We’re proud to have our Pomponio Ranch Meat served at Dad’s Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay! Stop by and let Chef Scott Clark and Alexis Liu take care of you.

Article by San Francisco Chronicle: April 14, 2017

What motivates a chef who cooked in a pair of 4-star kitchens to open a restaurant in a caboose?

That’s the question many people have for Scott Clark, who worked for 18 months at Benu and then spent more than three years at Saison, rising to become chef de cuisine.

In February he and his life partner, Alexis Liu, opened Dad’s Luncheonette on Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay, where the kitchen is in the caboose and the seating is outside on an 18-seat open-air patio.

“How you doing?” he asks as he puts down the flimsy cardboard boxes that hold a hamburger sandwich cut in two, a plastic container heaped with herbs and flowers, and macaroni and cheese topped with potato chips.

“Need napkins or anything?” he says before rushing back to the kitchen to prepare the next order.

Diners order and pay at the counter, which contains a half-dozen seats — the others are crowded around the fenced-in interior — and wait for their food to arrive, at a slightly slower pace than you’d get at McDonald’s.

“Do I miss tweezers and picking herbs all day?” Clark asks in a minute of forced reflection. “ I think there’s a time and place for everything and this is not the time or place.”

Yet he hasn’t completely given up foraging — which he says still gives him flashbacks of his early-morning forays at Saison. It seems incongruous to see the round plastic container mounded with a blend herbs ($5) — parsley, chickweed, fennel fronds, red orach, chervil, chives, yellow oxalis flowers and white radish buds glistening in a vinaigrette he attributes to his mother. His is made with local olive oil, honey, sesame oil roasted with chiles to give a subtle kick, and Bragg’s, a soy sauce substitute. The ultimate hippie ingredient, he says.

Clark also cures bacon, grinds meats, pickles onions and makes all the other condiments served at Dad’s.

The menu is composed of only seven items, designed to be handled by Clark and Liu. With the help of a cashier, they serve up to 110 people a day. The published hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, but on weekends they often sell out before the designated closing time.

The choices are the hamburger sandwich ($12), mushroom sandwich ($11), house-made potato chips ($2.50), macaroni and cheese ($5), herb salad ($5) and soup ($6). Dessert is a brownie-like creation ($3.50), baked in a black steel pan, in flavors such as miso-chocolate or white chocolate and matcha. Dad’s also offers Fort Point beer ($4.50), soft drinks and 12-ounce cans of red, white or rosé wines ($10). Diners can also buy a pink Dad’s hat for $18.

“The fine-dining world is all-encompassing,” he says. “I wanted to focus on this with Alexis and my daughter and to be present in the moment, while having a lot of fun with people.” Since the restaurant is open just four days a week, he spends a day sourcing products, a day surfing and a day with Frost.

The offbeat use of a caboose dictated the concept, he says. When they toured the space, the couple, who live in North Beach, immediately felt a connection, especially since they spent a lot of their free time in that area.

The menu evolved from considering what could be accomplished in the small space, and what would satisfy customers. On Thursday and Friday, diners are predominantly locals while the weekends are crowded with surfers, hikers and bikers. He figured both groups crave something hearty and simple.

Yet simple is relative.

His hamburger is a good example of the quirks and care that live in harmony in his food.

Clark sources his meat from two purveyors, including Pomponio Ranch in San Gregorio, where the beef is grass-fed and finished with grain grown on the property. “It’s a true taste of coastal beef,” he says.

Instead of the expected bun, he chose sliced bread because growing up in Virginia his father would make patty melts and just about everything was served on white bread.

Balancing that memory with his passion for local ingredients, he found the appropriate bread at the nearby Moonside Bakery.

He toasts the slices in brown butter on the flat top, and layers on the 4½-ounce patty, oak leaf lettuce, fried egg, pickled red onions, cheese and a sauce made with Meyer lemon, pepper, honey, sauerkraut juice and mayonnaise. “The white cheddar cheese is like white bread,” he says, “and you can get it anywhere.” He griddles it so it melts and becomes crusty around the edges.

Chef Scott Clark talks with customers at Dad’s Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay.
Chef Scott Clark talks with customers at Dad’s Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay.
Photo: John Storey, Special to the Chronicle
This combination produces a decadent sandwich where juices pool at the bottom of the wrapper and often dribble down the chin. The mushroom sandwich has the same accompaniments, and you don’t miss the meat.

The macaroni and cheese ($5), topped with potato chips, is on the menu because they needed something to appeal to children. It’s certainly bland enough. As an adult, I’d like a little more cheese without the crunchy embellishments.

The chef’s creativity emerges in the soup, which changes every other day. During cooler months Clark made use of the heritage beans and kale that proliferate in the area, often combining them with bacon. More recently he concocted a sunchoke chowder inspired by the proliferation of milky seafood stews that dominate the coast. He’s also made curried carrot with lime yogurt. Another is miso with ground chicken covered with a thin layer of precisely bias-cut green onions. These soups are particularly inviting when the fog rolls in, and gives me more than enough reason to stop in.

Dealing with the rain was a challenge when Dad’s Luncheonette opened because of the open-air seating. During the downpours, Clark doubled as a carhop, cooking in between delivering orders to people eating in their cars.

The herb salad at Dad’s Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay.
The herb salad at Dad’s Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay.
Photo: John Storey, Special to the Chronicle
With the soggy days mostly behind him, Clark is anticipating what he might do with all the produce now coming into the market. He may add a few specials, he says, and when tomatoes are in season he’ll certainly make ketchup.

He takes one day at a time. Clark says he’s having a great time living in the present — and those who spend time on the coast are the beneficiaries of his current philosophy.

“I’m sure we’ll dream up something else, but for now we’re enjoying where we are.”