The town of Marshall, Calif., isn’t very big. Whether true or not that the population (50) is an estimate achieved by adding the speed limit on Highway 1 (35 m.p.h.) to the elevation (15 feet), it’s undeniably a tiny hamlet on the east side of Tomales Bay. And with views of the beaches on the opposite shore, the place to eat on weekends is and always has been Tony’s Seafood Restaurant.
Founded in 1948 by the Croatian-born Anton (Tony) Konatich, Tony’s had been a staple of the Tomales Bay seafood trade for decades before the third generation of the family sold it early in 2017. In spite of being less than half its age, the 30-year-old Hog Island Oyster Co. — located just a bit up the way, right after the building with a ghost ad for J. Shields Coal & Feed, which is now a guest house available for $475 per night — has now taken it over.
This was always a quiet place for steamed mussels and white wine, but gone are the paper plates, the Crab Louie, and the no-credit-cards policy. The new Tony’s is modern but not in a trend-chasing way, with everything-old-is-new-again dishes like a crab dip gratinee with Mornay sauce or a linguine-and-clam bagna cauda. The day’s fresh oysters might be a mix of Atlantic and Pacific bivalves, while the $17 grilled oysters come four to a serving, with either the house barbecue sauce or a dill-horseradish preparation. Pair them with some rosé at the far tables, which catch some light all afternoon.
Then put yourself to work on half a pound of fat, peel-and-eat shrimp, as long as you don’t mind your fingers remaining redolent of Old Bay for the balance of the afternoon. Accented with just enough saffron, the seafood stew is full of fish, mussels, clams, and the occasional baby squid. You’re going to need seconds of bread to finish it off. For dessert, Straus soft-serve ice cream with a dusting of pistachios — the dairy is in Marshall, too — couldn’t possibly offend even the saltiest traditionalist.
Let’s propose a rule of thumb: Anytime you sit down for a meal with salt water directly beneath you, you’re going to be all right. And with the similarly renovated William Tell House but seven miles away in Tomales, Marin’s western coast is more of a draw than ever.
Tony’s Seafood Restaurant, 18863 Shoreline Highway, Marshall, tonysseafoodrestaurant.com