“When I start talking, I think everybody knows I’m from Boston,” said Pete DeCoste laughing through his thick accent from behind the counter at his authentic New England style seafood joint. Pete DeCoste has taken his heritage from east coast to west coast as he operates and manages a seafood restaurant that churns out lobster, fish and chips and po boy’s that would make any New Englander think they were back home at their local restaurant on the cold water of Boston Harbor.
From a young age, DeCoste knew he would want to be in the restaurant business. His father worked in a small seafood restaurant that was located on the same block as DeCoste’s childhood home. Despite his four siblings wanting to play, Pete would continuously find his way down to the kitchen instead, where his dad would give him free range with cooking utensils; except for when it could potentially harm his small, child sized hands. Pete learned how to chop with a knife at age five, and his passion grew from there eventually discovering the fulfillment in managing a kitchen and the dedication needed to serve a dream as large as opening a restaurant.
From a small beginning in the town of Reading, Massachusetts with 20,000 people, ten miles outside of the big city of Boston, DeCoste made the trek across the country to start his own vision of what a New England restaurant should look like, in a place where they aren’t so common, the west coast. He didn’t let go of the east coast mentality so quickly though. DeCoste intends to educate Californians about the different breeds of seafood and techniques of preparing fish that differentiate from coast to coast, through his decision and dedication to craft quality New England style cuisine.
“In order to run a New England style seafood restaurant, you have to have the certain things that are specific to New England,” said DeCoste.
Therefore, DeCoste ships his own seafood into his restaurant three times a week. The order contains lobsters, Ipswich clams, special buns and light corn flour, all things special to his home state of Massachusetts. The style that is so specific to New England seafood comes partly from the actual breed of lobster that is available there and is only obtainable off the northern east coast of the United States. The reason for infatuation with this lobster, the Maine lobster, is it’s immense quantity of meat. This lobster has meat in the tails as well as the claws, as opposed to other types which only have meat in the tail. This gives DeCoste more meat to work with and more meat to serve his hungry customers, as the Lobster roll is the most popular dish on his menu. The lobster is served simply with mayonnaise a top a white hot dog bun. The flavor of the lobster meat speaks for itself, but even the bun is a special tradition taken from east coast to west coast. DeCoste ships in hot dog buns that lay flat, like a piece of white bread, and therefore have maximum surface area for spread and grilling, while also giving the perfect amount of space to layer the lobster inside it’s final home.
“The most important part of an authentic New England lobster roll is that the bun is warm and crispy and then the lobster goes in cold.”
DeCoste also relies on his East Coast connections to supply him with Ipswich clams, a soft shell clam that is special and tasty to New Englanders. These breaded with fine corn flour and then cooked immediately, exhibiting a sweet flavor with a hint of saltiness. Although several dishes at Pete’s are fairly common to seafood restaurants, the unique species of seafood and the type of preparation makes them ever so delicious, but also an exclusive experience, that you won’t find elsewhere in San Diego.
“Ipswich clams and Maine Lobster are indigenous to New England and further up the coast to Canada, but no where else in the world. That is why eating at Pete’s is special, because you cannot get this seafood just anywhere.”
One dish is especially unique to Pete’s East Coast sandwiches, as most of it’s ingredients must be shipped in from Massachusetts: The fish and chips. This sandwich is made with Fresh Atlantic cod and is fried in a light corn flour batter that does not give the fish a heavy oily coating, as the fish remains airy and fluffy. This special corn flour, which also is shipped from the east coast, just barely coats the fish and allows the fried batter to add flavor and crunch to the fish, without making it a heavily greasy, like other fish and chips.
Specific to how the way DeCoste was taught to cook, he does a few things differently than California chains, although they are not necessarily unique to the Boston area. DeCoste changes the oil in his fryers twice as often as necessary to run a top-notch kitchen. DeCoste thinks it’s important to have fresh oil, giving the fried food a lighter and fresher feel, which stops the experience from feeling similar to a fast food restaurant. In addition, everything in Pete’s seafood restaurant is made to order, nothing premade. This ensures quality and employee care for each and every meal whether it’s fresh breaded fish and chips or mozzarella sticks. With all these techniques up his sleeve, years of running a seafood restaurant and an inclination to move west, Pete followed his older brother to the sunny city of San Diego, with “family” in mind, but he didn’t know he’d be starting his own family that revolved around his dedication to good grub.
With a smile and friendly manner, not to mention reputational sourced seafood, there is no wonder why Pete’s attracts quite a family and community around it’s doors. His restaurant ambiance blends the best of both coasts in it’s attempt to create a warm, inviting environment that embraces Californian culture, while not forgetting DeCoste’s roots. On both sides of the restaurant are two murals with sights and famous landmarks that best represent DeCoste’s home. On one wall lies the big green monster from Fenway park, home of the Red Sox, and Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Memorial bridge while the opposite wall showcases Rockport, Massachusetts and a lighthouse located in Maine. This is a superb representation of the East Coast, but DeCoste wanted not only make people feel welcomed by the colorful murals on the walls, but also give people a sense of homeliness. He accomplishes this idea by framing several San Diego mementos around the room in the form of local beach photographs and a few local athlete jerseys’. This blending of the cultures from east coast to west coast makes Pete’s seafood and sandwich a place that is truly special for all people, which is why North Park is the perfect place to shelter this seasoned seafood eatery.
“I like people to see the murals, because it gives them a sense of what we are about: the lobster buoys and the sea. Although we aren’t actually on the ocean, we are the type of restaurant that would be found on the beach.”
Originally moving to North Park to live, the surrounding area served the perfect landscape for DeCoste to open up his seafood restaurant, with many opportunities and doors opened almost immediately. This made his location on 30th street in North Park an easy pick as one of the more trafficked streets as well as it’s location in an area that needs late night eats, due to the young people and bar scenes in the surrounding vicinity. North Park has only continued to benefit Pete’s. Many surrounding restaurants and neighbors helped out in the opening of his restaurants; whether that is a tour to get the lay of the land or for the contact of a local painter. The small area of North Park makes it possible everyone to know their neighbors; therefore locals often lend a helping hand.
“One of the reason’s I like North Park so much, is it’s not like some big corporate community. Everybody here is like a family. Everybody watches out for each other, they try to help the small businesses and everyone is friendly whether you are seventy two or twenty two.”
DeCoste continues to operate, manage and cook for his restaurant, Pete’s Seafood and Sandwich, which has been a big success for not only DeCoste, but the community of North Park as well. Find Pete’s website here.