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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.

The huge vintage billboard can be seen miles away

The huge vintage billboard can be seen miles away

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 windmill was built specifically to catch drivers attention

The windmill was built specifically to catch the attention of drivers

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.

Hap-Pea & Pea-Wee were designed by a Disney animator

Hap-Pea & Pea-Wee split each pea for the restaurant

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.

The European influenced architecture is due to the founders. One was Dutch and one was French.

The European-influenced architecture is a legacy of the Dutch and French founders

The larger main room for diners to eat in

The larger main dining room

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.

I love the comfy booths and cozy coffee shop feel

I love the comfy booths and cozy coffee-shop feel

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!

Looking down into the gift shop and bakery from upstairs

Looking down into the gift shop and bakery from upstairs

The bar is tucked off to one side, separate from the eating areas

The bar is tucked off to one side, separate from the eating areas

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.

I liked the rock wall quite a bit. Gave it a rustic feeling

I liked the rock wall and hand painted floral accents

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.

These banners were huge, hanging high over the diners

These banners were enormous, hanging high over the diners

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.

The large upstairs banquet room. What a great entertaining space!

The upstairs banquet room. What a great entertaining space!

Dutch style stained glass pattterns

Dutch-style stained glass patterns

The stairway caught my eye with the woodwork and windows

The stairway caught my eye with its detailed woodwork and windows

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.

Each waitress station is designed like this and hand painted in different colors and designs

Each wait station is designed like this with different colors and designs

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.

The soup is vegan and comes with all manner of goodies to mix in

The soup is vegan and comes with all manner of goodies to mix in

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.

Each one is considered a slice of pie

Each one is considered a slice of pie

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.

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The Pea Soup recipe from Pea Soup Andersen’s

2 quarts of soft water (most tap water is fine)
2 cups split peas (a 14-16 oz. bag)
branch of celery, chopped
large carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon thyme, ground
1 pinch cayenne pepper
bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

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.

 

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7 comments

  1. Karen Donaldson says:

    FYI, Anton Andersen was born in Denmark, so I suspect that the theme of his restaurants would not be Norwegian. The nearby community of Solvang is an enclave of Danish culture in the Santa Ynez Valley.

    Thanks much for your informative articles and excellent photographs.

  2. Kerri says:

    This is amazing and we are definitely hitting this up our next trip on Hwy 5! So great!

  3. Susanna says:

    Sent to the chef at Hospitality House with a “times five” note …. Recipe stretched 5 times to feed fifty?
    Also to my daughter and niece. The place was a happy sight after interminable rides.

  4. StLukas1 says:

    Strain the peas through a food mill or a fine mesh sieve. A food mill will create the smoothest, creamiest texture. Bring the soup to a quick boil once more on the stovetop, then remove from heat immediately. If the soup seems too thick, add some hot water to thin it out to the desired consistency.

  5. Usually I do not read post on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me to try and do so! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thanks, very nice post.|

  6. Susan Hargreive says:

    Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Finding the time and actual effort to produce a good article is hard! Impressive.

  7. Keep on writing, great job!

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