The Crab Broiler is a look back on a special time on the Oregon coast. A time when tourism was just starting to find a niche and the culinary world was just getting a good look at Oregon, let alone the coast. The Crab Broiler was a place you might find Za Za Gabor or Ernest Borgnine enjoying a crab louie. It brought celebrities up from LA just to enjoy its local fare. The Crab Broiler was synonymous with glamour, good food, and coastal living. Located at the junction between Cannon Beach and Seaside, it was “THE” place to go for a special dinner.
The Crab Broiler is one of those locations that has always intrigued me. It was not a place that I had ever eaten at, or even been to, but as a historian am asked about regularly. Information online smacks with rumor and nostalgic memory. I’ve learned over the years not to rely on either, so I will do my best to stick to the facts. If you’ve had anything to do with Cannon Beach, or Seaside, for that matter, you’ve probably drive by what is now a sad storage building at the junction between Seaside and Cannon Beach. It’s hard to believe that this derelict building used to be one of the “fanciest” restaurants around. A place that people would line up to eat at – sometimes a line 80 people deep would form!
AAA called it one of America’s outstanding roadside restaurants. Life Magazine hailed it as one of the best must-visit seafood establishments in the country. In the 1960’s it received numerous stars and stripes. By all accounts the service, ambiance and food was fantastic. It was the place to celebrate any occasion. The seafood, coleslaw, and blackberry pie were of particular mention. The coleslaw was even available to-go in gallon jugs. The Crab Broiler put the Oregon Coast on the culinary map as much as James Beard did. I know that a tall order, but it’s true.
Not many know, but the Crab Broiler had a beautiful Japanese Garden that was exceptional when lit up at night. It also had a popular garden room with wonderful views. Rumor has it that there was once a menagerie of animals outside to look at. Someone once told me that they even had a seal outside the restaurant at one point, but I was never able to confirm this. What is true is that the pond was home to several Koi and the garden was protected by some wonderful restaurant kitties.
The Crab Broiler started out as a tavern before Bill Daggatt spotted it in the 1940’s and decided it would make a great restaurant. He immediately made an offer and partnered with his brother-in-law Jay Brown, and with the help of friend Stan Prouty turned the tavern into an inviting restaurant. The Crab Broiler was born in 1946.
Their goal was to serve fresh locally caught crab and popular seafood dishes. Their menu explained the seasonality of having crab, because fresh and locally caught was important to them. The menu, like the Oregon Coast, was a mixture of fisherman fare. The kind of food we think of when we think of a seafood restaurant before an Oregon seafood restaurant was a thing. That’s a mouthful!
This was a place with connections. Almost everyone in town either worked there, ate there, or had been there. When we talk about the Crab Broiler online, over 10,000 people might share, talk about, or comment on it. It is a popular subject because, for many, the Crab Broiler was a rite of passage. It was a fond memory of a night out, or a celebratory luncheon – it was the place that put the Oregon coast on the culinary map.
You can’t talk about the Crab Broiler without talking about Bill Daggatt. Daggatt was the heart and soul of the place. He ran the restaurant with love and support for his family and his community. I see it again and again in the comments. It’s rare to see this much positivity online. If you spend any amount of time on Facebook, you know what I mean. Daggatt hired college kids every summer, so the they could make enough in tips to return to college in the Fall with plenty of money in their pockets. He gave loans and help to employees, friends, and even former staff when needed. With every comment online, or conversation had, it is clear that the Crab Broiler and its owners looked up to Bill.
As you can imagine when a place like this closes its doors for the last time, there is a lot of speculation, maybe even a little sadness and anger. According to the family, when Bill Daggatt died suddenly in April of 1980, running the restaurant proved a challenge. I can only image what it was like. It was sold to the Morris family who ran it until the early 1990’s before closing it.
The building slowly wasted away. It was a church for a blip in time, but mostly it’s been used for storage. While the Crab Broiler has closed, the idea of community and creating good coastal fare. On eight say that it’s even blossomed here. There are many restaurants in the area that have followed the path of the Crab Broiler. I’m sure many of you can think of a few. Despite the years, the Crab Broiler is still as popular to day as it was in its hey-day. While the building might be an eye-sore the memory of the Crab Broiler still shines as brightly as it did when it was open.
~ As always, with love,
Your resident nerd, Elaine Trucke