Restaurant News & Reviews

Sail your appetite into Schooners Wharf in Cayucos

Oysters Rockefeller at Schooners Wharf in Cayucos.
Oysters Rockefeller at Schooners Wharf in Cayucos. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Ahoy, mates! It’s time to set a course to check out the new “see worthy” changes at Schooners Wharf.

Brendan and Amanda Fritzsche took over the existing Cayucos restaurant in March 2010, bringing with them culinary and management experience from spots such as Chicago, Hawaii and Seattle.

After moving here in 2009 to be closer to family and to where Amanda grew up, the couple started looking around for a business opportunity, ideally “a small restaurant where we could have a little more control over what we were doing,” said Brendan Fritzsche.

“Schooners popped up for sale,” said Fritzsche, “and it was just what we wanted.” They realized that because it was one of the older buildings in town it would need a little TLC, but “it’s got so much character — we didn’t want to kill that. We wanted to keep the aesthetic established by Bill Larkin (the original owner, subsequently co-owned by Larkin’s son, Troy, and Donovan Schmit).”

The Fritzsches opted to streamline multiple entrances into a single access, to spruce everything up a bit and put in a breakfast and lunch takeout window out back. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, they managed to eke out a little more of the sought-after outdoor deck seating thanks to built-in benches and realigned tables.

A significant change made behind the scenes was that they more than doubled the size of the kitchen, said Fritzsche.

“We’ve got a lot more prep space so (chef Beto Gonzalez, a veteran of several local kitchens, and his crew) have a lot more room to experiment and come up with specials,” he said. “About three-fourths of the menu is still the same, though. Right now, we’re focusing on making changes to things like ingredients, sauces, etc.”

You’ll still find signature Schooners dishes, such as Hearst Ranch burgers, crispy calamari steak strips with house-made tartar and cocktail sauces, and the mainstay prime rib dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.

However, the shrimp cocktail now includes colossal prawns, the pan-seared chicken dinner is an entire half bird, and the fish tacos are marinated whole filets of snapper or tilapia instead of fish pieces.

Likewise, the oysters are likely to be local Grassy Bays, and the beer-battered fish and chips are made with lager instead of porter, which makes for a lighter batter.

Eventually, the Fritzsches and Gonzalez plan to add more veggie dishes, but some of the newer creations currently sailing into the Schooners lineup include salmon cakes, red snapper Veracruz, and nachos topped with “tinga de pollo” — a classic Mexican preparation of spicy, stewed, shredded chicken.

Amanda’s culinary background includes a pastry focus, so she’s expanding Schooners’ dessert options as well. “Mom’s Chocolate Cake” and “Carrot Cake” (still made by Troy’s mom) continue to anchor the menu, but you can now also enjoy from-scratch apple pie and The Cayookie — a house-made chocolate chip cookie baked to order in a cast-iron skillet (allow 10 minutes), served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream.

One thing the Fritzsches knew they weren’t going to throw overboard was the beloved Schooners bar and its salty patina of atmosphere. Sporting great views of the pier and ocean, a full bar and several taps, it’s a popular destination in itself despite its diminutive size.

“We’re the only place in Cayucos with both a full bar and food,” said Fritzsche. “It’s nice to be able to offer that, but really, the bar’s appeal is that it’s essentially a social club with a great local following.”

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