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Santa Barbara oceanfront restaurant reopens after wave slams Sunday brunchers

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Sunday morning breakfast laughter turned to screams.

Beth and Maury Beckenbauer, visiting the California coast from Wausau, Wisconsin, had just placed their Sunday morning breakfast order at the Moby Dick Restaurant in Santa Barbara, a seafood-specialty eatery perched on the edge of a century-old Pacific Ocean pier.

Beth wanted the Captain's Griddle buttermilk pancakes with sliced bananas inside. Maury was excited about the Captain Ahab's cheese blintzes served with sour cream and strawberries. Armed with frothy mimosas, the couple gloated to each other about landing an idyllic window table with a stunning ocean view. Little did they know their traditional "no substitutions-breakfast" would soon be replaced by the "fresh catch of the day."

Thanks to a timely camera phone we get to see their ocean-plucked meal arrive at the table - superbly brined, in a state of unsurpassed freshness, and well below market price. (video above)

Unfortunately the meals were not delivered under the warm veils of stainless domes and wishes of "bon appétit." Instead the Beckenbauers were the surprised recipients of a frigid, squall-driven buffet of sand, glass, and uncooked crustacea...and admonished to "duck!"

Forrest Buchanan, who was at the restaurant described the scene: "The dining room was filled with the sound of glass shattering and people screaming as a wave of water rush over the dining room carpet. Everyone froze including the staff."

An evacuation and shutdown of the restaurant was necessary, though staff quickly managed to clear out water, sand, and sea-life, and have since reopened. No one was seriously hurt.

A nearby restaurant didn't fare as well - the Beachside Bar-Cafe at the base of the Goleta pier was completely flooded. The cafe's manager, while attempting to tie down patio furniture, was swept out to sea - fellow employees fleeing the soggy assault didn't observe the manager's helpless plight, and were puzzled by his abrupt disappearance. Fortunately, he was spotted clutching a pylon near the end of the pier, was rescued before being lost forever, and treated for only a dislocated shoulder.

The Moby Dick is one of five restaurants on Stearns Wharf, California's oldest operating wooden wharf. Built in 1873, the wharf was an important cargo and passenger facilitator until 1901, when completion of the railroad linking Los Angeles and San Francisco diminished shipping demand. When The Harbor Restaurant opened on the wharf in 1941, all cargo/transportation functions essentially came to an end. Today Stearns Wharf is Santa Barbara's most popular tourist destination, flush with restaurants, shops, exhibits, and a museum.

The recent high surf that damaged the Moby Dick was one of many casualties in the wharf's eventful history. During a raging storm in the winter of 1878, a Chinese junk was tossed into the wharf, obliterating half of its platform. Only a few months later a tornado destroyed most of what was still standing. In 1887 the wharf collapsed from the stress of frequent processions by several hundred Civil War veterans, and thousands of people plunged into the sea. For the next 100 years the wharf was battered and damaged by violent storms, runaway barges, and out of control fires.

Since reopening, Moby Dick's interior has stayed dry, and unplanned portholes have remained sealed. Despite food that's not as consistent as their storied setting and inspiring views, the restaurant continues to delight visitors after nearly 50 years of business.

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