The Smell of Cannery Row, The Taste of Pacific Grove

Cannery Row in Monterey California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.
— John Steinbeck, Cannery Row (1945)

The stink was faint, but I could smell it as I walked Cannery Row on my way back to the Old Fisherman's Wharf. I think it was the smell of washed up kelp, but it lingered and followed me until I got back on the coastal trail to the wharf parking lot.

I wish I had seen the "real" Cannery Row that Steinbeck wrote about, but today it's a tourist spot with an Intercontinental, a Pinkberry, and a Sunglass Hut. Not that there's anything wrong with being a tourist hangout, but it would've been interesting to see the canneries in operation and to explore the row in its industrial heyday. 

But that's just me.


I took a few minutes to walk down to the beach, and I stood on the sand and stared at the bay. It was a quiet evening, and there was a couple relaxing on a bench while their kids played on the shore. In the water were a couple of kayakers. I think the spot where I was standing used to be part of a building of one of the canneries. It looked like ruins -- crumbled concrete blocks, exposed steel bars -- but on one of the standing walls was a painting of fisherman in a boat.

I checked my watch and realized that I had to get back to the wharf soon in order to make my dinner reservation, so I scrambled back up the beach to the coastal trail. As I power-walked to the parking lot, I passed a cool piece of art on the backside of one of the buildings that depicted workers on the Row. And the evening joggers were out in full force as I made my way alongside the bay.

I thought I was going to be late for my dinner reservation, but I made it to the Pacific Grove neighborhood rather quickly -- even with all the construction that I passed on the way. The area was absolutely gorgeous. It was quaint, peaceful, and welcoming. I parked on the street in front of the restaurant and because I had 20 minutes to kill, I walked down Lighthouse Avenue and found a little coffeehouse and bookstore called The Works.

Local bookstores are a great way to learn about a place. Not only are the people who work in a local bookstore super friendly (in my experience, at least), but I love checking out the local writers section and the shelves filled with books about the area and local history. Seeing how I was in Steinbeck territory, The Works had a section devoted to Steinbeck's novels and another dedicated to books about Steinbeck. I felt like I had to buy something of Steinbeck's while I was in the store, so I picked up a copy of Travels with Charley in Search of America. I thought it was rather fitting.

Eventually it was time to head to dinner. I made reservations for myself at a place in Pacific Grove called Passionfish. I did a Yelp search for a top seafood restaurant in the area, and plenty of reviewers gave high marks and glowing recommendations for Passionfish. And now that I've experienced it I know why.

Passionfish is known for their award-winning wine list and for serving sustainable seafood. Their tagline is "food from the heart," and you can taste it in every bite.

I got a glass of Syrah from Carmel and started with their special for the evening: ham and butternut squash arancini with walnut pesto. It came out perfectly fried, and the creamy risotto was the delicious glue that held together the savory and salty ham and bits of butternut squash. And the pesto brought out the flavors of the arancini even more. I could have eaten spoonfuls of the walnut pesto.

For my main course, I ordered the sturgeon, which came with a lemon and white bean salad and a spicy herb relish. The citrusy bean salad was a great complement to the sturgeon, and the relish (another thing I could eat by the spoonful) helped to balance the flavor of the sturgeon (which some say is "fishy"). Sturgeon meat is lean and firm, and because I had already eaten an entire order of arancini, I ended up with leftovers. Also known as a midnight snack. 

This was the best seafood dinner I've ever had, and the service was fantastic on top of it all. I really wish I lived closer because I would eat here all the time (or whenever my wallet would allow). I talked to two other couples in the dining room who had eaten at Passionfish earlier in the week, and they had to come back for more. I know that if I was in the area, I'd do the same.


701 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA

(831) 655-3311