Memories: Pea Soup Andersen’s Restaurant
Remember those dreadfully long car rides so many of us took as kids? You knew vaguely where you were going, but by about the second mile you were exhausted, hot, and weary. California’s Interstate 5 just made it worse, with glaring sun, field upon boring field to look at, and fuzzy radio stations. Then suddenly, a giant Norwegian windmill appeared on the dusty horizon. There was your relief: Pea Soup Andersen’s Restaurant.
I remember my family stopping there whether it was mealtime or not. It was a destination, a place to relax, stretch your legs, and spend some time. So it was with heightened anticipation that I took my kids there on our way home from Disneyland. I knew it would be the ideal place to take a break from the monotonous car ride.
The first thing my four-year-old noticed was the giant, working windmill. It’s always on when the restaurant is open. The whole exterior is done in a European Tudor style, giving it a charming, vintage appearance.
A big, comic sign of Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee, the two mascots of the restaurant, hangs outside. These two funny characters were created by Disney animator Milt Neil right after World War II. Milt worked on such golden age films as Dumbo, Fantasia, and Snow White. He went on to create the Howdy Doody character. The comedic soup duo can be spotted throughout the restaurant.
Constructed in the 1970s, the interior feels more like it’s from the turn of the 20th century. Huge beams, stained glass windows, and carefully-crafted architectural elements all contribute to this historic feeling.
The coffee shop, restaurant, bar, and gift shop are downstairs. Pea Soup Andersen’s opened their first gift shop in the early 1940s and it has remained a mainstay in both their restaurants. (This I-5 location is their second, the first one is in Buellton, CA, along the highway to Hearst Castle.) The store is filled with a full bakery, car games for children, mementos of the restaurant, and even bags of soup mix with the famous pea soup recipe included!
The coffee shop has a fantastic retro vibe. It feels a bit like stepping back in time, and not just in regard to the decor. The food is very high quality with no corners cut. Everything is made from scratch and tastes delicious. It’s reminiscent of visiting Grandma’s house when we were children.
Incredible hand-sewn banners hang in the large restaurant space, each one suspended from a thick rope-and-metal pulley system, giving them a delightful rustic look. I loved the colors and antique patterns.
Walking upstairs, I found an unoccupied banquet space. The peaked wooden ceilings, wide metal chandeliers, and stained glass windows really made for an outstanding gathering room. Imagine those wooden beams decorated with white lights for a special event.
Looking down from the upper loft, I glimpsed views of happy people dining, couples looking for travel memorabilia, and kids browsing the toy section. The afternoon light flowing in from the high windows filled the space with a warm glow.
Now to the best part. The food! Original recipes, made from scratch, and yummy. My teenage daughters and I had the pea soup in a sourdough bread bowl. Yes, they even make all the breads. The soup is popular for a reason: it’s delicious. I’m including the recipe below for all you cooks.
After we gobbled up our lunches, we decided to order slices of pie. Now, I have four children, so I ordered four pieces. I wondered why the waitress looked at me funny. Imagine my surprise when four large, “mini” pies arrived! Each one would easily feed three people. We ended up taking most of them home and enjoyed them over the next couple of days.
My summary of the visit is this: go. It’s even better than you remember. They’ve kept up the quality, which is no small feat for a restaurant that’s been in continuous operation since the 1920s! Enjoy the atmosphere for a couple of hours, then head on out to the rest of your journey.
Professionally edited by Molly Fisk.
The Pea Soup recipe from Pea Soup Andersen’s
Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Simmer for 50 minutes, or until peas are tender and mash easily.
Strain through a fine sieve.
Serve with condiments if desired.