This is a tale of two diners, divided into five restaurants, times three and a half hours.
My wife was otherwise engaged last weekend, so my daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner) and I drove by ourselves to Seaside. The objective was a progressive lunch at five food trailers on Scenic 30A, known as Airstream Row. A sixth mobile eatery—Song—I’ll reserve for another day.
Aperitifs: Raw & Juicy. We opened the meal at Raw & Juicy, which offers a long list of freshly prepared health-conscious beverages, salads, rolls, wraps, bowls and snacks, R&J is perfectly positioned to attract browsers at the Seaside Farmers Market. There was a line, so TD and I had a chance to peruse the menu blackboards. She likes things simple, so we went with a cold-pressed Valencia orange juice for her. I ordered the Pink Panther smoothie, a just-sweet-enough blend of strawberries, bananas and cold-pressed apple juice.
We got our drinks, then walked down to the amphitheater where TD leapt into the nearest mob of kids. The market was in full swing, and children were running all over the grassy commons tossing footballs, wiffle balls and Frisbees, or just rolling lengthwise down the slope (TD’s game of choice). I sneaked a sip of the OJ, which had a creaminess that just can’t be found in carton juice.
Amuse-Bouche: Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs. Once at play, my daughter is difficult to pry loose. The prospect of a hot dog, however, did the trick. Wild Bill’s prides itself on making one of the world’s guiltiest pleasures into a meal acceptable to most diets and consciences. They offer a whole pack of dogs, but TD and I were sharing, so we split a Mutt Dog (a blend of beef and pork). I prefer mustard and she favors ketchup (she’s five), so one end was yellow and the other red. There were chairs, but we returned to the amphitheater. TD ate her half in between rounds of running while chewing and petting strange dogs. The Mutt is snappy, meaty, nicely seasoned, and the roll is many cuts above Bunny Bread.
Cheese Course: Meltdown on 30A. Like 99 percent of the kid population, TD is a grilled cheese fiend. Wild Bill’s lured her off the playing field, but Meltdown provoked a Happy Dance. Meltdown sells Brie, chevre and aged cheddar, plus arugula, prosciutto, and cranberry walnut bread, but TD cut to the chase, asking for the American cheese classic. Served on thick, sturdy Texas toast, cut diagonally in accordance with the scriptures, it packs a generous and gooey portion of sunshine-yellow goodness. It comes with chips. We halved it, and she downed hers lounging on a bench. Ultra-friendly service here.
Main Course: Barefoot BBQ. My child has not yet embraced barbecue, but I wasn’t going to pass up a chance at it, so we parted company and each ordered our own preferences. Barefoot’s has barbecue ribs, turkey, chicken, pork, brisket, sausage and even a mushroom sandwich, all organic, all prepared and served with friendly enthusiasm. Ordinarily I’d have bought a platter with sides, but we were mid-meal so I played safe and ordered a “quick bite” of three brisket sliders (you can also get them with chicken or pork). I tried each with a different sauce, and seldom have I tasted such silky, meltingly beefy meat.
TD wanted her first corn dog, and Barefoot’s has a fine specimen—a fat club of a battered hot dog, served piping hot. I had a bite while it was cooling; it is one of the better ones I’ve tasted, definitely not a menu afterthought.
Dessert and Digestif: Frost Bites. I do this kind of work for pay, but TD has a tiny stomach. She rallied when I mentioned Hawaiian shave ice at Frost Bites. The smallest of the Airstreams, Frost Bites makes up with friendliness and large portions. I ordered a small vanilla custard, something I first tried as a kid on vacation in Canada. TD chose cherry and blueberry-flavored shave ice, also small. “Small” is relative—either one would have sufficed for both of us. The fruit syrup isn’t the usual candy-sweet goo—it’s tart and true-flavored. The custard made me think of the Maple Leaf Flag. TD ate half her ice and was ready to get back to her 1,001 new friends on the lawn. I let her go, watched the leftover ice melt, then drank it down. Counting play breaks, it was a three-and-a-half hour lunch. I ate faster meals in Paris.