It seems like I’ve been lunching in Marina del Rey since before there was water in the canals. And yet, recently, while browsing the Internet, I saw some favorable comments about Tony P’s Dockside Grill, a place I have never visited. So the next time I was driving by, my wife and I stopped in there for lunch.
Upon entering I noticed that the restaurant includes an enclosed patio overlooking the marina that was pretty packed with diners, as well as a large, dimly lit bar with lots of TV screens — obviously this place would be hopping during Monday Night Football. There were three other rooms. Two hosted large parties. We sat down in the third room, which was a bit quieter.
A minute or so later a busboy appeared with two glasses of water and some hot bread. We were off to a good start! A moment later a cheery blond waitress appeared and asked if we wanted something to drink.
“Do I look like a guy that would drink during the day?” I asked. She thought about that for a second or two, smiled, and said “Yes!” “OK, I said, I’ll have a glass of beer.” While waiting for my beer I looked over the wine list, and was unimpressed. Wine is not this restaurant’s strong point. But there were a lot of interesting mixed drinks on the bar menu.
Then she brought the menu. Suddenly, I was in heaven! All of my favorite dishes were there. Of course, that makes it hard to order. There was a particularly large selection of appetizers, and I could visualize myself tasting them while watching a game on one of the TVs.
For a start, I ordered the pulled pork quesadilla. That turned out to be a fresh tortilla filled with delicious pulled pork in a tasty BBQ sauce, with just enough vinegar and sugar, and real chopped tomato inside. It was a pretty big helping, but it was so good I had no problem finishing it.
Having eaten my way through the meat course, I decided to move on to the fish course.
With my next glass of beer I had the tuna sandwich. This turned out to be a thick piece of fresh tuna cooked to perfection inside a big fresh bun, with a slice of tomato and mayonnaise sauce.
After that I was full, but sorry not able to taste the BBQ ribs, or any of the eight pasta dishes offered between $12 to $15 or one of the terrific sounding steaks.
Late at night perhaps I’ll try the pulled pork pizza sometime, just because I like the alliteration. I did taste my wife’s chicken Caesar salad, and it was fine, except there was the wrong kind of cheese on it. An authentic Caesar salad is topped with good, salty parmesan cheese, not mild strips of bland cheese.
I asked the waitress who owned the place. She said “wait a minute and he’ll stop by.” Sure enough, in a few minutes Tony himself showed up.
He said his partner was also there. In my experience, when the owners are on the premises it’s a good sign, and I guess that’s one of the reasons why the service at our table was so perfect.
Tony told me a bit about the history of the restaurant, and explained that he didn’t use his full name for the restaurant, Tony Palermo, because he didn’t want people to think it was an Italian restaurant.
As he left he said to the waitress, “bring my new friends here a couple of desserts.” So she asked us to choose among several options.
Soon two small glasses appeared — one filled with apple and apple crisp, and the other with berries and whipped cream. We shouldn’t have, but we did.
In this day of pizza, tacos, and sushi, there is clearly a place for an American restaurant that serves good old American food. This is it. I’ll be back for those ribs!
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at email@example.com