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edible Monterey Bay Summer 2015

Edible Notables Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn The time traveler’s life By Lisa Crawford Watson Photography by Michelle Magdalena In the early 1930s, Helmuth Deetjen, using reclaimed wood from Cannery Row, built a barn in the vernacular architecture of his native Norway near the tent home he and his wife Helen Haight Deetjen had erected on Castro Canyon Creek. In 1939, following the completion of Highway 1 right out front, the barn was converted into the restaurant that remains today. Together with the board-andgood fortune to book an overnight stay before it’s fully occupied—Deetjen’s also offers a sense of stepping back in time to Big Sur’s early days. “People come because they understand what Deetjen’s is—a rustic place with a lot of history and even more soul,” says general manager Torrey Waag. “People come to disconnect from technology and connect with themselves and each other, to get a whiff of the past and take in the ambiance of the place.” Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Deetjen’s is one of the last remaining Big Sur businesses of its era. It is still operating in large part thanks to the very intentional decision of “Grandpa” Deetjen, as Helmuth was known, to bequeath it to a trust. Under the trust’s terms, Deetjen’s is run as a nonprofit organization by the Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn Preservation Foundation. Surrounded by redwoods and perfumed by the wisteria that drapes its arbor, the heart of the inn is the restaurant. If you arrive in the evening, you’ll find the lighting low and warm. The wood tables are worn but not weary, set with brass candlesticks, a floating camellia and linens. The walls are covered with paintings and photographs and the shelves are laden with collectibles from another century. Guests can’t take it all in at once, but they can absorb the spirit of the place. The room is filled with guests, as it is at every meal, every day. “Back in the day,” says Waag, “the menu was written with calligraphy, and everything was wildly inexpensive. There were just two batten guest buildings Deetjen also built to create his Big Sur Inn, the restaurant has remained a beloved retreat for locals and visitors alike for more than 80 years. Big Sur isn’t short on iconic dining destinations— after all, it’s home to Post Ranch Inn, Ventana Inn, Big Sur Bakery and Nepenthe. But for the price of a meal—and, if you’re lucky enough to have the time, budget and 10 edible monterey bay Summer 2015 “In some ways, we are cooking for people the way they used to.” seatings. They’d open the door to Vivaldi playing, and people would parade in. Deetjen was a connoisseur of classical music and a good jug of wine. In those very early days, if the chef was cooking a lamb stew, then lamb stew’s what you got.” Today, chef Domingo Santamaria’s menu reflects a diverse palate and breadth of experience. Of Mayan descent, he learned to cook in


edible Monterey Bay Summer 2015
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