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SQUINT AT SHAWN STOOPS sliding a pizza into the Diver Bar & Grill's hulking, black, riveted woodfire oven and you could imagine him shoveling coal into a steam engine. "When I built the pizza oven, it's a boiler ... steam donkey inspired," he says, referring to the machines that once hauled timber from the redwoods here in Humboldt.

A history buff fascinated by "the mechanics of things," Stoops leaned into Victorian industrial details, echoing the sturdy design of the copper Mark V diving helmet adorning the front window. A handcrafted miniature version of the helmet sits at the head of the long table at the center of the dining room. The vividly contrasting paintings of boombox-toting dragons and samurai on the walls are by local favorite Sonny Wong, Stoop's old neighbor (all are for sale, as well). He's proud of the work he's put into the place as both designer and contractor, from the shining tin ceiling to the wainscoting and filament lights, and the bar in the back with its changing lineup of beer and wine. He's not done yet, as there are outdoor tables and heaters to add to the parklet out front for the summer.

Stoops is proud, too, of the staff and the meals they've been turning out since the Diver's 2017 opening. "We try to do Americana with a little bit of a twist," he says, explaining the approachable menu focuses on high-quality ingredients. "It's in the execution," he says of the burgers, sandwiches, woodfired pizzas, steaks and seafood specials. The kitchen smokes duck breast, salmon, brisket, turkey and the pork belly that shows up on the burgers. The barbecue and other sauces, pickles, dressings, candied jalapeños and bacon jam are made in-house, too. "We go through a lot of bacon," he sighs.

An order of mussels steamed in white wine and garlic served in a cast iron pot is a solid start. Only be honest with yourself and get the extra side of sourdough straight away, since you'll want to sop up as much of that broth as you can. Those craving a classic ribeye steak will be pleased with the peppery char and juicy example here, served with seasonal vegetables and either mushroom risotto or crusty roasted fingerling potatoes.

Homemade touches shine atop the burgers made with a blend of short rib and brisket. The Calico Cowboy is a fine example, with Rumiano smoked mozzarella, smoked pork belly, a swipe of spiced apple barbecue sauce, grilled onion and chunks of that aforementioned spicy-sweet, candied jalapeño. The beer-battered fries are wonderfully crunchy but hand-cut sweet potato fries aren't easily dismissed, either.

That oak-fueled pizza oven, which hovers between 650 to 700 degrees, fire roasts tomatoes and other ingredients, as well as the occasional oyster special. The pizzas slide from the peel with thin crusts and toothsome, bubbled edges (a gluten-free version is on offer, too). The options are more than a dozen strong, with the choice to customize. The Gorgy Mushroom, piled with mushrooms, mozzarella and gorgonzola over tomato sauce, comes finished with fresh tomato and arugula, and toasted pumpkin seeds for both layered flavors and textures.

The dessert menu offers rotating crème brûlées, coffee and lemon among them, dessert wine and a warm triple-chocolate brownie sundae. The namesake Diver Bar is a recipe from a friend, with cream cheese filling stuffed between layers of cinnamon pastry and drizzled with caramel. The Fruity Pebble marshmallow ice cream sandwich, with its wedges of sticky, Technicolor crunch, offers a nostalgia more immediate than the Victorian age. "It takes you back to being 9 again," says Stoop.

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About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Bio:
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

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