Grandson of Zelig Camiel opens bistro
There's an interesting story – and a lot of history – behind the namesake of a new eatery in Del Mar. Greg Glassman opened the bistro-style restaurant about a month ago to commemorate his grandfather's longstanding history as a Del Mar resident and merchant. Glassman wants Zel's Delmar to be a village gathering place reflective of Zelig Camiel's commitment to community, neighbors and friends.
"I wanted Del Mar to have a place that is uniquely theirs," said Glassman, who owns and operates the restaurant with his fiance Jenn Powers. "We felt like we could bring North County a slice of something a little different."
Located on historic Highway 101 in the heart of the village, Zel's Del Mar offers a little bit of something for everyone, from seating options to menu choices.
The open-air patio allows patrons to watch people strolling up and down Camino Del Mar, which sometimes results in neighbors taking a few minutes to say hello. Inside the restaurant, guests can enjoy the enclosed dining area or hang out at the bar.
For those who have been around a while, gathering at Zel's is a chance to trade stories about the restaurant's namesake and the old days in Del Mar.
"What I've appreciated, what's been fun for me, is that right from the beginning the old-timers have come in and told me stories about my grandfather," Glassman said.
Zelig Camiel and his love of Del Mar
Glassman grew up in San Diego but often spent weekends in Del Mar with his grandfather: "As a teenager, he would tell us stories about his life, and he had a pretty interesting life."
In 1926, Camiel left his family behind in Poland and hopped on a freighter to journey to the U.S. Immigration quotas prevented him from entering the country, so he continued on to Havana, Cuba where he remained for two years. After crisscrossing South and Central America, Camiel joined a band of Eastern Europeans living in Tijuana.
He earned money selling gum to tourists and eventually worked his way up to chief croupier of the roulette section of the Aqua Caliente Resort and Gambling Casino.
From there, he relocated to Honduras where he owned and operated a clothing store with one of his brothers. In 1932, he married his American sweetheart Jeanne Klazkin in La Ceiba, before finally emigrating to the U.S.
Camiel and his family eventually settled in Del Mar, where he opened a liquor store on the corner of 15th Street and Camino Del Mar (what is now the Plaza). An outgoing and generous-spirited man, Camiel was known for assisting others, including helping European Jews fleeing World War II find employment, and raising money for Sea Grove Park.
According to family, one of his favorite pastimes was walking along Camino Del Mar, talking with merchants, listening to problems and offering advice.
When Camiel retired, he was given the title "unofficial mayor of Del Mar." After his death in 1987, he was honored with a garden bench on the lawn overlooking the sea at the end of 15th Street that reads "In Memory of Zel Camiel."
"The main thing about Zel was he gave back," Glassman said. "He was very much a Del Mar supporter. We thought we'd pay our respects by keeping his name."
Building new traditions
In developing the concept for Zel's Del Mar, Glassman and Powers focused on three goals: creating a casual, welcoming neighborhood destination for food and fun, providing high-quality food at affordable prices, and establishing themselves as a part of the Del Mar community as Camiel had done.
The restaurant is currently open for dinner during the week and breakfast and lunch on the weekends, but Glassman said they are expanding hours as they fine-tune operations. He plans to offer music – acoustic guitar during the evenings, maybe, or a jazz brunch) and modify the menu on a seasonal basis.
Carmel Valley residents Eric and Stephanie Kowack have already become repeat customers, making Zel's Del Mar their destination of choice for weekly date nights. With three children under age 9, a new mortgage and busy lives, the couple said Zel's laidback atmosphere, cozy ambiance and affordability (a couple of glasses of wine, an appetizer and dessert for under $40) couldn't be more perfect.
"We usually catch the sunset and then we go there for a glass of wine," Stephanie Kowack said.
A taste of Zel's
The menu at Zel's Del Mar features an eclectic mix of breakfast, lunch and dinner plates from chef Andy Johnson, formerly of The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe. It is accompanied by an aggressively priced wine and beer list.
Glassman said two of the dishes that have been very popular with diners are the pizza flat breads and the slow-roasted pulled pork shoulder. Dough for the pizza is made fresh daily, and combinations include smoked salmon with dill crème fraiche, red onions and capers, jidori chicken and spinach with alfredo sauce and fontina cheese, and roasted eggplant with pesto, caramelized onions, red pepper, feta and mozzarella.
Other offerings include pan sauteed local sea bass, Brandt beef flat iron stead, salads, soups, sandwiches, brunch selections and an Old School, half-pound burger.
Whenever possible, the restaurant uses sustainable practices, such as shopping for ingredients at the Del Mar farmers market.
"Nothing is over $20," Glassman said. "It's an upscale, casual atmosphere with great food and great service."
Zel's Del Mar
1247 Camino Del Mar
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday