Ann Parker, Restaurant Review: A tasty Watsonville history lesson at the Appleton Grill
By Ann Parker
POSTED: 01/13/2014 01:11:06 PM PST (click here for the full article)
WATSONVILLE — It isn’t every day you can munch onion rings in a historic landmark, but customers at Watsonville’s Appleton Grill can do just that.
When Kay and I talked about having lunch at the grill, she said, “You have to see the ballroom,” then filled me in on the history of the 102-year-old hotel where the restaurant is located.
Originally named the Appleton Hotel and designed by famed architect William Weeks, the four-story structure was built in 1911 at the then-astronomical cost of $100,000. Nine years ago, the hotel was badly damaged in one of Watsonville’s largest fires, but after extensive renovation reopened as the Wall Street Inn three years ago.
Of course the ballroom was the first thing I wanted to see. Entering via the spacious outdoor patio, Kay and I walked through the high-ceilinged restaurant and into an area that was once the Appleton Hotel’s huge two-story-high lobby but now functions as a ballroom. The turn-of-the-century opulence of the hotel has been preserved: marble wainscoting, square columns topped with ornate Corinthian scrolls, stained glass skylights. Heavy red-and-gold brocade curtains fell floor to ceiling along one wall; in an adjoining room, the same material covered several banquettes. Kay pointed out a marble-fronted bar and a handsome balcony high above the room’s tiled floor.
We returned to the Appleton Grill and were greeted cordially by our server/hostess, Gloria, whose attentiveness was enhanced by her warm, friendly charm. When we admitted that this was our first visit, she said, in mock seriousness, “Shame on you” and laughed, inviting us to return.
Gloria was helpful throughout our meal, from making menu suggestions to checking in with us frequently but not obtrusively. She also explained that the restaurant was in the process of expanding the dinner menu, including adding her favorite, fried polenta pieces.
We started with Appleton Sliders ($9.75), which came two to an order, requesting one with pesto and sautéed mushrooms and the other with teriyaki sauce and pineapple. For entrees, we ordered Spinach Lover’s Pizza ($8.95) and Caesar Salad with Marinated Skirt Steak ($10.95), two of the day’s specials. Beer, wine and other beverages are available, including espresso drinks; we chose fountain Sodas ($2).
The grill’s décor combines historic and modern; tall white columns presided over sleek, comfortable furniture and stylish hanging lights. Walls painted in cool greens and yellows highlighted historical local photographs. Behind our banquette, a sepia-toned photo captured a striking entry in the 1911 California Apple Show: a replica of the brand-new Appleton Hotel constructed out of dried apples.
Gloria brought our sliders, which came with a big basket of housemade onion rings that were tasty and very hot, the onions sweet and juicy under their crisp batter. The handmade burgers on the sliders were delicious, lean but full of flavor, and the tender Sunamo’s Bakery mini-buns were just right. However, the sliced tomato and watermelon wedge that came with the sliders were pale and flabby, and although the teriyaki sauce and pesto were quite good, the fresh pineapple was hard and lacking flavor.
The Caesar steak salad also earned mixed reviews. Some aspects were very good — the tender marinated skirt steak was perfect, for instance, wonderfully flavorful and grilled exactly medium-rare. But the salad itself was overdressed, using a rather bland dressing lacking the anchovy edge or lemony tang of classic Caesar, and topped with too-soft tomato pieces and slices of barely toasted bread.
We were quite happy with our pizza, cooked in a gas pizza oven and featuring a crust somewhere between Neapolitan and Chicago-style: neither thin nor deep-dish. The browned “cornicione” (what Italians call the outer crust) was puffy, chewy and crisp-edged, surrounding a center generously strewn with fresh spinach, chicken breast, bacon and mozzarella.
“For anyone tired of thin-crust pizza, this is a good alternative,” I commented.
Although it has been open for several months, the Appleton Grill’s grand opening was less than two weeks ago; perhaps this attractive little cafe hasn’t worked out all the kinks, resulting in the inconsistent food quality we experienced.
Located near the intersection of Rodriguez and West Beach streets, Appleton Grill is also worth a visit for its decor alone, from the large, attractive patio enhanced with fire pits and a flat-wall fountain to the gorgeous architecture of the historic building.
Worth returning for: That memorable skirt steak
Puffy pizza: If you’re tired of thin-crust pizzetas, try Appleton Grill’s substantial version
Faded fruit: Especially in an area known for its produce, our garnishes didn’t measure up
Don’t miss: The opulent lobby-turned-ballroom and the photo of the Hotel Appleton made out of apples
Pretty patio: Appleton Grill’s spacious outside seating area is one of nicest in town