Built on pilings over Tomales Bay to accentuate the soothing feeling of floating in the azure water, this quaint seafood shack on Highway 1 in Marshall couldn’t be more peaceful and picturesque. But Tony’s Seafood proved to be one deceptively turbulent ride for John Finger and Terry Sawyer, founders of Hog Island Oyster Co. just up the road, who took over this iconic family restaurant that was founded in 1948.
The business partners of the highly regarded sustainable shellfish company closed the restaurant January 1, 2018, for what they thought would be a couple months of renovations. Instead, the work took a year longer, as the two navigated through permits and approvals to bring the structure up to current building codes, including adding new concrete support columns underneath
When Tony’s finally reopened in March of this year, it was the most difficult — and most costly — project Finger and Sawyer had undertaken, even surpassing their San Francisco flagship at the Ferry Building.
But the two wouldn’t have had it any other way. As longtime regulars of Tony’s — Sawyer even held his wedding rehearsal party here — they feel honored and privileged to continue the legacy of this beloved spot established by Croatian fisherman Anton “Tony” Konatich, who used to sell his catch beside the road before he opened the restaurant. The close relationship between the two businesses began in 1983, when Hog Island started its farm and Tony’s Seafood became one of its first wholesale accounts, buying bivalves for its signature barbecued oysters.
Over the years, the Konatich family had turned down other offers for the place. When the third- generation members finally decided to retire, they approached the only company they considered handing it over to — Hog Island.
“We couldn’t say no. There was never a question about not doing it,” says Finger. “We wanted to take what’s here, pay homage to it, and build on it.”
The 96-seat dining room has been refreshed with an open kitchen fronted by a counter of sapphire-blue tiles, wall-to-wall windows facing Tomales Bay, and ceiling lights wrapped in baskets fashioned from dried kelp. The once-dark grill room has been transformed into a bright and airy 30-seat private dining room, a bonus for Hog Island, which regularly has to turn down requests for private events at its farm, where it operates only by-reservation small oyster bar and picnic area.
Chef Matt Shapiro, who has cooked at Marlow & Sons and Wise Sons, both in San Francisco, and has worked for Hog Island for five years, is an avid fisherman who has already been out on the water with local crews. He plans on introducing lesser-known by catch, including grenadier, a fish that despite its rather monstrous appearance, has a mild, delicately flaky flesh. “My firsthand knowledge gives me a more intimate understanding of the local seafood and ecosystem,” Shapiro says,“and helps provide a more enriching seafood experience for diners here.”
The popular “Tony’s BBQ” oysters are still on the menu, though a little less tomato-forward than originally. There’s also a sambal version, with the grilled oysters getting a lick of heat from chili paste and jalapeños. Local’s Night, with live music and menu specials, has shifted from Friday to Thursday. And a monthly dinner series has started, featuring collaborations with favorite Northern California producers such as Far West Fungi and McEvoy Ranch.
For Hog Island devotees, there are some surprising menu items not found at any other of its establishments. Among the only-at-Tony’s dishes are shatteringly crisp fish and chips, and a burger of grass-fed beef from nearby Stemple Creek Ranch that’s topped with Point Reyes Toma cheese. Two fresh fish preparations are offered daily, which can include a lush Alaskan halibut served over endive with grapefruit segments and soy-chili vinaigrette. For dessert, there’s Straus soft serve, a nod to Albert Straus, founder of Straus Family Creamery in Marshall, who comes in weekly to dine.
Finger would like to rebuild the dilapidated commercial fishing pier right outside the doors. Having just weathered one long, expensive reconstruction already, though, he’s content to let that one wait just a little while longer.
Other Places to Explore
Hog Island Oyster Co.: Visit the motherland of oysters, Hog Island’s oyster farm, where you can buy live oysters and shellfish at its retail kiosk, the Hog Shack, to take home to enjoy. 20215 Shoreline Highway, Marshall, 415-663-9218, hogislandoysters.com
Palace Market: This family-owned grocery store specializes in local, organic and artisan products, including Star Route Farms produce, Stemple Creek beef, Spring Coyote Ranch lamb and Brickmaiden’s hearty breads. It also sells rich buffalo milk soft-serve cones that are a draw in and of themselves. 11300 State Route 1, Point Reyes Station, 415-663-1016, palacemarket.com
Tomales Bay Foods: This restored hay barn is home to Cowgirl Creamery’s original production facilities and cheese shop. Besides its own products, it offers a wide variety of cheeses from California, the United States and Europe. There’s also a deli that sells sandwiches, salads and local wines for you to enjoy a picnic on the grounds. On Fridays, tours are offered ($5 per person) to view the cheese-making process, which includes a tasting. 80 Fourth St., Point Reyes Station,415-663-9335, cowgirlcreamery.com