July 24, 2011
When folks hit 60 they react differently. Some start planning for retirement with an earnestness their workdays never knew. Others start planning what songs they want at their wake. Still others elect to get all the more engaged in their passions—to heap that much more fuel on whatever fires their bellies.
Abalonetti’s (373-1851), maybe my belly's favorite place for Monterey’s flagship fare, calamari—and, apparently, yours, as Weekly readers have given ’Netti’s the Best Calamari nod in our annual readers poll four separate years now—is taking the third tack.
They’re celebrating six decades of 70,000 pounds of calamari a year by rebranding themselves as Abalonetti’s Bar and Grill instead of a seafood trattoria, with the philosophy that the shift will reflect the mood there more accurately.
“Nobody knows what ‘trattoria’ is,” Managing Partner Kevin Phillips says. “And seafood’s a little limiting. ‘Bar and grill’ is much more accurate—it’s casual, there’s a bar scene, and we grill every seafood we make beside fish and chips and calamari. We want to maintain a casual waterfront dining feel.”
The new waterside patio stands to help, especially as the Coastal Commission approves heaters, a fire pit, an outdoor bar, and maybe even retractable covering (or at least umbrellas). New awnings, colors, signs and designs will refresh the brand of one of only three original eateries still cookin’ (Fisherman’s Grotto and Rappa’s are the others). The signs go up soon, and a big benefit party piled high with calamari of every kind, raffles, Hahn wine, a dress-you-dog-as-sea-life costume contest for Peace of Mind Dog Rescue goes down Sept. 29. Thanks to the generosity of Abalonetti’s management and Hahn, 100 percent of the $30 entries (capped at 125 people) goes to PMDR.
Fortunately all the changes aren’t eroding Abalonetti’s most fabled elements, like the original owner’s Marty’s Special ($16.95-$18.95) with flash-fried calamari filets layered with fried eggplant, Sicilian marinara, Parmesan and mozzarella or the other five calamari preps.
The most delicious part, though, for this indigenous dude: Killer locals specials mean you can eat—and drink—very well and for very reasonable prices.
Four of us descended on a Wednesday to find area sax master Ben Herod busking beautiful originals at the Wharf’s entrance and roped him in for an onslaught of tentacles and other treats.
We started with two of the six calamari preps at the bar, paired nicely with English Ales 1066 ($2.99) under the Abalonetti’s Pale Ale name. All day every day, drafts like that and mango margarita are $2.99.
The tasty marinated ’mari ($8.95) offers a super tender and lighter alternative to the fried treatments as it revels in olive oil, garlic and herbs...
...not that the 20-year barkeep Stuart Babcock’s recommendation—a split plate of garlic-fried and Baja-style golden calamari (tossed with pico de gallo) with bits of Gilroy greatness and chipotle aoili seeping into the non-greasy, crispy batter, respectively—didn’t make us happy as sustainable clams.
Locals specials—a choice of entrées that include sand dabs, salmon and mahi mahi with pilaf and grilled seasonal veggies—are a steal at $8.95. An easy $4 adds on a soup/salad plus a pick from a pair of desserts, and a glass of house Cab or Chard (Salmon Creek) is $2.99 with the special.
With a half antipasto plate of more marinated squid, grilled fennel, artichokes, roasted garlic, olives, mushrooms and more from the bar ($9.95) plus another couple of beers—and standout service from celebrity-server-in-the-making Joe—the tag was still less than $100.
Not a bad way to spend an evening by the bay.