Quality and bold flavors. That’s where I stand.

Tony Alcazar

Located at the vibrant intersection of Penn and Bright streets in Uptown Whittier, Crooked Gaff Kitchen (CGK) stands as a testament to culinary excellence and community spirit. Under the skilled ownership and culinary direction of Chef Tony Alcazar, formerly co-owner of The Bottle Room, CGK has quickly become a cherished dining destination.

CGK is renowned for its fresh selection of oysters, craft beers, wines, and meticulously crafted cocktails. Chef Alcazar’s diverse culinary background has instilled in him the belief that the essence of great cooking lies in the dedication and effort poured into each dish. At CGK, this translates into a modern American menu that prioritizes fresh ingredients, familiar yet innovative dishes, and a steadfast avoidance of shortcuts.

Q: How did you begin your journey as a chef?

A: For some reason when I was a kid, I kind of always knew that I would have a restaurant for some reason. I don’t know why or how that ever popped into my head. I remember one morning being 7 or 8, everybody was still sleeping and I got up and I made myself a corn tortilla with a hot dog and ketchup. And at that point I thought that, oh I could cook for myself if I have to. So I took that on more as my own little responsibility of taking care of myself food wise. […] And then, during high school, I really got into music and playing guitar and stuff. So I decided to go to music school, Pasadena PCC. I heard they had a really good music program. I was there for about two years. And I realized after a little while that I wasn’t nearly talented enough. Like all the kids were like amazing. So then I was wondering what to do, and one of my buddies, he’s like, well, why don’t you go to culinary school? And within a week or two or whatever, I was signed up. Got the uniform, all the knives, everything that I needed to go to.

Q: Did you work in other restaurants before starting your own?

A: I had a job as a line cook at a restaurant in Beverly Hills called Mako. […] And so I worked for him for about a year and I learned so much about Asian cooking and ingredients and different types of techniques. And so on my menu you’ll see a lot of Asian touches in there. And I was working for him, I was living at home still. And I wasn’t making that much money and I was driving all the way out to Beverly Hills. So I decided to go a lot closer to home, which is the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena, which is now the Langham Hotel. And for some reason I really wanted to work lunch. But if you want to become a better chef, you got to do dinner, right? So after a while, I transferred up to the fine dining restaurant, and I worked for a chef named Craig Strong. And I was with him for about seven years, and I learned everything there. I learned a lot from him.

I wanted to leave home and I was just like, man, I got to get my own place. Couldn’t make enough money doing that at like $13 an hour. Sure. And so I became chef at this restaurant called Mike and Ann’s in South Pasadena. They actually ended up opening up other locations. And I still help them out once in a while, consulting. They might want a dish or something and I’ll just give them a recipe and technique and all that. And we’ve stayed friends after all these years.

I went to become a sous chef at Nick and Stefs, which back then used to be part of the Patina Restaurant Group. But I learned a lot about fine dining, that’s kind of it. Then I left there to open up my own restaurant up the street called The Bottle Room and that was around for about 11 years. We couldn’t do anything for covid and we had to close it.

Q: How did you go about opening Crooked Gaff?

A: I have one partner. His name is Adam Smith and he lives in Australia and he was a regular at The Bottle Room. I always love it when people tell me my food’s awesome. So he’s like, man, I’ve been all over the world and you make really good food. I was like oh cool. So we became friends and we started Crooked Gaff together.

Q: Would you say you change the menu frequently?

A: Yeah, well the specials change all the time. Before I used to make one special. Then it’s like, well let’s do two specials. Now I have five or six specials on at one time. It’s funny because now that we have more specials, the menu changes less. Before, at one point, we didn’t even have specials. It was just kind of like getting the team together, like at the very beginning, getting the cooks on board, up to speed. And so we didn’t really have time to do specials, so we focused on the menu. But then every three months, I would change it seasonally. I usually change seasonally, but I don’t really do that so much anymore. I do that with just the special items.

View Crooked Gaff Menu

Q: What would you say sets Crooked Gaff apart for you?

A: I’m able to have a bigger space and a parking lot and a lot of people that don’t want to be in the uptown area come here. More families and stuff. And actually as opposed to The Bottle Room this restaurant is a lot more family friendly. A lot of places are kind of bars and alcohol driven places. Which is cool too, that’s what The Bottle Room was. But here it’s more like, you know, we could do a party of 12 no problem. We have a little bar area, but that’s about it. The food really is what sets it apart.

Q: What would you say your favorite food on the menu is?

A: The bolognese. I love pasta, so also the shrimp and crab pasta is really good. It’s made with saffron lobster broth, it’s good and creamy. Oh, the burgers are really good too. Everything is good. All the tacos are great, but we have this one taco. We make the shells here, but we fill it with tuna poke, crab salad, and guacamole. And we finish it with a nori mayonnaise, nori aioli.

Q: So you use a lot of proteins in your dishes?

A: A lot, lucky for you guys. We order a lot of oysters from you guys. All the meats, actually yeah, pretty much everything. I’ve been working with Premier Meat Company for 7 years now.

Q: Do you have a tip for people getting into cooking?

A: Yeah, go work for a good chef for free. It’s called staging. Sometimes chefs will be like, no, you know, because you’re just going to be in the way. But sometimes it’s free labor. And I would suggest you go work for a chef. See what it’s like. See what a busy Friday night is like. And if you still want to do it after that, then go. Let them teach you some stuff and then if you’re still really interested, cook a lot at home. When I was in culinary school, I would always try to cook stuff at home whether it was good or not you know I would try to learn different dishes. So practice. Practice and if you keep liking it after working in the kitchen, then keep going.

Thank you to Chef Tony Alcazar and the entire team at Crooked Gaff Kitchen for the wonderful opportunity to interview him about his remarkable culinary career. It was truly inspiring to learn about his journey, his passion for cooking, and his dedication to the Whittier community. The warm hospitality and insightful conversation made the experience unforgettable. Thank you, Chef Tony, for sharing your story and for continuing to bring exceptional food and service to Uptown Whittier. Your commitment to excellence is truly commendable.