Hofbrau der Albatross has been a fixture on the Morro Bay waterfront for almost 40 years.
“There’s been very little change since it was opened by my dad and brothers in 1971,” said owner Stan Van Beurden, who’s already working side by side at the restaurant with the next generation of the family — his daughters Nicole and Alison. (His other daughter, Larissa Doust, is a web producer for SanLuisObispo.com.)
The Hofbrau’s menu is largely the same as the day it opened, and still centers on its signature French dip roast beef sandwiches. Though he can’t confirm it, Van Beurden is pretty certain that the entire concept came from the iconic Lefty O’Doul’s Restaurant and Lounge just off Union Square in San Francisco.
Dating back to 1958, Lefty O’Doul’s is often cited as one of the classic “hofbrau” restaurants, a casual cuisine that became regionally specific to the West Coast. It’s a cafeteria-style approach that evolved around beer, savory meats that go with beer, and steam trays. The Van Beurdens’ Morro Bay version of this hearty fare is no exception.
At the Hofbrau, the roast beef sandwiches are carved to order right in front of you from a big hunk of choice-grade, inside top round sitting on the counter. About a half pound of the meat goes onto a freshly sliced sourdough roll (from Brian’s Artisan Bakery in Atascadero) that’s just been dipped in some rich au jus. Add your choice of Swiss or provolone cheese before it all goes into a steam tray for a few puffs of heat.
In a few minutes, your hot French dip is ready to be served with a side of au jus and a crunchy dill pickle spear — a cold draft beer completes the full “hofbrau” experience.
Other dipped sandwich offerings include turkey, ham, corned beef, pastrami, a Reuben, and even a Rathskellar with bratwurst, sauerkraut and cheese. Van Beurden estimated that over the years, the Hofbrau has served more than a million-and-a-half sandwiches, and there have been a lot of days when they’ve made more than 200 of them.
The best-selling sandwich is definitely the roast beef, however, and “we probably go through about 20 tons of beef annually,” said Van Beurden. It’s roasted in house, which gives the Hofbrau kitchen plenty of drippings to use in the au jus.
Of course, this being Morro Bay, you can also order fish and chips, which are hand-battered and served with thin, crispy fries. Several other seafood and chips options — shrimp, calamari, etc. — are available as well, or order a hamburger, broiled fish sandwich or even a veggie burger. For a lighter touch, opt for a fresh side salad or soup instead of fries, or go with a side of onion rings or hot German potato salad.
Clam chowder is another must-have for any restaurant this close to the water, and you can tell by the cut of the potatoes that the Hofbrau makes its own.
Other housemade soups on hand throughout the week might include chicken gumbo or chicken noodle, and entree specials will probably either be a barbecued beef sandwich or bami goreng, a stir-fried noodle dish that’s a nod to the Van Beurdens’ Dutch and Indonesian heritage.
Longtime patrons of the Hofbrau will remember that it was originally on the southern end of the Embarcadero before moving a few blocks north to its current, larger location in April 2002.
Perched on the estuary, with Morro Rock front and center, the restaurant “still has the best view in the world, and really has the feel of old Morro Bay,” said Van Beurden.
“I feel very lucky that we’re here.”