Penguin Café: a place parents treasure, and for good reason

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Back in July last year, I was lucky enough to report on the Penguin Café, if you remember rightly I took my then-13-year-old son who I affectionately referred to as the bottomless pit. From that moment my son has become a firm regular in the cafe, often having a sandwich after a morning surf.

The Penguin Café has been in Laguna Beach since 1942, and is proud to be one of Laguna’s oldest family-run businesses. They have served generations of Laguna families.

Since 2001, Sabrina McMurray and her husband Michael have owned and run the restaurant, which has been in the McMurray family since 1968. Sabrina has worked there since she was 14 years old, in every capacity, as a waitress, kitchen assistant, cook and now the owner.

The café was originally named “The Penguin Malt Shop” and served vanilla floats and iced drinks (hence the Penguin title). Over the years the menu has evolved, and now the restaurant serves famously hearty made-to-order breakfasts and lunches using family recipes.

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Pie at the Penguin!

The past few years have been challenging for the Penguin Café. All the kitchen staff left to start their own businesses, so Sabrina has been spending the majority of her time in the kitchen.  

However, with a new chef and kitchen assistants, she is back at the front, warm and welcoming and socializing with customers. Sabrina is an extremely busy lady, so when I heard that the Penguin was to open two evenings a week (Wednesday and Thursday) for dinner, I half expected her to tell me she had hired someone to help. 

It turns out, no, this was all her and her husband Michael’s idea to give Laguna Beach more Penguin hours. She specifically chose Wednesday and Thursday nights as she realized that being a mom in Laguna Beach, these are sports nights, meaning cooking dinner is always a rush and not very satisfying.  

Penguin’s new evening menu can be ordered to go, so if your family doesn’t fancy sitting, then that is an option. For this report, we decided to sit in, “we” meaning four members of Stu News staff.

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My chili was fabulous

As with the daytime menu, Penguin’s evening menu is extensive with a breakfast-for-dinner menu featuring breakfast favorites, a burger section, and hot dog section as well as sandwiches, soup and salads. The hot dog section was created with Mayor Toni Iseman in mind, who once told Sabrina there was a desperate need for a hotdog place in Laguna Beach.

Our food journey

I decided to order from the soup and salads section and chose the chili bowl, this was a deliciously light homemade chili that wasn’t overly spicy, so great for those who are not keen on spice. You know me by now though, I ordered a side of jalapenos. 

Lynette ordered the burger and it was really exceptional, homemade and huge. Really tasty, with fresh salad to garnish, as well as a side salad to start.

Dianne ordered the veggie burger and was really impressed with the vegetarian option. Like everything in Penguin Café, don’t expect small portions. 

Shaena went for the Bird Dog, a special hotdog that comes with grilled onion, bell pepper, jalapenos, a scoop of chili with cheese and fries. This was outstanding! I think everyone on the table had food order envy.

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Shaena enjoys the Bird Dog

Alexis had a grilled cheese and I was so glad she did as she was the only one to order fries, so I stole a couple and they were delicious.

It was safe to say that everyone was completely satisfied and like everything at the Penguin it filled us up without breaking the bank.

It was then on to dessert and Sabrina (who loves baking) had made two fabulous pies. One was a mixed berry, which was warm, delicious and just like my grandma used to make, and the other a chocolate mousse cake, which was decadent and naughty.

 Sabrina plans on changing the pies weekly and believe me, it is worth checking them out. 

Once again Penguin Café really impressed me, I urge you all to go visit it one evening. Hungry athletes will thank you!

Kya

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie  Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

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