Monterey suddenly has some seriously fresh food-and-drink momentum going.

Street Scene: The sidewalk patio’s pretty much in place at Caffe Trieste.

Imagine this: A fresh restaurant-brewhouse in a stately 1920s-style movie theater space with soaring ceilings, farm-driven food and sessionable craft beers – right smack in the middle of downtown Monterey, with sidewalk seating to boot – anchoring a vividly revitalized downtown area.

Sure, it might be tricky for some of the cynics out there to picture a renaissance in a spot set back by fire, empty buildings and a Puritanical approach to partying. But there are two major reasons to have hope for the kind of smart restaurant fare and hoppy beers on tap – scheduled for this spring – and the wider downtown itself.

Reason number one: the yet-unnamed gastropubhas survived its protest period with the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control and can begin earnestly transforming the former State Theater on Alvarado (across from the Golden State) into a beautiful restaurant and working brewery. More on that in a second.

Number two: Downtown Monterey is making some serious headway in a push toward vivaciousness as it adds tasty ingredients ranging from the miniature (taco cart) to the massive (the longest bar for three counties).

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A guy in a suit – and ascot – rides a 10-speed up the brick sidewalk to My Attic for a Crown Royal tasting. A free trolley rolls by on its route from Cannery Row. Local musician Jesse DeCarlo – of Dani Paige Band and Casey Frazier Band – walks by with a lady and two girls. A “pop up” Monterey Bay Reggae Fest show with rootsy Wasted Noise is coming in a half hour, but you can already hear riffs bouncing off buildings. (The festival is this weekend; see p. 40.) Big Sur International Short Film Fest, the “townie” version, delivers an installment after that at Osio Cinemas (and continues Wednesdays through August). A friend happens by and we review options. “Who knew?” he says. “Choices in Monterey!”

Sun filters through the trees onto my outdoor table and its pot of tea. Folks walking past Caffe Trieste (241-6064) remark more than once how busy it is. In front of me, an outdoor patio – Alvarado’s first streetside spot in seemingly centuries – has taken shape in what was once parking spots and will hold a handful of tables. Another is permitted to appear at MYO Yogurt (they’re under design review). Lallapalooza and Cibo are among the five other businesses seeking their own curbside spaces from the three the city has to distribute.

Around the corner, Turn 12 approaches its opening month – September – on the linchpin Tyler and Franklin corner where Doc Ricketts, Habanero’s (and many others) and Bellagio Pizzeria were. Project chief Gina Phinney is trying to save details for the debut, but people can anticipate a custom-made 50-foot bar – “feels like half a football field,” Phinney says – a nice patio (surrounded by a fireplace and nice stonework with a trellis overhead), and a huge family-friendly place that resembles zero of its predecessors.

“It will not be recognizable,” she says. “Not one square inch.”

Phinney and her husband Pat have run Carmel Valley’s Baja Cantina (625-2252) for years. This idea is an expansive race-themed space dishing American comfort food – pastas, steaks, seafood, pizza – with modest price points and local bands by night.

A couple of blocks south, an A&M Gourmet Dogs cart from New Yorker and farmers market vet Mike Miele, former publisher of Foolish Times, is already doing a healthy business slapping incredible sauteed onion-and-tomato sauce on all-beef dogs as long as a foot ($5-$10) at the transit plaza. The taco cart from the brothers behind Lopez Restaurante (324-4260) comes soon. With Chipotle descending across the street next to Peet’s – opening around Oct. 1 – just a block from the Ike’s (643-0900) that arrived last month, there’s a real potential for foot traffic (and true Trader Joe’s parking insanity).

Halfway down Alvarado, the burnt-out space won 5-0 approval this week from the City Council for water that’ll allow for a building that stretches from Tyler to Alvarado – 30,000 square feet all told – and restaurants with outdoor frontage on both streets. On Alvarado’s other end, the plan for Monterey Conference Center’s remodel is taking shape. Meanwhile, Monterey Institute of International Studies aims to evolve a core campus that’ll upgrade downtown even further.

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A pillar of the gastropub approach will be the pairing of housemade beer with brew-friendly foods. But a different pairing – a father-son combo – will be more central to its success.

Longtime architect John Hill has helped design some nice buildings. The Intercontinental on Cannery Row qualifies, as does the Ritz at Half Moon Bay. So he knows what he has in the 4,900-square-foot strategic spot, its 20-foot ceilings and dramatic facade, and knows how to make the most of it, including the mixed-use permit that allows for upstairs apartments.

“We’re hoping we can really open it up,” he says.

His son J.C. Hill will consult on the beers, harvesting insight he’s gained as a partner in Amplified Ale Works in the Current Capital of Craft Beer, San Diego. He’s picturing a tide of West-Coast-style hoppy brews, Belgian-style ales, dark ales and plenty of suds aged in various barrels, whether whiskey or wine.

“Our beers are very progressive,” he says. “We have a firm roadmap on what we’d like to do. A big theme: sessionability. We want to have more approachable 4-6 percent beers, bring out the finesse of some dynamic craft beers while including traditional styles as well.”

More good news: Its history even includes time as an Elks Club, which means lots of water credits.

Yes, past reports of downtown’s revolution have been greatly exaggerated. But Window on the Bay was once a fugly lineup of dry cleaning and used car businesses and the Rec Trail was once a railroad. And all this is happening as the city’s Downtown Specific Plan – which streamlines permitting, gives the development community a formula for enhancing streetscapes and signage, connects downtown to the waterfront and builds up navigability for bikes, buses and cars (two-way streets!) – is still just in draft form. Imagine that.


• After more than a year and a half, it’s authentic southern Italian hospitality time again – spaghetti and meatballs! eggplant parmesan! tortellini Antonino! veal scaloppini! calamari! petrale sole! – as Favaloro’s Big Night Bistro (373-8523) reopens 5pm today (Thursday, Aug. 8).

• General Manager Brant Good says The Wharf Marketplace’s (649-1116) soft opening happens Friday, or Saturday at the latest. Hit the blog for a look at the introductory cafe menu.

Treehouse Cafe (626-1111) has opened in the old Dolce Vita Ristorante on San Carlos south of Ocean, occupying a picture-perfect little haunt with oak trees framing its second story deck space and cozy dining room. Breakfast is all-American – pancakes, Benedicts, breakfast burritos – then a mix of Thai, Mediterranean, Russian, Italian, Spanish and Greek come in. The “Greek burger” with feta, pesto sauce and caramelized onions ($13 with salad) and yellow curry chicken ($15 with wild rice) were best-sellers day one. More on the blog.

Penny Farthing is now Salinas Sports Tavern (422-5652) after a remodel that brought in a new fireplace,pool table and an extended bar.

• Neither the menu nor the days it’s offered (Friday-Saturday) are lengthy, but the new breakfast at Seaside’s Turtle Bay (899-1010) is long on flavor. One of my more finicky colleagues has already been five times for things like the eggs Merida ($8.95, two eggs on a crisp corn tortilla, with black beans, salsa fresca, cheddar cheese and rice) and superlative Turtle Bay seafood omelet ($9.95 with shrimp, scallops, and crab in lobster cream sauce with Monterey Jack cheese and salsa fresca).

• The first ever San Benito Olive Festival ($20) happens Oct. 19 at the historic 7,500-acre Paicines Ranch south of Hollister.

• Car Week cometh. One of many events it includes (Concours d’EleGlass, 238-9830) reveals a hidden side of Sand City (Theresa Buccola stained glass) in Carmel (San Carlos between Ocean and Seventh) 5-8pm Thursday, Aug. 15. Shale Canyon wines pour, Mundaka does food, DJ Paul Guido spins.

• Wednesday is that much more beautiful this Big Sur summer, with $2 anything from the ice chest of beer at the Big Sur Taphouse (667-2225).

Craig Ling, owner of the Sandbar & Grill (373-2818), qualified for the 59th USGA Senior Amateur Golf Championship at Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, N.C. Monday he was one of the four best golfers – among 84 – at La Rinconada Country Club in Los Gatos. He shot a second place 70, which punched his ticket to the Senior-Am Sept. 21-26. Good luck to Monterey’s best restaurateur golfer.

• “To be ready at any moment,” W.E.B. Du Bois said, “to give up what you are for what you might become.”

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(2) comments

Robert Dobolina

Yawn, more expensive boring stuff, its no wonder that people are moving away from the Monterey Bay area as well as all of California for less expensive freer states.

L831 Staff

1. "Boring" and "Expensive" are both relative terms, not fact. 2. "freer" isn't a real word. Free is an absolute state, and therefore not subject to gradation. I believe the phrase you meant to use is "less expensive." That being said, I do not find this boring at all, and furthermore neither of us has the necessary amount of information to determine whether this is expensive or not.

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