We're lucky in many ways each winter here in Northern California compared to much of the country. One of the most obvious joys is exchanging snow for sunshine and Dungeness crab. Fair trade, right?
With the glory that is Dungeness crab season upon us, I recently went on a pursuit of the Peninsula's premier crab sandwich. I ended up traveling to the far reaches of Pacifica and also traveling way back in time.
Having survived two fires over the years and anchored in a beautiful oceanfront niche at Rockaway Beach since 1927, Nick's is a retro time warp. With its vinyl booths and hot turkey sandwiches, it almost convinces you that Leave It To Beaver will air tonight and Eisenhower is the president. After all, the outside sign boasts of "sea shore dinners" and "cocktails & dancing." The restaurant itself is attached to a motel. Hip? Not exactly.
Crab Louie, freshly cracked crab, crab cakes, crab cocktails, crab Benedict -- you so often hear of these crab preparations but almost never stumble upon a simple crab sandwich.
Nick's specializes in a Dungeness crab sandwich ($19.50) that is absolutely worth the drive -- and the price. When working through the substantial sandwich, you won't even notice the view outside. It's a basic sandwich, but it's transcendent, and showcases the almost dessert-like sweetness of the Dungeness crab meat. Warm, thick griddled sliced sourdough contrasts with the cool, generous pile of lump crab meat mixed with just the right amount of mayonnaise.For those who love virtually unadorned crab, this is the sandwich filling for you. A slice of tomato is the only addition needed, though you can also opt for avocado or cheese as extra. A pickle spear, some lettuce, and raw onion come on the side, all of which added some pleasant dimensions if you're so inclined.
Once the tomato is punctured, its juice spills out, combining with the mayonnaise and crab that has fallen out of the sandwich, creating what tastes essentially like a crab Louie by default. It's a wonderful treat, even if it's only because the sandwich can get sloppy after a few bites.
My waiter made the clever suggestion to order the sandwich open-face, then add a slice of Nick's other specialty, garlic bread, on top. I tried it and found it tasted identical to the popular Crazy Crab sandwich at AT&T Park. In other words, the crab starts getting hidden by the garlic and butter. It's not bad, but really, what more do you need than pristine crab meat, some chewy sourdough, and the sense that The Ed Sullivan Show might be playing on TV when you get home tonight?
100 Rockaway Beach Ave., Pacifica; (650) 359-3903.