Marina Grill, located at the Agat boat marina, has a little bit of everything – a bar, a cozy restaurant with high ceilings, an outdoor patio, sea-inspired paintings on the walls by D.A. Lamotte, a picturesque seaside view.
That's probably why the spot has its fair share of regulars, and why many tourists opt to stop in after a day out on the water.
So says owner Tom K. Kallingal, a restaurateur originally from India and 47-year resident of Guam. He ended up on island after his brother took a teaching position at the University of Guam and sponsored him to come to the United States.
"We just skipped the mainland," Kallingal says with a grin. "We've been stuck ever since. ... But it's similar to where I come from, a tropical place and the same climate, but here every day is summer."
Kallingal got into the food and beverage industry on Guam by accident. His first job on island was at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa, where he was a storekeeper. Through promotions he kept moving up, later assisting with the opening of Guam Reef & Olive Spa Resort and Pacific Islands Club Guam. From there he went to Guam Community College and taught hospitality for awhile. His wife was also a public school teacher.
Then he took his shot in the restaurant business, and in 1984 opened The Eatery at the Agana Shopping Center. He owned another restaurant after that, along with the building, called Seaside Chef, which he eventually sold. Today, in addition to Marina Grill, he also owns and operates Avenue Steak & Lobster at the Outrigger Guam Beach Resort. His wife runs that restaurant while he tends to Marina Grill, which opened in late 2015 after Jan Z's By the Sea restaurant closed. Kallingal received a 10-year lease from the Port Authority of Guam, which owns the building that underwent extensive renovations before Kallingal officially opened the doors.
"It's a very special place for a lot of people, especially the south," Kallingal says. "We've got so many regular customers and it's like they are a part of the restaurant. I enjoy that."
Sit back and enjoy the view
Asked what they like, Kallingal chuckled, saying, "People seem to be enjoying the view, especially at the bar."
It would be hard not to like the view as the tinted glass windows allow patrons to admire some of the boats floating in the harbor, the blue and tranquil Philippine Sea behind it extending to the horizon.
"People like what we have," Kallingal says of the largely bar-and-grill food choices. "Things are pretty good, pretty steady."
Kallingal says that while he and his chef are still tinkering with some menu changes, the staples that people seem to enjoy, especially now, are the burgers, notably the best-selling spicy "pika" burger, as well as the fried chicken, which Kallingal has developed over the years and which adheres to a strict recipe.
"It's very tender chicken, crispy outside, and it's the marination that makes the difference," he says. "It's a half-chicken portion and the chickens we buy are really big."
Chef Tony Alovera, who has been in a kitchen since he was 15 years old and is originally from Saipan, has cooked all over the world with seven different master chefs.
Before starting on Guam at Marina Grill, he cooked for 35 years in fine dining and five star restaurants, notably Tony's Seafood on Saipan, where he served lots of Chinese tourists, he says, often $100-plus meals. Now on Guam, he's adjusted and says he is looking forward to the next menu at Marina Grill where he'll try to incorporate some of the "pika" into new offerings.
"I want to use my knowledge and skills in cooking and make sure that everything is good," Tony says. "I want to use the best ingredients (available) so that it's like five star. That's my goal here at this restaurant."
Experimenting with well-known dishes
He's already worked on presentation, and in addition to the popular staples, he also prepared for The Guam Daily Post tuna poke, tuna sashimi served on a "bed of ice," a salmon burger, a whole parrot fish, BBQ short ribs, and his take on the Hawaii-inspired loco moco, which he says is well-liked at home.
For the unaware, loco moco is an 8 ounce Angus beef patty served on a bed of rice and topped with gravy and a sunny side up egg.
"I experimented on Saipan with this," chef Tony says. "I tried to use cream instead of gravy, and it came out really good because the combination of the cream and the egg yolk is amazing. That's why this recipe has become very popular on Saipan, and I just wanted to bring it here."
Marina Grill has a weekly specials menu and that's where the loco moco appeared.
Chef Tony says he originally was supposed to study civil engineering, but that he fell in love with cooking and the art behind it, and realized he had a talent that he shouldn't let go to waste.
A reason to call ahead
The owner and operator Kallingal loves to cook, too, he says, and will fill in if necessary. If you ask really nicely, he might even cook some authentic, off-the-menu, homestyle Indian dishes.
"I have everything here, but I'm not ready to put it on the menu because I need help," he says proudly of the spices he keeps. "But if anyone is really hungry for Indian food, I'll make it."
He then extended the courtesy to this reporter, displaying the hospitality regulars must feel at Marina Grill and speaks further to how the restaurant offers a little bit of everything.
"You and your wife call me ahead of time and I'll have the curry waiting," Kallingal says.