Cameron's brings a taste of England to the coastside
Many years later, Pete Douglas christened his El Granada beach house The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, following a particularly raucous and explosive celebration at the beach. Douglas’ beach house now hosts intimate concerts featuring outstanding musicians on Sunday afternoons. More recently, the best-known expression of coastside personality has been the big wave surfing competition at Mavericks at Pillar Point, where swells as tall as four-story buildings threaten to crush wave-skimming specks propelled by a heady blend of moxie and ability, mingled with a tinge of madness.
Cameron’s Restaurant and Inn, a British-style pub in Half Moon Bay, fits right in. You know you’ve found owner Cameron Palmer’s somewhat daft tribute to the sceptered isle when you spot a red double-decker bus parked in a lot on the ocean side of Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay.
After you walk past the stocks (fortunately not in working order) and the red telephone box (no Doctor Who in sight), you find yourself inside a suitably dark and divey pub. Once your eyes adjust to the dim light, the owner’s whimsical sense of kitschy style becomes even more apparent. Decades before beer marketers got wise to a house built of Bud Lite tins, the 10-year-old Cameron Palmer had embarked upon his life’s quest of collecting all the cool beer cans he could find. The fruit of his labor –banished from the bedroom for the sake of domestic harmony – comprises a considerable portion of the pub’s wall space. (The publican has thoughtfully left a bit of shelf room for new contributions if they pass muster.)
Cameron’s seems determined to provide something for everybody. Several televisions scattered around the pub make it a suitable sports bar, and for more energetic patrons, a game room features shuffleboard, darts, foosball and pinball. A faux fireplace imparts the illusion of warmth. The establishment also functions as a general store for Brits, expats and anglophiles yearning for such English delicacies as HP Sauce and Marmite; Heinz canned goods (salad cream, baked beans, cucumber sandwich spread and puddings); marrowfat processed peas; Pataks sauces and pastes; and Sharwoods papadoms.
The “inn” part of the “Cameron’s Restaurant and Inn” equation refers to three “bed and beverage” rooms located above the pub and restaurant.
The fun continues outside, starting with the two buses. One is for kids to idle away their time while the adults indulge themselves in the pub; the other caters to smokers. “The World’s Only Double Decker Smoking Bus” is Palmer’s rejoinder to the county’s ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, and takes advantage of the statutory loophole that makes parking lots and vehicles fair game for lighting up a stogie or a fag. Drinkers are free to carry their pints aboard the stationary bus as they satisfy their craving for nicotine with their drinks. Just a few yards away is “Cameron’s Park,” a spacious beer garden, complete with a stage and a volleyball court, suitable for private parties. (It could stand a little sprucing up for summer.)
Enjoying a pint of English ale with somewhat greasy food is a time-honored pub tradition, and Cameron’s certainly accommodates that course of least resistance. But Cameron’s also has the makings to support more transcultural fare. Pairing pork ribs with the Obsidian Stout, for instance, subtly exposes a palate-pleasing link between a quintessential British beer style and classic American soul food. The slightly burnt caramelized flavors of the toasty, pitch-black stout adroitly balance the earthy sweetness of the barbecue sauce and the smokiness of the meat. It’s the culinary equivalent of the Rolling Stones meeting Howlin’ Wolf.
Cameron’s has a lot going for it, not the least a quixotic publican eager to playfully integrate aspects of British culture into his coastside restaurant. But why stop with traditional British pub grub pairings when with a little more imagination Cameron’s could take advantage of the local culinary bounty and explore fresh combinations? Instead of adhering to the same old beer/food playbook, Cameron’s could advance it.
At the same time, Cameron’s beer should reflect the British tradition of naturally fermented brews hand-pumped from a cask, which has been enjoying a revival in England and the U.S. The British Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has been advocating a return to cask ales as an alternative to mass-produced lagers since the 1970s. Several brewpubs and pubs in the Bay Area have also taken up the real ale gauntlet, including Magnolia, which brewed a cask-conditioned English bitter for the new Public House at AT&T Park; the Toronado on Haight; and Thirsty Bear in San Francisco, to name a few. Cameron’s, which bills itself as an English-style pub, also belongs on that list.
Cameron’s has a rare opportunity to bring together some of the best of both worlds, and with a little minor tinkering it could become an even better destination for coastside locals and seaside visitors. Half Moon Bay might not be Brighton or the Isle of Wight, but as you sip a cup of Tetley’s Tea or a pint of Bass Pale Ale at Cameron’s, you might find yourself musing about British seaside resorts.
Cameron’s Restaurant & Inn
1410 S Cabrillo Hwy
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society
311 Mirada Rd
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019