Hog's Breath Inn

(Carmel, CA) — After leaving the Santa Barbara area, our direction leads us northward toward Pebble Beach. But we’ve spent plenty of time there and are seeking something new. Just a bit south of that golf mecca is a sleepy seaside town called Carmel. Known primarily as the place where Clint Eastwood reigned as mayor, few realize he once owned a tavern too. We arrive in time for lunch at Hog’s Breath Inn...

He Fed:

After checking in at the lovely, quaint Cypress Inn—famous for being co-owned by Doris Day since the mid-80’s—I am famished. Carmel has restrictive streetside parking so I end up putting the rental about 4 blocks away, in front of a church. After hoofing it back to the hotel, the bellman asks us where we’re lunching. “Hog’s Breath Inn,” I say. “Oh, you know Clint Eastwood doesn’t own that anymore.” I nod. “Well,” he continues. “I’ve heard the food just isn’t very good anymore.” He then proceeds to suggest a much better place nearby. I smile and thank him, but we strike out for Hog’s Breath Inn anyway. I’m hoping for a little Hollywood kitsch, even if the food isn’t astronomical. (My expectations for lunches are generally lower anyway.)

We enjoy a leisurely stroll through the streets, admiring the myriad galleries and coffee shops and boutique stores. It reminds me of Saugatuck or Holland, and like those destinations, the repetition starts to wear on you. How many paintings of ladies hoisting parasols can you stomach on an empty stomach anyway? Not many.

Finally, we see the placard for Hog’s Breath Inn. A narrow alley leads between adjacent buildings, at the end of which a sign points the way. We turn a corner to find a sprawling courtyard. There’s a nicer, white-tableclothed restaurant to one side and a dark, enclosed pub on the other. A painted mural adds the illusion of rolling hillsides but it’s kind of kitschy...exactly what I was looking for.

We choose a table outside and peruse the lunch menu. It’s standard California tavern fare: burgers, fish tacos, salads, pasta. I find it hard to latch onto anything noteworthy. For Juliet, I agree to an appetizer of Grilled Castroville Artichoke. I’m usually not a big fan of grilled artichokes; too much work for not enough food. This is the same. It’s okay, but I won’t be waxing poetic over it anytime soon.

Going for kitsch again, I order the Dirty Harry Burger. It’s fresh ground angus chuck and brisket, with lettuce, tomato, and onion on a ciabata (sic) bun. For fun, I get the bacon and pepperjack cheese. Although it looks great, the burger is kind of tasteless. Even the bacon doesn’t tease my taste buds! I like the ciabatta bread and it functions well, but overall it’s near the bottom of my favorite burger list. I wash it down with a pint of Hog’s Breath Pale Ale, which is actually pretty decent (brewed by English Ales Brewery in Marina).

After our meal has ended, I pop into the restaurant and pub to take some photos. Pictures of Clint Eastwood and other stars are hung on the walls, a ghostly reminder of him haunting the property back in the 80’s. I like this part, imagining how my grandmother (who was a huge Eastwood fan) would have reacted at dining here. Even if the food has gone downhill, movie lovers might still get a bit of frisson enjoying a cold beer or two in the pub.

She Fed:

I know I’m going to catch guff for this, but I never really “got” Clint Eastwood til I met Jeremy. As kids, we weren’t allowed to watch his movies, except for maybe the one with the orangutang and when I got older I never appreciated the Dirty Harry mythology. But Jeremy got me to watch a few, I think we started with THE DEAD POOL which was a fun watch, and then Eastwood started making films like UNFORGIVEN, IN THE LINE OF FIRE, and MYSTIC RIVER. Smart and entertaining—what’s not to love?

So when we drive up the coast from LA to Sonoma, a stop in Carmel for lunch at Eastwood’s former restaurant Hog’s Breath Inn is an easy choice. I remember first seeing Carmel-by-the-Sea in his 1971 film PLAY MISTY FOR ME; the outdoor shots were breathtaking. It’s still awe-inspiring by the coast, sea pounding the rocky shore, and water spraying everywhere. Absolutely stunning.

Downtown Caramel is very walkable, so after dropping our bags off at our hotel we strike out in search of food. After a few blocks we see the Hog’s Breath, right next to Eastwood Plaza which appears to be a now-vacant office complex. We have our choice of dining inside the wood paneled restaurant, outside in the courtyard, or in the smaller and darker bar located at one end of the courtyard. Despite the darkening skies, we opt for the courtyard.

I sneak off to “pay my water bill” only to find the ladies room dark, run-down (one of the doors won’t lock properly), and in need of a thorough cleaning. The restroom is showing its age, but I’m sure the restaurant will be better. Unfortunately, over the course of the next hour, we learn it’s not.

Our server is new, doesn’t know the menu, and makes a few minor mistakes: forgetting to refill ice waters, neglecting to see if we want another round of drinks. We’re on vacation—we always want another round! We start with grilled artichokes which are tasty, though the dipping sauce turns out to be plain mayo. I have a Caesar salad with a side of calamari. The lettuce is a little rusty here and there, but otherwise both are fine. Nothing special. There’s a long wait between courses and our server is clearly not comfortable in his new role.

I decide to handle today’s lunch just as I did last year’s debacle of Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair at the Republican convention. I choose to remember him as the loyal and honorable William Munney in UNFORGIVEN; the haunted Frank Horrigan in IN THE LINE OF FIRE; and as irascible boxing trainer Frankie Dunn in MILLION DOLLAR BABY. I will remember the fabulous jazz playing in the courtyard, the sketches and watercolors of a young and handsome Eastwood on the walls, the movie memorabilia scattered about, and the lovely char marks on the artichoke. Sometimes denial is a good thing.

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