How Will New Ownership Change the Old Clam House?

20100128 The Old Clam HouseAs if to prove that even the most timeless institutions don’t stay the same forever, change has come to the Old Clam House. The venerable eatery along Bernalwood’s eastern frontier has been in business since the days when Bayshore Boulevard was just a grubby plank road, and today it claims to be San Francisco’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation in the same location. But now it has new owners, a new menu, and new decor.

Tablehopper has the details:

The Old Clam House has been bought by the group behind The Stinking Rose (who also own Calzone’s, Bobo’s, The Franciscan, and the upcoming Salito’s/old Margaritaville in Sausalito). The restaurant has been around since 1861, and when it became available, Jerry Dal Bozzo was interested in picking it up—the group’s director of marketing, Brandy Marts, reminded me he has an interest in historical properties: Dal Bozzo was the one to reopen the Cliff House in 1973. They are currently updating the space room by room, refreshing the paint, chairs, and other touches. They are also working to reopen the patio, which will be glassed-in.

I had a chance to catch up with chef Andrea Froncillo, who walked me through the menu changes. He’s taking a lot of the fried dishes off, and modernizing some of the preparations (for example, he’s simplifying the cioppino, with reportedly good feedback from some regulars). He also changed the clams from cherrystones to Manilas due to some availability issues, and added prime rib to the menu. You’ll also see more salads and some lighter lunch options for folks who work in the neighborhood. You can peek at the new menu here.

I confess that despite years of saying, “I should try that place someday,” I’ve never eaten at the Old Clam House. Over on Yelp, some of the old-timers are complaining about the new changes, but, really, I should try that place someday. Have you?

Lastly, if you want to taste a genuine slice of neighborhood history in the safety and comfort of your own home, try making this 1915 Old Clam House recipe for Clam Chowder. The recipe includes bacon, so it must be delicious.

Photo: Tom Spaulding

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32 Responses to How Will New Ownership Change the Old Clam House?

  1. Jean says:

    this has been a running gag when we drive by, just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover…thanks for the update! We just may get there now..

  2. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    Yeah, I just heard about this, and I am really, *REALLY* hoping they don’t ruin it. The Old Clam House has been one of my favorite restaurants in SF forever, and I am really afraid of people trying to change it to much and causing it to decline in quality and the atmosphere that makes it so special.

  3. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    For instance the “simplifying the cioppino” is NOT a good step. Old Clam House had the best cioppino in the city, bar none.

  4. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    Oh no! They’ve also gotten rid of the bucket of cherrystone clams, it looks like! guh.

    I am trying not to let myself be too disappointed before I actually go back there and check it out in person, but this is seeming really tragic.

  5. Paul says:

    Shouldn’t the line about it’s “been bought by the group behind The Stinking Rose” have raised more hackles….?

  6. Ariel Dovas says:

    Yeah, I always wanted to go too. Still do. Not easy prices to grapple with, though. Probably won’t find myself there anytime soon.

  7. waldo says:

    After also thinking “I should go there someday” for many years, I did actually step inside last year. It was about as expected — bad salads, slowish service, a tad overcooked and greasy. Those aren’t major complaints, but it didn’t make me eager to run back.

    So I think the new direction could be good. There’s only room for so many restaurants in this town to coast on nostalgia — they just end up dying a very slow death. Yes, the stinking rose is a tourist trap, but I can’t imagine the new owners are dumb enough to try to match the Ol Clam House to that model.

    Next stop: Cafe Cozzolino. Actually, btw, there are very early rumors of a pop-up weekend brunch there, at which overcooked spaghetti in watery sauce will be conspicuously absent. Just rumors; I can’t say more.

  8. berniehill says:

    I went to Cafe Cozzolino once. Not good.

  9. Otto says:

    Yes, someone please buy Cafe Cozzolino and re-launch it as something else! You could make a billion with a decent restaurant in that spot, with no other restaurants around for a mile at least. Please? It is so sad to see it empty night after night, but almost no one that eats there ever goes back.

  10. NetDiva says:

    We live in the neighborhood and have been there several times. The service is so-so and the food all tastes like it has been prepared in advance and heated up. My husband and I have commented many times that we’d really like to see them do something a little more inspired –and fresh!</em< I'm thrilled about the change. We'll definitely have to go back!

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

      Wow, that is very definitely at extreme odds with every experience I have ever had there.

      • NetDiva says:

        Wow. I wish I’d had better food there. I WANT to like the place (and I live just on the other side of the freeway.)

      • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

        I believe you, it’s just that every time I’ve been there whatever I’ve had has been excellent and really fresh seeming. Even the fried stuff wasn’t too heavily battered or too greasy, tasted as if the oil was clean, etc. I dunno, either I’ve been very lucky, or you’ve been very unlucky, I think.

      • Todd_Lappin says:

        I suspect the key to the old Old Clam House was knowing how to order correctly.

        The place always seemed familiar to me because I grew up in New Jersey, which means I a) have an appreciation for clams as a featured dish and b) was trained how to order correctly from restaurants perched alongside major highways.

        So, basic clams or cioppino would have been my calls.

      • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

        Cioppino definitely my fav, also really liked the steamer cherrystone clams. Came in a big bucket-like bowl.

  11. Janet C says:

    I’m dubious about the new ownership being the Stinking Rose people. Sigh…

  12. Nina says:

    I went to the Ol Clam House for my birthday once, kind of as a gag. I remember the food being about as I expected – not awesome. The atmosphere in there was so dark and bar-like. I actually didn’t even trust that the fish dishes would be fresh given that no one was in there and the place seemed so dark and dirty.

    As for Cafe Cozzolino, about a year ago, I emailed Kitchen Nightmares to see if Gordon Ramsay would give them a shot. They contacted me a few weeks ago asking for more details, so maybe…. … and brunch in that location would be great, assuming they serve food worth eating.

  13. Kathleen says:

    I had dinner at the Old Clam House years ago. Not memorable food either way, but there was a senior lady sitting in the bar area, yelling at all of the staff, barking out instructions. I took her for being the owner, and because she probably did this daily, never returned.
    In my opinion, new management can only help, regardless of where they come from.
    I’ve never been to Cafe Cozolino, in spite of being a convenient location. Friends told me they had uninvited insect guests at their table. Yuck!

    • Todd_Lappin says:

      In the spirit of Scientific Inquiry, I am ordering dinner at Caffe Cozzolino RIGHT NOW.

      • Judge Crater says:

        Our score: once at Old Clam House (not terrible, but way not great), never at Cafe Cozolino, which has quite a bizzaro reputation for us to avoid it in all the 14 years we’ve been in Bernal.

        But the Stinking Rose pedigree is of the new old clam house is disheartening.

      • otto says:

        well – how was it?

      • Todd_Lappin says:

        Not telling… yet. I’ll write the whole thing up ASAP. But on the bright side, I’m still alive!

      • Nina says:

        I hope you ordered a caesar salad. I hope they put blue cheese in it. If not, you didn’t get the full experience.
        (who puts blue cheese in a caesar? so wrong)

      • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

        Actually it isn’t uncommon at all, but generally it is differentiated in its name somehow. Generally called a “Blue Caesar” or something along those lines.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

      Never saw anything like that in my two dozen or so visits over the years.

  14. someJuan says:

    Learning of all the changes to the Old Clam House (OCH) is upsetting. I’ve been going to it since I moved to the city five years ago. It instantly became one of my favorite restaurants after the first visit. We never had a bad experience with service. The staff was always accommodating. The food was always good. I loved the Clam House Linguini with red sauce (not on the menu anymore). My wife (a SF native) dug their Cioppino as she claimed it was the best in the city (which has been changed for the worse from what I read and on the menu it’s listed under the category of “et cetera”). Their fried calamari (not on the menu anymore) was one of the best around as it wasn’t heavily battered, nor greasy/oily.

    Having small children, this was one of the few restaurants we’ve found in the city that is family friendly (that should be another blog post in itself). Heck, we even booked dining area last year to hold my daughter’s baptism reception.

    This was the go-to place to take out-of-town guests who wanted something different than the usual haunts for tourists. It never failed to satisfy.

    I would often overhear the conversations of other diners and would find it heartwarming to learn that the OCH was a special place for them as well. There would always be the old-timey regulars, couples on dates, families celebrating events. It was a diverse clientele. Once, the couple next sitting next to us were from New Jersey and came specifically to the OCH while at a layover at SFO. We ended up giving them a ride back to the airport as they couldn’t get a cab.

    This was also a place where sports fans would go to before and after games at Candlestick Park. Or to watch televised games. Guess by the changes I’ve read about, they’re not welcomed anymore.

    So, by the changes to the menu, decor and higher prices, they’re after a different clientele. One which I don’t think would necessarily be caught in that part of town — especially at night.

  15. GARY says:

    Hey Bernal Peeps, Why is the Stinking Rose relationship so distressing to y’all?

    Have you ever eaten THERE? Yes touristy. Yes very touristy. BUT the food is fresh and tasty. The service is good. The owners know how to run a restaurant. For that place they are running a tourist trap with profitable results. So give them a chance. If they can clean up The Old Clamhouse, make it inviting to the neighbors, maybe it can become a place we will like? I really doubt it becoming a destination restaurant.

    • janet c says:

      The one time I did eat at The Stinking Rose, admittedly many years ago, our entrees were reheated meaning not cooked to order.

      I have no problem with touristy places and frequent many. My take on TSR was that they quickly wanted to hustle me through for the purpose of lightening my wallet. The food was eh, so I have not been back since.

  16. Derek says:

    I had one meal at Cozzalino two years ago, against the advice of friends. It was grim.

  17. Netdiva says:

    For the record, my husband and I went to the Old Clam House for brunch on Saturday. It was fantastic. The food knocked my socks off. I had the Clams Acini and my husband had the Crabwich. Both meals were fresh, tasty and memorable. Plus their house bloody mary was unbelievably delicious.

    Rather than making assumptions about the Clam House based on how you feel about the Stinking Rose or Cozzalino, I’d recommend just trying it out and letting them stand on their own merits. You may be surprised. We sure were. I hope they keep up the good work!

  18. Pingback: Science Experiment: My Dinner at Caffe Cozzolino | Bernalwood

  19. Pingback: In Praise of the New Old Clam House on Bayshore | Bernalwood

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