A culinary landmark for steak and seafood lovers
by FRANK SABATINI, Jr.
Apr 30, 2014 | 2267 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Shrimp cocktail served in a classic metal chalice. Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.
Shrimp cocktail served in a classic metal chalice. Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.
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The year was 1951. President Harry S. Truman was serving his second term in the White House. Color television was being tested. And in the hang between Mission and Pacific Beach, a dive bar named High Tide was purchased by Pennsylvania transplants Joe and Pauline Saska.

By the later part of the decade, the couple had turned High Tide into a destination restaurant, delighting customers with aged steaks and authentic Roquefort dressing draping the salads — a recipe wildly in vogue at the time that remains in place.

“We’re still known today as a sirloin house,” said Tom Saska, the founders’ son who now runs the well-preserved establishment and a contemporary sushi room next door with his siblings, Mary and Jim Saska.

About 12 years after their father’s passing in 1960, the family re-branded High Tide to Saska’s Steak & Seafood as they began adding fresh, oceanic fare to the menu.

At the time, a whole lobster tail with soup or salad was $7.95, described on an old menu as “so good, it’s almost worth the price.” From the red meat offerings, “filet of tenderloin,” rang in slightly cheaper at $7.25 per plate.

While such costs are a thing of the past, the restaurant’s interior design is a ticket to yesteryear. Original red-leather booths match appropriately to walls and doorframes clad in cedar and redwood. Block glass forming the bar’s façade is still in place, as well as a brick fireplace nestled in one of the cozy dining areas.

The bill of fare captures many of the classics, starting with jumbo shrimp cocktails propped by metal, ice-filled chalices sporting wells of cocktail sauce in the middle. The Angus beef sirloin and other cuts hail from Omaha while a variety of seafood, including coveted Alaskan king crab legs, are sourced from local and national vendors.

From the lunch menu you’ll find “cheezie steak supreme” sandwiches, French dips, patty melts, fish and chips and other dishes resistant to fleeting culinary trends.

“Many describe our restaurant as ‘retro,’ but this is who we are,” said Mary Saska, who recalls getting “dressed up” when visiting Saska’s with her family as a child. “In those days,” she adds, “people often came in to eat after partying, when the kitchen would stay open until 4 a.m.”

The family caters also to customers seeking a more modern-day dining experience. In 1997, they opened Saska’s Sushi Bar one door away, which features a rooftop deck called SkyBar for taking in things like “wedding cake martinis,” Moscow mules and other libations. During daily happy hour, from 3 to 6 p.m., visitors are afforded discounts on drinks and food ranging from 15 to 50 percent.

Downstairs, the evening menu extends to everything from caterpillar and California rolls to sushi pizza and tuna tataki. For home cooks, a fresh-fish market sans any retail displays is available for “back-door” purchases.

When asked for the secret to Saska’s longevity in this beach community, which has changed radically over the last 63 years, Tom chocks it up to “hard work and being present,” pointing out that on any given day at least one family member is on property to manage operations.

Adds Mary: “Being part of the community is also part of it,” referring to the restaurant’s long history of donating dinners to local charity events and her family sitting on various neighborhood planning boards over the years.

Saska’s is a museum to its time that has attracted politicians, sports figures and even Lady Gaga, who dropped in discreetly out of costume a couple years ago. Also, the restaurant celebrates its anniversary publicly every March 8 with birthday cake, live music and meal specials.

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