Restaurants come and go, but Dorn's Breakers Café has been a Morro Bay favorite for breakfast, lunch and dinner since 1942.
Part of that longevity may be owed to its location. Perched one block above the busy Embarcadero in an atmosphere reminiscent of a classic San Francisco fish-house, the café's indoor and outdoor seating affords sweeping views of the estuary and Morro Rock, giving it one of the best seaside vistas in San Luis Obispo County.
However, probably the primary reason for the restaurant's success is the sense of tradition maintained by the Amsel and Dorn families. The Breakers Café had already been open six years when Harry Amsel bought it in 1948 and developed it into a place known as much for its fresh seafood as for its friendly service.
In 1966, Amsel's daughter, Nancy, met her future husband, Dan Dorn, at the café, and they eventually purchased the restaurant and added the Dorn's name in 1977. Though they're both still involved with various aspects of the operation, their son, Chris, took over the day-to-day management in 1998.
Over its 60-plus years, Dorn's Breakers Café evolved into a restaurant that generations of patrons return to again and again, so "eliminating anything off the menu is virtually impossible," explained Chris Dorn. "People come here and always get this or get that, and you don't want to break someone's tradition by not offering what they had last time. The generational connection is part of what makes this place -- it's the greatest legacy the restaurant has." Granted, that ongoing loyalty means that the "last time" a patron visited might mean last week or 20 years ago, so Dorn's menu is a tad more traditional than most.
You'll find time-honored dishes such as a Hangtown Omelette with sautéed oysters, a patty melt, a sardine sandwich on rye bread, sole florentine stuffed with spinach and topped with hollandaise sauce, sautéed veal piccata with lemon and capers, and shrimp and crab Louies -- salads that are staging a comeback in the culinary world, but that never left the Dorn's lineup.
"We do have a solid, traditional menu," said Dorn, but "with our specials we'll run things that are different, like the Friday prime rib or the Sunday cioppino."
Other recent daily specials have included a roasted pork loin, blackened swordfish with fresh mango salsa, and many other dishes based around fresh seasonal seafood such as sand dabs, Dungeness crab and Santa Barbara spiny lobster.
"We highlight local fish as much as possible, like snapper, petrale sole, halibut and swordfish, and we only serve those when they're available," said Dorn.
Of course, as befitting a seaside eatery with this view, Dorn's delivers all the requisites, such as fish and chips, deep-fried calamari, steamed clams and the like. Other longtime mainstays on the menu include Nancy's House Salad with avocado and bacon, Nancy's Other Salad with shrimp and bleu cheese, and the hearty clam chowder, which has been made from the same recipe for decades.
While seafood is at the heart of the menu, Dorn's offers many land-based options as well, including pasta pomodoro, chicken marsala, and New York steaks that are "hand-cut and dry-aged on premises," said Dorn.
You'll also find other "from scratch" touches from Chef Felipe Acosta, such as house-made hollandaise, just-baked sourdough bread, and fresh berry cobbler.
That sort of approach started with Harry Amsel and has continued to be an ongoing touchstone for the Dorn family and its staff. As Amsel's daughter, Nancy Dorn, noted, "He showed us the way he did business. He set a wonderful example."