The drinks are cheap and strong and the bathrooms are humid and slippery. The carpeted floors are lumpy and the walls are papered with mementos of decades past — fading photos and funky keepsakes, a Bud Light-branded guitar and a metal sign from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. The Oregon Lottery, Ducks, Beavers and Seahawks abound.
But the Relief Pitcher — aka the “R.P.” — in Seaside does more than keep locals lubricated, gambling and watching sports. It boasts appealing and occasionally tantalizing blue-collar bar grub. The R.P. is a dive bar of the highest order.
While their burgers satisfy, the Albacore Tuna Reuben ($12.95) is a star belonging on the short-list of North Coast Dishes You Have to Order. Dare I say, it’s among the best uses of tuna on the coast.
The R.P.’s regional signature stacks a stout, flaky, seared tuna steak on buttery, toasted rye bread with sauerkraut, Swiss and slippery-sweet Thousand Island. It’s gooey, salty, crispy, juicy, creamy, sweet and briny. Just perfect.
Like its pastrami-piling brethren, the Tuna Reuben is super meaty. But rather than meat sweats, you’ll be left buzzing on that high-octane lean protein. But I assure you: The Tuna Reuben isn’t diet food; it’s indulgent and irresistible. You’ll just happen to feel awesome after.
Dishes like the Tuna Reuben are why we do this: a reminder that creaky, unassuming places are worth exploring, that hidden gems exist in every setting. Even one that looks like a trailer park, where none of the furniture matches and the paint is peeling.
Much of the Relief Pitcher’s vibe — humble, unpretentious, easygoing and low-maintenance — is an extension of owner Peter McClure, who lives on the grounds and often hangs out when he’s not working. Bartender Tony deserves mention, too — he’s personable, magnanimous and a maestro with the grapefruit.
Tony squeezes them so regularly into cocktails — mostly Greyhounds and Sea Breezes — that he’s keyed in to the seasonal characteristics of every batch. On a recent trip he recommended the Sea Breeze over the Greyhound because these grapefruit weren’t as sweet and needed a dash of cranberry. My goodness, was he right. A bright, fresh, balanced (and bracing) cocktail.
No mixology degree necessary. Nor a bible of bartending botany. No measuring tools, ornate glassware or small-batch products, either. Just a press to wring out all the juice and pulp, and the good sense to get the ratios right.
I’ll have a devil of a time ordering anything else at the R.P. besides a Sea Breeze and a Tuna Reuben. I mean, I guess there might be a time where I’m more in the mood for a beer. But, still …
As I mentioned, the burgers are fine if that’s what you need. I’ve heard them spoken of in quite high regard, though I find them short of spellbinding. The R.P.’s burgers are, to me, a reliable but replacement-level performer — simply pressed, dressed and seasoned on airy, white bread buns.
They come in a few arrangements, like with pastrami (instead of bacon), and the Grand Slam ($12.45), which comes with ham, a fried egg and two kinds of cheese. It’s heavy but not unreasonable — hardly a gluttonous abomination. Assuming your arteries are unclogged, at just $1.50 more than a standard cheeseburger the Grand Slam is hard to turn down.
Burgers and sandwiches come with choice of fries or coleslaw. The fries are hand-cut with the skin on and taste like they were once, not so long ago, actual potatoes. And I quite enjoy the extra milky, cranberry flecked coleslaw — even if I only need a few bites of the sweet palate cleanser.
The R.P.’s menu is purposefully limited. What they do, they do well. The Fried Oysters ($14.95), with crumbly, crunchy breading, are delicately cooked, absolutely melting the moment they touch your tongue. No teeth necessary, their structure practically gives way under a hot breath.
There are a few other bar standbys, most of which are fried. While some (the chicken strips) bored, and some (like the Albacore Tuna Tacos) beckoned, I just keep dreaming about the Tuna Reuben.
Credit to the R.P., by the way, for leaving fish and chips and chowder off the menu. Really, I can’t think of any locals who clamor for them. (Are you a resident who love-love-loves fish and chips? Drop me a line!) And that refusal to bend to tourist desires is a big part of the R.P.’s charm. It’s a place, first and foremost, for locals.
Indeed, the R.P. has its own community. Regular readers of the column will remember the inches I’ve given to the Fiery Food Festival, a spicy cooking competition that’s akin to a family potluck. There are the games, too, and the gossip.
For me, though, it’s that signature sandwich. So, Tony, when you have a moment, another Sea Breeze and Tuna Reuben, please.