Captain Jack’s: Weird and Wonderful

The most (only?) famous restaurant in Sunset Beach, Captain Jack’s is something of an anomaly. If you’ve heard of it, you probably already know everything that I’m going to tell you, and if you haven’t, my words probably won’t be enough to give you the full picture until you experience it in person. But alas, I will try.

Captain Jack’s is actually more than an anomaly, it is a portrait of a dichotomy if I’ve ever seen one. While the restaurant patrons are usually well-dressed, the wait staff wears Hawaiian shirts à la Trader Joe’s. The decor is nearly as kitschy as a theme restaurant’s, yet the service is second to none. The wine list is extensive, but the beer selections make TGI Friday’s look like a craft beer bar. You order from a giant plastic menu shaped like a shark fin (or a sail, perhaps), but the seafood that lands on your plate might as well have come from God’s own fishing boat.

I went with my parents and friend Jonathan to celebrate his recent promotion at a job my dad helped secure for him. Many other parties seemed to be there in celebration as well—that’s just the sort of place Captain Jack’s is. In our two hours dining, I heard three performances of “Happy Birthday to You” (don’t tell Warner/Chappell Music) and the waiters congratulating a nearby couple on their anniversary. When we walked in, the hostesses and busboys we passed all welcomed us with the full name of our party all the way to our table. It’s both impressive and slightly unnerving. The interior is meant to look like a ship, or, more specifically, the Captain’s quarters of a ship. The illusion is aided by the fact that the backside of the restaurant sits on Huntington Harbor and most tables have a view of the water. There are aquariums, nets, and masts, but these only serve to distract you from the real star: the food.

Ceviche, on the Chips

Alaskan King Crab legs aren’t exactly a delicacy, but they are definitely not an everyday occurrence either. They exist somewhere in the middle as an expensive but delicious treat that you enjoy when you can, but do not necessarily seek out. Accordingly, this was a perfect opportunity to enjoy them while I could, and I ordered 20 ounces of the steaming, salmon-colored legs. But no truly great meal has a single course and this was no exception. To start, we had the starter that first changed my mind about seafood when I was a teenager: ceviche. I had Captain Jack’s ceviche when I was 17 and quickly realized that not all fish was fishy and meat did not have to be cooked to be delicious. Their ceviche, which is pleasantly cool, zesty, salty, and sweet, has a dollop of house-made guacamole in the middle, and is full of juicy chunks of fresh white fish. It’s served in a martini glass and lasted two minutes between the four of us. The only ceviche I’ve had that I could say was definitively better was on Isla Mujeres in the Caribbean and was full of fish, shrimp, and octopus that had all been caught that morning. Needless to say, I was more than happy to settle for second-best in this case.

The entrees also come with starter salads, which can easily be overlooked because they are, in fact, salads. And largely, there is nothing special about iceberg and romaine lettuce, some shredded carrot, red cabbage, and a cherry tomato or two. However, if you enjoy blue cheese as much as I do, you will be in complete awe of the rich, creamy blue cheese dressing that puts every buffalo wing house to shame. Again, you have to really like the funky taste of the mold (yes, it is mold) that grows in it, because the dressing has larger bites of cheese than most people outside of Wisconsin would know what to do with.


Not pretty, yet beautiful

And then the crab legs come. Hardly confined by the platter they are served on, the six pink-orange legs total nearly a pound and a half of sea meat—a term I just made up and may use going forward. They come (slightly) pre-cracked and quite hot, allowing for an amazing crab-scented steam to emanate from the center of the legs. Underneath the legs is a ramekin of drawn butter, which I did not notice until I had powered through two legs already. And that’s the thing—they don’t need it. On its own, the crabmeat is already sweet, juicy, and just a touch savory. It is rich (as if steamed in buttermilk) without any fishiness or indication it came from the bottom of the ocean. The sea meat was thoroughly tasty throughout the legs, but I’d say that the contents of the claw were the best—they had just a touch more savory characteristic than the rest of the legs. We opened a bottle of 2013 Chardonnay from Center of Effort wines, which paired nicely with the crab. The wine had strong notes of pear, and was a bit buttery in its own regard. Slightly chilled, it offered a nice respite from the steamy crab I was consuming. Sip, crack, pull, eat, smile, repeat was my formula for success. Soon enough, I was full and happy, and judging by the countenances of my tablemates, I’d say they were too.

There is a feeling I get when ingesting large quantities of meat that I first experienced when I went to a Brazilian Barbecue and encountered the joys of endless steak, lamb, and pork. It is a strange mixture of extreme satiety, euphoria, and lightheadedness and I call it the meatache. Eating over a pound of crab legs gave me a meatache. A sea meatache. And it was wonderful. Captain Jack’s is not the most beautiful restaurant in terms of aesthetics; nobody is going to argue that point. But if it’s time for a celebration and you need crab, there’s nowhere better.


From the Cellar: Sour in the Rye

A few years ago, I decided to store a handful of bottles that I wasn’t quite ready to drink in my parents’ wine cellar. I knew that some beers got better with age but had never experienced a vintage beer before. The bottles I placed in there were Victory at Sea from Ballast Point, Avery Czar Imperial Stout, Firestone Walker Sucaba Barleywine, Russian River Consecration, and Russian River Supplication. Of these original five beers, the Sucaba is the only one I have yet to drink, and I don’t think I plan to anytime soon. At first, I slowly added to the collection, sending a beer or two back with my dad every month when he would head home for the weekend after working the week in Southern California. Eventually I started drinking more aged beer through the avenues of bottle shares and bars like Beachwood BBQ hanging on to kegs of imperial stouts and barleywines for a couple years before tapping them.

The Original Lineup

The page really turned when I started to drink what I’d left in the cellar. The first was the Avery Czar, which after a year had mellowed out considerably, allowing the alcohol to come across as sweet instead of hot. I was convinced. Since then, most of my bottle purchases are actually intended to go into the cellar, which is conveniently located 200 miles away at my parents’ house to minimize the risk of me drinking something too soon. I have about 80 bottles in the cellar right now and try to have them organized mostly by type. I have two cases of nothing but sour beer, a case of all stouts, a cupboard filled with Trappist ales, and a box with twelve different Firestone Walker beers. On my first ever visit to The Bruery in Orange County, I was blown away and left with a bottle of Sour in the Rye, which I figured I would save for a special occasion, and into the cellar it went.

Recently, my brother and I were at our parents’ house for Easter and had a Sunday filled with delicious food and great wine. At the end of the day, Kyle suggested grabbing a beer from the cellar. In one of those moments where the subconscious mind makes a decision before the conscious mind even realizes what’s going on, I said “How about that Sour in the Rye I’ve been saving?” The bottle was eighteen months old at this point and I guess I instinctively knew it was time to drink it. Being in the wine industry, Kyle knows many people with incredible wine collections and unsurprisingly, most of them have wines they are saving for special occasions. Many of my friends with great beer cellars say the same thing. The problem is that after a certain point, we get afraid to open the bottles we’ve collected. I’ve done it myself and I’m sure there’s some principle of psychology in the same realm as why people hoard that explains it. Basically, after holding on to something for awhile, we tend to overvalue it and don’t want to “waste” it by drinking it at the wrong time. Many of these bottles (of beer or wine) are irreplaceable and once they’re gone, they’re gone. This leads to two problems: holding on to something for too long that it passes its prime and building up unrealistic expectations of how good it’s supposed to be. So, if you’re saving a bottle of beer or wine for the perfect moment, take my brother’s advice: “Don’t wait for the perfect event to open a special bottle; opening that bottle IS the event.”

Cellared to Perfection

So, we opened the Sour in the Rye and poured it into wine glasses. I’m personally of the opinion that good things happen when beer is brewed with rye and this beer is the perfect example of why I feel that way. According the Bruery, they use 40% rye for their base malt and it shines through with a lightly spicy aroma. On the nose, I also got notes of apricot and sour cherries and some tart funkiness. While the flavors are not quite as bright on an aged bottle, I found them to be more complex, taking on stronger fruit flavors. When I get the taste of stone fruits like apricot and nectarines on the palate, along with under ripe strawberries, in a beer that has no fruit added, I am very impressed. The beer also had a refreshingly sour acidity with a mouth-watering aspect that suggests taking another sip is not such a bad idea. Savoring a beer like this was an event in and of itself, and I’m really glad that I wasn’t afraid to open it this time around (there have been other instances in the past when I felt it wasn’t the right time). Beer was meant to be enjoyed, so by all means, enjoy it!