A Marina del Rey Hideaway
For a brief period after I got my first car, I would plan my weekends with a map of California and a set of darts. On Friday afternoon I would throw a dart and then drive to wherever it landed. Since I had bad aim that could be anywhere, so if it hit water, forest or desert I’d substitute the nearest inhabited place. I never had a bad weekend, because even if the destination was some isolated hamlet there was always something else interesting along the way.
Searching a more local map led me to an interesting little eatery that is about as isolated as a place on the Westside can be. I had forgotten the name of a restaurant and did an online search, and as I looked at the map I noticed a different one deep in a residential pocket of Marina del Rey. Was this a mapping error, a catering service, or perhaps a prank by someone messing with the site? It was none of those — it was Mariners Café, a small eatery that really is located in a small commercial nook among the vast Mariners Village Apartments. I looked at the menu, which seemed ambitious for a little coffee shop, and called a friend to go and see what was happening there.
We first had trouble finding it, then figuring out where to park. There are no signs for the café, just the leasing office that is adjacent to it. All nearby parking spaces are posted with warnings that unauthorized vehicles will be towed and, judging by the tone, presumably crushed into small cubes within minutes of being removed. We parked at a county-run pay lot on the other side of Via Marina and walked through the complex, which has the look of a rustic resort from the 1970s. At the end of the road is a diminutive mini-mall that includes a dry cleaners and
The café has the look of a coffeehouse and the drink selections to match — a serious espresso machine is next to the juicer for smoothies. There are also some of the standard baked goods, but the menu is much more wide-ranging than that. This small kitchen turns out an array of burgers, sandwiches, salads and pizzas, plus pastas and even a plate of grilled salmon over quinoa — surprising for a little place at the end of Via Marina, but sensible when you consider that it’s the locals’ joint for residents of the nearly 1,000 housing units spanning the 23 acres of Mariners Village.
My companion and I ordered a starter of honey-glazed spicy wings as well as a turkey, brie and fig sandwich and a blue cheese, apple and pecan pizza. We could have ordered wine or beer to go with lunch since they have a decent selection, but decided to sample the coffee bar instead. The wings arrived after about ten minutes and were just OK, not great — sweeter than I expected, and the spice was muted.
The sandwich and pizza were both much better.
The combination of turkey and arugula with brie and fig spread was deftly executed so that no single element dominated the mix. It was served with a choice of thick or thin fries, and we chose the thin ones which arrived just warm, not hot. Our server (the only one working at the time) had obviously waited for the pizza to be ready so both could be served at once. When we brought the problem to her attention she popped them back into the fryer and, since the fries had been done just to medium, they arrived hot and crisp on their return.
The pizza had taken just over 20 minutes, but it was worth waiting for. Mariners Café makes a medium-thick crust using fresh dough that takes two days to rise, and it’s about as light as any I’ve had. The cheese blend of mozzarella and blue had just a hint of funkiness balanced with the mozzarella sweetness, and the apples and nuts put it somewhere between sweet and savory. I would have this again either as a meal or dessert, because it was delicious.
As we walked back to our cars we mused about the experience at Mariners Café and its likely future. One redevelopment proposal being floated for Mariners Village would expand the complex and alter it dramatically, making it likely that this little café could be wiped off the map or be reborn as part of a larger retail center.
Whatever the decision, changes on the ground are likely to be a long time in the making, so for the moment this odd little venue continues to serve both residents and curious outsiders who stop in for a bite.
Mariners Café 14000 Captains Row, Marina del Rey (310) 424-3074 marinerscafe.net