West End Park
Unlike its restaurant neighbors in West End Park, Fontana’s was on dry land in a spartan building whose only view of the lake was about the size of a postage stamp held at arm’s length. That fact separated the serious eaters from the rest of the West End dining crowd. Those who insisted that no other West End restaurant could match Fontana’s seafood could not be talked into going to Fitzgerald’s or even Bruning’s for the lake views those restaurants offered.
The owners of Fontana’s were more deeply involved in the seafood business than their competitors. In addition to the restaurant, they ran a retail seafood store. This added extra dimensions to their food. You never got secondary cuts of fish here. I remember in particular a fried trout fillet so large that if had not been in my twenties and hungry, I wouldn’t have been able to finish it. And it wasn’t merely big, but well-seasoned, hot, crisp, and meaty too.
All this resonated with the guys going out to dinner. All you had to do was talk the girls into Fontana’s. Some of them were there for the food, and needed no cajoling. For the others, one Fontana’s meal was usually all it would take. Despite this, Fontana’s was always a favorite place to start the evening if you were on a date, and were thinking about driving out to The Point (one of great necking venues in the 1970s and before, at the end of the West End breakwater).
A link to Fontana’s is still in the restaurant business. Rick Gratia, whose family owned the place, is the managing partner of Muriel’s on Jackson Square. He put in his share of youthful time at Fontana’s. That may explain why the seafood at Muriel’s has always been excellent.
Fontana’s was one of the several casualties of the infamous West End Parking Lot Massacree. Having to pay for parking–even in the nice new paved lot that replaced the collection of holes in the bed of shells that was there before, and even though the parking fee was $1.06–made a lot of people stop going to West End. I think it was that six cents that did it.