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Fresh from the sea, into the pan 

click to enlarge SO FINE :  Your Bar Harbor friends can’t get better lobster rolls than those at Pier 46. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • SO FINE : Your Bar Harbor friends can’t get better lobster rolls than those at Pier 46.

After finishing my first lunch at Pier 46 Seafood, I walked over to the owners, Eric Gonzales and Tony DeGarimore, and said I wished they had built the place in South County, where I live. They didn’t know me yet and they chuckled, but I was serious. I had just devoured a plate of their excellent fish tacos, even though another chef had recommended ordering their lobster sandwich. In fact, that’s still my favorite so far, but I’m eager to return and try more at this temple to the sea.

During my second visit, Eric wanted to make sure I understood what Pier 46 Seafood is all about. “This isn’t as much a restaurant as it is a market for fresh seafood,” he noted. “People like coming in to see the live fish and it’s fun to learn about them.” Not only that, this specialty shop has earned a following among Europeans living in North County. They can now purchase skate wing, red mullet, and whole sardines, which are not easily found in American markets.

Both the partners started in the seafood industry working for their fathers. Tony’s dad is a local fisherman who opened several seafood markets in Morro Bay and Cambria, and his brother Giovanni DeGarimore owns Giovanni’s Fish Market in Morro Bay. Eric’s father owned a wholesale seafood company in Los Angeles, where he started his education scaling fish. He earned his worldly experience by working on a Russian ship that processed shellfish.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

At Pier 46 they’re selling restaurant-quality seafood that’s rarely available to the consumer. Eric said they purchase the best fish available, whether it is salmon caught in local waters or in Norway. All of the fish on sale is labeled so you know where it was caught and how; all part of their business plan. “We want to provide healthy, sustainable seafood while making a difference for the future of our oceans,” said Tony.

The day I visited, they had Manila and Littleneck clams, Prince Edward Island mussels, and several oyster varieties, along with some tasty looking, frisky Dungeness crabs from San Francisco Bay; all alive and thriving in fish tanks. The assortment of fish ranges from smoked treats; to steamed, cleaned crab ready for a Louie salad; to gorgeous fresh filets of various types of tuna and salmon; to halibut cheeks; and much more that the shop cuts to order. Whatever they’re selling depends on availability.

When you walk through the door, you’ll find Tony and Eric behind the counter serving customers. Both of the times I visited, they were kept busy by a steady stream of customers, including a local chef picking up whole fish. Of course, the employees are every bit as friendly and ready to offer helpful advice about how to prepare purchases.

- PIER 46 SEAFOOD:  1131 Rossi Rd. - Templeton - 434-1950 - Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. -
  • PIER 46 SEAFOOD: 1131 Rossi Rd. Templeton 434-1950 Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

When I first dined there with my husband we thought the menu prices were quite reasonable. We certainly didn’t expect the sizeable plates they set in front of us, piled high with enough food to satisfy a stevedore. Even better, I was impressed by the freshness with every bite. Dan ordered the grilled seafood plate ($11), which offers the choice of wild salmon, halibut, or swordfish, and true to form chose salmon. The full-sized dinner plate seemed to be brimming over with three large pieces of grilled salmon on a mound of brown and wild rice with carrots, and a sauté of mixed veggies. I couldn’t resist stealing bites of that rice, it was so tasty.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

When I ordered the two fish tacos ($9) they asked if I wanted them crispy or sautéed, or one of each. I ordered the latter, impressed by the fact they’re willing to make an order any way you want it. That plate, too, is a generous serving: each taco had thick pieces of local red snapper; the crispy one battered and deep-fried and the sautéed perfectly cooked; with shredded cabbage, pepper Jack cheese, caramelized onions, and cilantro with a spicy lime sauce, salsa, and lime wedges. The spicy sauce was so good on its own, I forgot all about the salsa. If you’re really hungry, their signature Pier 46 fries, a mix of russet and sweet potatoes dressed with black truffle salt ($4), make a great side dish.

When I said it was wise renting this space near Trader Joe’s in Templeton, Eric explained: “We looked around Paso Robles and thought it was a 50/50 chance coming here, but there’s a good synergy here with Trader Joe’s, JoeBella’s, and 15 Degrees C.” He tipped me off to the fact the room adjacent to the shop will become their restaurant, possibly with a sushi bar. They’re hoping to open early in spring. The only thing they don’t have yet is a wine and beer license but they expect to have that when they open the restaurant. Meanwhile, a cooler is stocked with sodas, tea, and water.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

During my second visit I enjoyed their thick and creamy clam chowder ($4 for an 8 oz. cup) with tasty bits of tender clams and potatoes. The fish and chips ($9), another big plate, provided crispy white cod served over a generous helping of the house fries. If you’re health conscious, like me, you’ll prefer the grilled fish. I am eager to return for the lobster sandwich and the fresh oysters. The Kumamotos were only $1.50 each when I visited, and they’ll shuck the oysters for you for free.

This is a great spot for a quick bite to eat. Every time I stop in, I buy fresh fish to take home for dinner. Even if you don’t live in North County, the quality and the freshness at Pier 46 Seafood make it well worth taking the drive over the grade.

You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

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