Tony’s Seafood in the tiny hamlet of Marshall was a charming little seafood restaurant until it wasn’t.
For almost 70 years, the ramshackle little fish house was a coastal favorite run by a Croatian fishing family. But by the time the restaurant changed hands in 2017, the restaurant was a fading relic from another era.
After a two-year remodel by the owners of Hog Island Oyster Co., Tony’s has been reborn into a vibrant, modern seafood house with some of the best food and best views of Tomales Bay.
Old oyster shells litter the ground on the strip of land south of the cozy restaurant, giving a satisfying crunch underfoot. There is almost no parking, so expect to pull perilously close to a steep drop-off, then tiptoe your way over shells to the pier-supported restaurant. The smell of brine is a companion for the slightly harrowing journey, but the reward of a cozy, modern room filled with sunlight and bowls of shells on every table.
Shells, of course, are what you’re here for, or more specifically what’s in them — clams, mussels, crab, shrimp and, of course, oysters. There’s fresh Alaska cod, halibut, salmon and anchovies along with a handful of seafood-free items like the Tony’s burger, or battered-veggies and local greens, but really, seafood is what’s on the menu.
Chef and forager Matt Shapiro runs the kitchen and focuses on seaside classics with his own twists. The longtime Hog Island toque knows what coastal travelers want, from fish and chips and clam chowder to crab sandwiches, raw oysters and oyster po’ boys. What makes Tony’s worth the trip, however, are the little touches — house-made tartar sauce, creamy flourless chowder with piles of sweet clams, and just-from-the-ocean ingredients.
HIOC Clam Chowder, $16: Hog Island owner John Finger developed this recipe with two absolutes, no flour to thicken it and only fresh clams. Hog Island grows Manila clams in addition to oysters, so the sweet little clams are piled high in the bowl, shells on, making it an interactive experience as well as a tasty one. It’s heavy on the good stuff, aromatic herbs, fresh cream and bacon, and light on the fillers (potatoes and carrots). This is what chowder should always be and rarely ever achieves.
Whole SF Anchovies, $11: Even experienced eaters can be put off by a plate of fish returning your gaze, but these little anchovies are deboned and lightly fried with a blast of furikake (a mix of dried fish, sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, and salt) and served with togarishi-sesame aioli and lime. Pop the finger-sized fish into your mouth whole and prepare for fireworks of flavor. Bonus, there’s no oily, overly salty, fishy flavor to these fresh anchovies.
Baked Stuffed Butter Clams, $15: Minced clams are mixed with bacon, jalapeno, thyme, celery, and breadcrumbs and baked onto a scallop shell. It’s a great alternative to raw oysters if that’s not your jam.
Fish & Chips & Slaw, $21: Local rock cod is the standard on the coast, but Tony’s uses Alaska “True” Cod, a sweeter, more substantial cod that was originally found on the East Coast. Sustainably sourced, it’s actually a lot better than rock cod. Light breading and house-made tartar sauce that’s flavorful and slightly runny rather than mayonnaise quicksand that swallows up the entire piece of fish.
Tony’s Burger, $17: Is it the best burger ever? Nope, but it’s a really good burger made with locally sourced Stemple Creek beef. The thick patty is cooked perfectly medium-rare and topped with Pt. Reyes Toma cheese and tartar sauce. Served with thin-cut fries. The original Tony’s was known for their burger, and this one pays homage to that tradition.
Halibut Crudo, $15: Thin slices of raw halibut float on slices of Granny Smith apples in a shallow pool of jalapeño oil and lime juice. It’s very, very tart and the lime slightly overpowers. But eaten with the apple, which seems almost sweet in comparison, lightens the dish.
Today’s Oysters: Pacific and Atlantic oysters are both on the menu, though oddly on the day we visited there were no Hog Island oysters from the nearby farm. Apparently, conditions only recently became optimal for the Hogs, and they will soon return.
A brief but well-matched wine list with plenty of crisp whites and sparkling wines by the glass or bottle. The Hog Island Oyster Wine, White Rhone Blend, $12 per glass, has nice acidity with hints of lemon. Works beautifully with raw seafood in particular.
Local beers, including Henhouse Oyster Stout plus Mexican Coke and Sprite, house lemonade and teas.
CA Dungeness Crab Sandwich, $21: It’s end of season for fresh crab, and this version just doesn’t really do the local crab justice, lacking the sweetness that makes local Dungeness so wonderful. The crab salad felt a little dry, made with celery, dijon and house-made mayo. The ciabatta bun made the whole thing even drier. A smushy roll, more mayo and a little less mustard would have made this a more enjoyable experience.
A relic has been reborn, bringing back the tradition of just-off-the-boat seafood to a new generation.
Details: 18863 Shoreline Highway, Marshall. Open Friday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. for dinner only. 415-663-1107, tonysseafoodrestaurant.com.
Still hungry? Check out Heather’s always-updated food and dining blog at BiteClubEats.com