At The Inn at Morro Bay, a sublime celebration of local food

SLO County ingredients — from abalone to lavender to beef — star throughout Chef Anthony Reeves’ adventurous cuisine

ktbudge@sbcglobal.netSeptember 29, 2009 

  • Orchid Restaurant and Bay Club at The Inn at Morro Bay

    60 State Park Road, across from Morro Bay Golf Course in Morro Bay; 772-5651; www.innatmorrobay.com

    Hours: Bay Club — breakfast Mon-Sat. 7-9 a.m., lunch/bar menu Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 2-9 p.m.; Orchid — dinner Sun.-Thurs. 5:30-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30-9:30 p.m., Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

    The scene: In the Bay Club, enjoy casual atmosphere, a weekday happy hour and live music many nights. In Orchid Restaurant, relax with an upscale dining experience. Both venues offer great waterfront views.

    The cuisine: Seasonal local fare inventively fused with classic technique; good wines-by-the-glass selection, as well as several single malt scotches.

    Expect to spend: Bay Club dishes start at about $8, most under $15; Orchid entrées typically between $20-30; nightly three-course prix fixe $30, or $42 with wine pairings.

The Inn at Morro Bay may be one of the Central Coast’s best kept secrets.

Perched serenely above the estuary, just steps away from a golf course and a state park, it offers both casual dining in the Bay Club and upscale dining in the Orchid Restaurant — not to mention a great place to watch the sunset!

The Inn’s menus are orchestrated by Executive Chef Anthony Reeves, who started there as chef de cuisine in 2006 after gaining wide-ranging culinary experience up and down the West Coast.

The Santa Maria native has held positions as varied as dishwasher, sous chef, corporate trainer for a restaurant chain and wok station cook at an Asian eatery in Seattle. Along the way, Reeves also landed in two places that continue to strongly inform his approach to food: The Bay House in Lincoln City, Ore., and Cutter’s Bayhouse at Pike Place Market in Seattle.

“I learned classic French technique at the Bay House, and it was my first chef job, so it was really the first time I was making my own cuisine,” Reeves remembered. “At Cutter’s, we were doing huge volume, and it was also right at Pike Place, so that’s where I got my market experience — going and shopping and sourcing locally.”

When pressed, Reeves calls his fare at The Inn at Morro Bay “contemporary American,” but at its heart it’s a celebration of seasonal local bounty, be it mushrooms or lavender, grass-fed beef or olives, vegetables or cheese. In fact, about a dozen Central Coast food producers are listed on the menu under the heading “Thank you to our local partners.”

“They all produce such amazing food,” said Reeves. “It makes my job easy — I just have to come up with amazing pairings. It’s kind of a fusion approach, but based in classic French technique and letting the food speak for itself. I also like to offer people things they can’t easily make at home, like homemade demi-glace — you could do it, but it would take you a couple of days.”

With dishes on the Orchid menu such as breast of duck with brandy-peach duck demi-glace and wild rice, or bouillabaisse, or spinach and bleu cheese stuffed pork chop with marsala and oyster mushroom pan sauce, it might be easy to pigeonhole The Inn at Morro Bay as just a place to go for special occasions. However, Reeves also offers a nightly three-course prix fixe menu (wine pairings optional), and takes pride in paying the same attention to taste in the Bay Club as well. From that more casual menu, you can opt for everything from hummus and warm pita to hazelnut crusted baked brie, a Hearst Ranch burger on a rustic roll or Firestone Ale battered fish and chips with house-made tartar sauce.

Reeves also noted that patrons are always welcome to order anything from the Orchid menu in the Bay Club, and the menus actually share quite a few dishes. Among them are Ocean Rose abalone with creamed leek-lobster stuffed shell, black bean marinated Hearst Ranch skirt steak with Pan-Asian slaw, and sautéed exotic mushrooms with feta cheese wrapped in phyllo pastry.

Speaking from the vantage point of almost two decades in the culinary profession, Reeves admits that “you’ve gotta love it, but it’s the most honest and rewarding living: to use your creativity to make people happy.”

He also relishes in being able to “source locally from someone you know, then coming out and meeting the diners, and helping to make that connection between the farmers and the people eating their food. It’s kind of like having a dinner party every night.”

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