The Hungry Surfer

Hanging ten at Hermosa’s new Tower 12


Lately in America, being qualified for a gig seems hugely irrelevant. (Food writing seems pretty irrelevant too, just for the record.) That’s why it’s reassuring to encounter people of integrity who over-deliver simply because they take genuine pride in what they do.

This was my gut reaction when my family and I braved the weekend beach chaos and scored a tiny corner table at Tower 12, Hermosa’s newest hang. This place is so, so, so much better than it needs to be to succeed. In an industry where location and liquor license trump all else, they honestly could serve microwaved burritos and warm Coronas and it would still have a line out the door.

Instead, the team behind Tower 12 has created something that’s unique–if you can wait out the lines and find some table real estate. They don’t take reservations on the weekends, at least, and probably with good reason. The young girls at the front have the patience of Mother Teresa as they graciously let folks know it will be at least an hour wait to get a table.

Tower 12 is not exactly a restaurant, although consulting Chef Brendan Collins’ food is amazing. It’s not exactly a bar either, although there are two of them located at either end of a breezy walkway that overlooks the pier, and the cocktails and beers are free-flowing. It’s not exactly a social club, although like Soho House or the Battery in SF, it is a carefully stylized space where every random tchotchke is placed with intention.

Tower 12 basically feels like your failure-to-launch uncle’s surf shack from the ‘70s, where he let you drink beer with your buddies while you played LPs and Pac-Man. Don’t try to go stealing all that great décor though; it’s glued down, as my 7-year-old discovered when we tried to explain what a record player is.

On to the food. It’s always a risk to hire a high-wattage chef between gigs as a “consultant.” It’s nice to have the name association, but too often this results in a menu that was phoned in and an untrained kitchen staff that can’t execute on the ideas.

At Tower 12, it’s quite the opposite.

I have no idea how much time Chef Collins has spent or still spends down in Hermosa (he has Birch restaurant in Hollywood and a few other gigs), but the food coming out of the kitchen is beyond good. Whether the well-oiled bar crowd cares or not, I am unsure. But if YOU like casual food that is impeccably prepared and promptly served, you will love this place.

The menu promises “delights for the hungry surfer” and declares that “food is better with family–welcome home.” I must point out that we were the only actual family present, however.  I was reminded of why my husband chose to live in the South Bay during his USC film school/bachelor days. The ladies are abundant, young and gorgeous at Tower 12, that’s for sure.

Menu highlights for us included the sea salt pretzel knots done with fondue, the requisite burger, a terrific charcuterie-and-cheese plank, and something deadly called the “banoffee sundae.” It’s a very ambitious menu for a restaurant of this size.

In addition to the starters and charcuterie, they offer “Five Essential Salads,” six different wood-fired pizzas, a DIY burger section, a smokehouse BBQ selection and six entrées consolidated under the “American Regional Classics” category. Given that Collins is a Brit, I found that category kind of charming, as bucatini with bacon and English peas isn’t often served side-by-side with potpie and brisket in the good ol’ US of A.

I wanted to peek in the kitchen and see how many guys were on the line, but our first round of food came so fast I didn’t have time. For a relatively new restaurant, they seem on top of it. From requests for extra sourdough toast, extra limes for a cocktail and a kid’s fourth round of ketchup, everything was brought out correctly and promptly. Someone knows how to manage both front and back of the house. The joint was jumping.

I’d like to go back to Tower 12 on a Monday night in about six months, when the bright young things are home watching Netflix and nursing Sunday’s hangover. Ideally, the husband and I could stroll right in and find a comfy corner. I think an early Coppola movie would be playing on one of the (too) many screens, or perhaps some vintage surf reels. We’d have a cocktail or two, talk about the day and order up some amazing food.

Perhaps that surfer uncle eventually went to culinary school and became a Michelin-starred chef, until he decided to come on home to the South Bay. The food at Tower 12 reflects a pride in execution that is a tribute to all who work there. My husband thinks it’s the best burger he’s ever had in Los Angeles, and I thought the charcuterie-and-cheese was on par with some of best I’ve had in Paris.

It doesn’t need to be that good but it is. Lucky us! Let’s just hope the bar crowd doesn’t drive away the foodies.

Tower 12  |  53 Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach  |  310-379-6400  |