by Dawn Emery Ballantine
It was nearing sunset, and it was surprisingly clear in Point Arena the night we discovered the Pier Chowder House and Tap Room. The sky was showing all the beautiful colors of autumn—turquoise to burnt sienna—and the temperature was practically balmy for the coast. An art show at the Arena Market and Café had lured us over the hill to celebrate the opening night of the delightfully whimsical paintings of Meredith Frederick and the invigorating guitar solos of Dusty Brough. The Arena Market buzzed with friendly folks, fresh groceries, good food, and great wines. After the show wound down, we found ourselves out on sidewalk wondering where to find a good meal and quiet conversation.
Driving down Main Street, turning right where the sign indicated “Coastal Access,” we found ourselves on a dark road lined by trees with no other traffic, and we wondered if we had stumbled on a one-way road to nowhere rather than an access to a fairly busy marina. But the road soon spilled out into a parking lot, and the view of the remains of the sunset, the crescent moon, and Mars all reflecting on the calm marina waters was breathtaking. And the wafting smells of good food were beckoning.
The buildings at the marina appeared to be fashioned of weathered redwood, fitting for a location at the mercy of the elements. (The entire wharf and many of the buildings were destroyed by huge storm waves in 1983 and rebuilt in 1987, not the first time Point Arena, or parts of it, had been completely destroyed and restored.) The lights glowed warmly in the near dark, drawing us over, past the fantastic smells of the pizza joint (with gluten-free options!) and up the heavy wooden steps to the Pier Chowder House and Tap Room. There was extensive outdoor seating on the deck, with fabulous views of the remaining sunset and moon-and-star-bedecked sky, so we lingered outside for a few moments, enjoying the sun’s final glow over the ocean and the pure beauty of the setting. Then the door opened, and the mouth-watering aromas and sounds of the restaurant filtered out and pulled us in.
The venue’s ample restaurant seating—booths and tables in a large dining room—was completely filled. There were a couple of seats open at the end of the bar, beautifully crafted and running the substantial length of the restaurant, so we snagged them. A large screen TV at the far end was broadcasting a sports game, but it was far enough away to be easily ignored. The bar was full of folks eating, drinking, and reading books (always a welcome sign for me), and the bar-tendress greeted us warmly in spite of the crush.
Given that it’s on the wharf, it’s not surprising that the Pier Chowder House and Tap Room has a wealth of fresh seafood dishes on the menu. Options run the gamut of preparations: appetizers of fried calamari, raw oysters, seafood cocktails, and steamed clams; four separate chowder preparations; salads, including the Seafood Louis, and soups; seafood entrees and seafood pasta dishes; beer-battered, deep fried choices; burgers and sandwiches; steaks and chicken; and our choice for the night, fresh rock cod tacos and slaw—so tender and delicious! Service was prompt, the food was great, and the people seemed happy, a recipe for success.
To top off the fabulous food, the bar has multiple choices to quench your thirst. The Tap Room has 31 beers on tap, as well as an additional two taps which rotate between hard cider, high alcohol kombucha, and “hard” waters. The lemon-ginger hard water was particularly refreshing with the fish tacos. The venue specializes in numerous northern California brews, as well as some out-of-state craft brews, but they also serve wine and mixed drinks. Plans are in the works for developing relationships with local micro-breweries, such as HenHouse Brewing Company, a most excellent venture from Santa Rosa. All of this wonderful beer has prompted the restaurant to offer a 5-course dinner with beer pairings in the winter months. The next event takes place on Saturday, January 26th, and will feature beers from Boonville’s Anderson Valley Brewery. The menu will also include crab choices, as part of the Mendocino Crab, Wine and Beer Festival. Reservations are limited to 30 seats and must be made in advance.
The Chowder House is owned by Tracy & John DuPont. Tracy is a fourth-generation resident of Point Arena whose grandparents were the Ledfords of coastal renown. (Tracy shared that her grandparents’ original Ledford home is actually on the property of what is now The Inn at Schoolhouse Creek, not the Ledford House restaurant site.) Tracy’s great-grandmother kept the books for the Point Arena shipping company in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and her grandmother was born in “the cove” in a tiny house that still stands. Tracy’s husband, John, is a more recent transplant, arriving in Point Arena in eighth grade. Tracy and John were high school sweethearts and work in this venture together. One of their two daughters, Lindsey, is the bookkeeper and events planner for the venue, which has an area for special events and groups in the back of the restaurant with a capacity of up to 30 people (with reservations).
The drive down the coast is unparalleled for its wild beauty and stunning vistas. The trip over Mountain View Road from Boonville is forested, winding, and at times one lane, but well worth it. Point Arena has an independent, pastoral charm and is home to the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast, destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and re-built, featuring, in its most modern incarnation, lodging in renovated lighthouse keepers’ quarters, tours, and activities as part of its attraction. Point Arena’s determined inhabitants have had to rebuild numerous times in the past century because of natural disasters. Their latest renaissance has yielded a food-lover’s paradise, with highly rated dining and beverage offerings— Uneda Pizza (downstairs from the Chowder House), Franny’s Cup & Saucer, and Bird Café and Supper Club, to name just a few. An unexpected treat at the end of a long week, we were delighted with our find, and we’re already planning another sunset venture to the Pier Chowder House and Tap Room, perhaps staying long enough to enjoy some of Point Arena’s other attractions.
The Pier Chowder House & Tap Room
790 Port Rd, Point Arena, CA 95468 | (707) 882-3400 | ThePierChowderhouse.net
Dawn Emery Ballantine owns and curates Hedgehog Books in Boonville, edits this magazine and other wordy endeavors, provides business services for local entrepreneurs, and is an avid reader in her spare time.