There is a lot of water around Grays Harbor — but only one restaurant where you can actually sit on top of it: Breakwater Seafood and Chowder House, which, since 1987, has been serving fresh, local seafood and from-scratch chowder in its restaurant, and local seafood from its fish market located in the same building.
Throughout the year, the downtown Aberdeen spot is a great place to sit and watch the wildlife, from birds to seals, and the boats that ply the Chehalis and Wishkah rivers. In the winter there’s a counter by a window, in the summer there’s a long deck out over the Wishkah River, with ample seating to fit the hungry crowds that gather for lunch.
And this summer the Breakwater is poised to capitalize on its riverfront location like never before. It recently remodeled, replacing all its equipment and cupboards, installed beer taps, and is planning a full-service bar in time for the summer, so you can enjoy a martini with your crab cocktail.
“It’s fresh from top to bottom,” said Roberta Timmons, one of the owners.
Breakwater Seafood has a tradition that stretches back to the 1940s, when a group of fishermen decided to form their own market to sell their catch. Their business was purchased in 1987 by Sonny Bridges, a local restaurateur, and a few other investors. The move was part of an overall effort to redevelop F Street, which is redolent with Aberdeen’s industrial history.
Bridges and his fellow investors moved the market a block north on F Street to its current location and added the restaurant. They painted it with its signature bright colors and drew up a basic menu that would fit the small space and most people’s tastes — fish and chips plus chowder, in a nutshell — and boom, history was made.
And Breakwater chugged along, turning out its hand-battered cod and halibut, Sonny’s grandmother’s chowder recipe, and fried local shrimp and crab cocktail — until April of 2012, when the longtime manager decided to retire and a new ownership group was formed.
Since then, Timmons said, the venerable institution has been steadily capitalizing on its fresh seafood’s appeal with some new recipes and preparations, particularly salads, like the former Bridges’ Seabreeze Salad — a concoction of lettuce, shrimp, crab and Goldfish crackers tossed in bleu cheese dressing.
“We used to go through five gallons of lettuce a week,” Timmons said. “Now we go through five five-gallon containers a day.”
The restaurant has added an oven so that people who want their fish prepared without frying have that option. There are side salads for those who want to skip the fries, and the majority of the dressings are made on site from scratch.
But there’s no messing with the foundation of Breakwater’s success — the fish and shellfish caught in nearby waters, and the consistency of the success of its popular hand-breaded fried offerings.
“We get our fish as local as possible,” said Christina Kost, owner and manager. “We use Quinault Pride, Brady’s Oysters, Washington Crab, Merino’s and Nelson’s,” along with other companies that fish the Columbia and raise shellfish in the nearby Willapa Bay. Breakwater does this not only to support local businesses, but to show its sense of pride in place.
Having local connections has paid off, too. When the crab season opened late this year, Breakwater kept it in stock thanks to years of buying locally-fished Dungeness crab. Countless Harborites were able to save their Christmas suppers with this local holiday staple. And the retail side also sells platters of seafood, custom-built, for customers throwing a party.
With fresh paint, a fresh air view and fresh seafood, this summer is shaping up to be the time to get to know Breakwater.
“We’re just so excited at all the things we have going on,” Timmons said. “We’re so happy we can share it with our customers.”