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BEACH GOURMET: Fred Deni’s “Back On The Beach”: Broadway Meets The Beach

As many readers will know, Fred Deni’s Back On Broadway restaurant has, for over 25 years, been a favored haunt for anyone wishing to satiate their desire for splendicious plates of delightfully prepared meals, and now, at the recently established, and very impressive, Annenberg Beach House, there is to be found a new “Broadway Fringe” café, offering meals crafted with the same ethic, care, and flair, namely Fred Deni’s Back On The Beach Cafe.

This bright and shiny new gastronomic venue only opened its doors this past Saturday, and a friend and I decided to venture down to BOTB for an oceanside breakfast, on only its second day of service, to discover how well Deni’s dining drama would fare on a different stage, and with different scenery.

Firstly, The Annenberg Community Beach House is a stunning affair, architecturally sympathetic to its location, it boasts a rich and inspiring history. The 5-acre oceanfront site, upon which the Annenberg Community Beach House now sits, was originally developed during the Gold Coast era of the 1920s by William Randolph Hearst for actress Marion Davies. The Davies estate featured a mansion of 100-plus rooms and an ornate marble swimming pool. As with many Hearst projects, the vision of architect Julia Morgan provided a cohesive grace to the rambling estate. The Beach House was a hot spot on Santa Monica’s Gold Coast, with Hearst and Davies entertaining luminaries from the Hollywood set, such as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and other stars of the day.

The property was sold to the State of California in 1959, and continued to operate as the ever-popular Sand & Sea Club under a concession agreement. In the 1990s, the City of Santa Monica ran the facility; known as “415 PCH,” until the 1994 Northridge Earthquake severely damaged all structures on site. In recovering from the earthquake, the City embarked on an extensive public input process to re-envision the role of 415 PCH as an important public gathering space. Although a re-use plan was adopted in 1998, the project sat on hold while the City tried to secure funding. Wallis Annenberg of the Annenberg Foundation, held fond memories of visiting the Sand & Sea Club. When she learned of the City’s struggle to identify funding to realize its vision for a year-round public beach facility, she enthusiastically offered to help. The Annenberg Foundation provided a $27.5 million grant that paved the way for the site’s rehabilitation.

And today it offers a wonderful location to relax, swim in the pool, or, as was our wont, enjoy a serene and tasty breakfast, with options from a menu that exemplifies the notion of fresh ingredients, simple recipes, and in an environment that is clean, and very, very “beachy.”

The choices available from a concise and smartly presented list ranged from the expected simplicity of Oatmeal, Granola, Seasonal Fruit Plates, and bagels with smoked salmon, to some very appetizing egg preparations, and it was from the latter that my dining friend, Mary, and I gravitated toward, upon what was a sun-peeking-through-the June-gloom Santa Monica Sunday morning.

Mary, with the utmost purpose, chose the Ocean House Scramble (with cream cheese, avocado, jack cheese and grilled potatoes, $10.75), whilst I was drawn to the Feta, Tomato and Spinach Omelette (served with grilled potatoes, $10.75).

Although table time was brisk, we did have time to enjoy some fresh, and aromatic coffee for a few minutes as we relished in the smart simplicity of this beach café. Very bright, very airy and with eye-opening views of the expansive beach to ocean panorama, this room is authentic, and quite sublime, as an indoor setting to enjoy a meal on the beach, There are, however, plenty of “on-sand” tables available, and these could well become a preferred option when the sun becomes master of the beach in high summer.

Service was a delight with our smiling and unobtrusive server gliding up to our table carrying the dishes that were soon to break our respective fasts. The presentation of these plates was photogenic, with perfectly oval omelettes, colorful and shiny, and muffins with butter and jelly accompanied both.

My omelette was as close to faultless as one can imagine for the price. Totally bereft of grease, with morsels of tomato, and slithers of spinach encased in a perfectly spherical omelette, baptized by sprinkles of feta atop. The grilled potatoes were well seasoned, and blessed with a melt-in-the-mouth quality.

Mary thoroughly enjoyed her scramble, that again was an oval omelette style with well-balanced fresh ingredients. I sampled a taste for myself, and enjoyed what was a robust, but light, and flavorful breakfast dish.

Back On The Beach is an alluring café with a sharp menu for breakfast, brunch and lunch (soon to feature dinner?) selections, in a priceless setting, and for me on this June Sunday, the conversation was as flavorful and rewarding as the meal itself. I will certainly be back on the beach soon.

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