett grabbed up the reins of this epicurean sea horse of a business – good food often eructates delicious metaphors – and first thing, she learned how to cook. She had to. Cooks sometimes didn’t show up. So not only did she learn how to prepare food, she also caught on to how important it was to hire people whom she could rely on to come in on time, to cook food in a consistently fine manner, and to serve it to people in a way that would make them want to come back again and again. Breakfast at LouLou’s is a delicious way to start the day. A “wharf wrap” (potatoes, pico de gallo, scrambled eggs, cheese in a flour tortilla, $7.25), or an omelet (a tasty crab, mushrooms and jack combo is $10.95), or three griddle cakes with fresh berries ($7.95) all deliver sure-fire satisfaction. The semi-famous Loulou’s brûleé-style oatmeal ($6.25) also merits a try. For those who prefer just a cup of joe, they understand. Saving themselves for lunch, of course? Good plan. Because the crab cakes ($11.95), “Monterey’s best calamari” ($9.95), English-style fish and chips ($9.95), and “monster burgers” ($8.95) give special meaning to the midday meal. But it’s LouLou’s truly homemade clam chowder that is a must. I was brought up in the Bay State; I know clam chowder. This is some of the best. It’s New England-style (white), made fresh every day. A cup ($4.75) complements another dish well. The sourdough bread bowl ($6.95) is a meal all its own. Garrett also serves wonderful salads. My favorite, the shrimp LouLou, features bay shrimp, avocado and a hard-boiled egg on a generous bed of greens, topped with her own vinaigrette ($9.95). The “mini vacation” is also a trip, offering a ladle of clam chowder, salad, fruit and cheeses, served with sourdough ($9.25). An interesting a selection of inexpensive beers – the choices from English Ales Brewery of Marina are only $3.75 – adds to one’s appreciation of the eclectic tone of the eatery. Garrett’s gang have been with her for years and years. That attests to the quality of her identifying the right employees, and to her ability to manage. Except for some of the very highest-end establishments, turnover is endemic to the restaurant business. To keep good people you need to treat them right, and give them a product to deliver to the customers that will have them reaching deeper into their pockets to show their appreciation. That said, some of the wait-staff sometimes leave the customers, um, waiting. Hey, if you’re in a rush, stay in your car, drive through a chain store, and eat chemicals! That’s not LouLou’s. LouLou’s is a comfortable spot, with room for 22 inside, squeezed into several booths and onto stools at the counter. On nice days, or even when it’s just not raining, there are also tables outside. In or out, the views are of course great, as are the people you meet. They’re the real folks who eschew the high falutin’, over-priced competition, and like the truckers of yore, go for the goods. LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle Municipal Wharf #2, Monterey • 7:30-close breakfast; 11:30am-1:30pm lunch (the hour of the close can vary depending on weather and traffic); closed Tuesday. • 372-0568.