Besides seagulls, no other group has monopolized eating by the shore than Ruby's. Along the O.C. coast, at the end of almost every pier, there's a Ruby's.
But it doesn't stop there. Ruby's owns and manages The Beachcomber, a beach-side restaurant set inside a rickety cottage in the Crystal Cove Historic District, which is so close to surf, people track sand in on their slippers.
Then there's the Crystal Cove Shake Shack, previously a family-run landmark that Ruby's claimed about two years ago.
Drive southbound on PCH from Newport to Laguna and you can't miss it. There's a turnout, a few parking spots, and when the weather is warm, a line of people. This is where I found myself yesterday, squinting from the sun, waiting to order a date shake.
There were tanned bodies and people in shorts, all out to enjoy the first summery day of the year and an ice cream treat to make it official. Other than the shakes, hot dogs were best sellers -- and eaten with the view of the Pacific, probably worth the tourist-trap prices.
Wisely, I ate lunch before I came, so all I needed was dessert. For my shake, dates are whirred to bits, blended into vanilla ice cream and milk. It's topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry, served with a long spoon to start you off because during the first few minutes, the drink is too thick for the straw.
And since it's packed with pieces of the dates, this is a shake you eat more than you drink. The fruit has the mouth feel of coarsely ground peanuts and amps the sweetness of the ice cream tenfold. By the last slurp, I felt like I had consumed two days worth of dairy fat and sugar.
Also at $4.29, the shakes would cut into Rachel Ray's $40 a Day budget a bit more. When the Food Network sprite visited more than a few years ago for her show, The Shack was still under the original owners and the shakes were $3.50.
Still, it did not deter anyone who was in line with me. Ocean air inhibits cheapness in people -- which might explain why Ruby's has done so well.
Crystal Cove Shake Shack
7703 E. Coast Highway
Newport Coast, CA 92657