Richard Foss

Back to basics, with a few surprises [restaurant review]

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Pappy’s has transformed the former Papadakis into a fish restaurant with well executed traditional and contemporary offerings.

Pappy’s antique bar and open ceilings reflect the traditional and modern menu selections. Photo by JP Cordero

Restaurant designers who repurpose old buildings sometimes strike a balance between old and new aesthetics. Conserve that antique bar, those mid-century banquettes, the tile floor, but in a room with open beams and airy space instead of the lower ceiling that would have been standard a century ago. It’s a way of referencing an antique space but appealing to a modern audience, and when it’s done right it works nicely.

Pappy’s in San Pedro followed this idea to its logical conclusion by not only applying that idea to the architecture, but to the menu. The building was a post office when it was built in the early 1900s, and for decades it was the famous Papadakis Greek restaurant, but it now has a look that evokes the 1920s. The tall bar that dominates one wall appears original, but it formerly graced a nearby restaurant. the brass rails and other fixtures were also reclaimed. The many tall windows keep this from looking like a Prohibition-era man cave, so it’s a stylishly dated family restaurant rather than a clubby joint.

The menu is a list of classic American favorites with a few modern touches; you can’t be a seafood restaurant in California without a fish taco and poke bowl, so they’re there. So are paella and moqueca, a Brazilian seafood stew, along with the inevitable clam chowder, lobster roll, fried local calamari, and fish grilled, fried, or blackened. The selection isn’t wildly adventurous, but there are things that will please those who like to dine like it’s 2018 in the environment of a century earlier.

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One of the modern items is shrimp cake sliders with a Thai sweet chili sauce and wasabi mousse, and it’s quite a success. The chili sauce has just a wisp of heat, the wasabi only slightly more, but they’re much more interesting together than separately. The shrimp cake they accent was lightly crusted with sesame, which added a delicate flavor and additional texture. It’s more than the sum of its parts, and worth trying. So is the more traditional clam chowder, which is available in a hollowed-out sourdough loaf or standard bowl. If you like your chowder buttery and rich with just enough seasoning to make a difference, this will hit the spot.

Server Cortney Steinhoff with Pappy’s traditional Cobb salad. Photo by JP Cordero

Most of the dinners just come with fries or rice, so if you don’t consider it a real meal without greens you’ll want a salad. The chopped grilled veggie salad is a good choice, with the grilled zucchini and eggplant mixed with romaine lettuce, red cabbage, tomatoes, and garbanzo beans. The combination of raw and cooked vegetables works well, and the honey-mustard dressing is mild enough to not swamp the natural flavors with sweetness.

On a visit shortly after Pappy’s opened we tried the moqueca, a mild Brazilian take on seafood curry, and the fish and chips. If you are dining with someone who is comfortable with sharing, this is a good duo to order. The moqueca is very much like a mild Thai coconut curry sauce rich with cumin, garlic, and cilantro, while the beer battered fish and chips is the classic made with true cod rather than some cheaper fish. It comes with a small mountain of fries, and I actually liked dipping them into the moqueca broth as well as the spicy house catsup that is the standard accompaniment.

On our most recent visit we tried a lobster roll and the poke bowl, and as is our habit we shared both. The poke was topped with seaweed, black sesame, and a little wasabi and served over rice with a sprinkling of mango chunks and edamame, and it was less salty than many poke variations I’ve had. The fish was good quality and what looked like a small portion was quite filling. Then again, maybe it looked like a small portion because it was dwarfed by the mountain of fries that came with the lobster roll. The fries looked like far too much for us to finish, but they were hot and crisp and to our amazement they were soon gone. As for the lobster roll, there are many regional variations with different amounts of lobster, chopped celery, celery seed, and mayonnaise. This one had many chunks of lobster but no celery seed and was light on the celery, but did have some dill, red onion, and tomato mixed in with the light mayo. It’s a lobster roll that for people who like the taste of lightly accented lobster rather than the creamy mix of seafood with crunchy bits. I happen to like a little celery seed in mine and could have done without the tomato, but my wife who hails from the East Coast thought it was a particularly interesting variation.

Pappy’s recently received their full liquor license and the staff are still formulating their cocktail menu. On a whim I asked if the bartender would like to use us as test subjects for their recipes. We told our server our preferences (not too sweet, and we both like whiskey), and the bartender himself showed up at our table with a berry cordial and a cucumber-berry old fashioned. Both were made with fresh juices and were delightful, and they augur well for the bar program here. There are very few craft cocktail options in downtown San Pedro, so it’s unfortunate that Pappy’s closes relatively early, just when the nightlife scene is revving up. Even if I dined elsewhere, I’d happily drop by for a drink afterward at a place that has this kind of talent behind the bar.

At this point Pappy’s doesn’t serve dessert, though our server indicated that they’re experimenting with ideas and sometimes offers them as specials. We probably wouldn’t have been able to eat much dessert anyway because we were already taking some of the salad home but would have been interested to see what a talented kitchen like this would offer.

Dinner for two with two cocktails ran $80s, not at all out of line for high quality seafood. Downtown San Pedro has been undergoing a resurgence with several upscale restaurants under construction, and when they open they’ll have competition from a place with class and style.

Pappy’s is at 301 West Sixth Street in San Pedro. Open daily 11:30 a.m., close 8 p.m. Sun.-Wed., 8:30 p.m. Thur., 9:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Street parking or nearby lot, full bar, corkage $20. Sound level moderate, average 73 Db. Phone 424-224-5444, menu at pappysseafood.com. PEN

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