Travel

Oceanside’s famed ‘Top Gun’ house reopens as nostalgic pie shop

SAN DIEGO — For much of the past 36 years, Oceanside's famous "Top Gun" house has been boarded up and moved from place to place as the city's downtown waterfront exploded with growth.

But this month, the 135-year-old Victorian cottage that was featured in the 1986 Tom Cruise film "Top Gun," is celebrating its new permanent home and occupant. Situated in an oceanfront lot on the grounds of the year-old Mission Pacific Hotel at 216 N. Pacific St., the Top Gun House is now home to HIGH-pie, a nostalgic Americana-inspired pie shop.

On a recent Friday afternoon, a line of customers snaked out the door and down the sidewalk of the shop, which sells fried-to-order hand pies filled with apple or cherry compote and "a la mode" hand pies filled with mascarpone ice cream. The pies are served on a popsicle stick with optional dipping sauces like salted caramel and lemon curd. The shop also sells coffee and other drinks and souvenir T-shirts and hats.

Inside, the cottage is decorated with nautical wallpaper, paintings and needlepoint art of fishing boats and Navy aircraft carriers and posters and photos of Cruise and the movie "Top Gun."

HIGH-pie is the brainchild of Palm Springs hospitality company owner Tara Lazar. In her native Palm Springs, Lazar owns three restaurants, two bars, a catering company and a hotel.

Before starting her business, F/10, Lazar worked as a trader on the options floor of the stock exchange in San Francisco. When her father became ill, she moved back to Palm Springs to help care for him in 2006 and began working from home as a day trader. She and her husband, commercial real estate businessman Marco Rossetti, always loved restaurants, and opening her own restaurant was always a dream.

"I loved breakfast and my friends would come and visit and we wouldn't have places to take them, so I got the idea I should open a breakfast place. I started losing more and more money sitting in front of my computer and decided if I'm going to lose money, I might as well go into the restaurant business."

In 2008, she opened Cheeky's, a brunch-centric Palm Springs restaurant where everything is made from scratch using locally sourced ingredients and the menu changes weekly. Since then, she has also opened a steakhouse, an Italian restaurant, a cocktail bar, a tiki bar and a catering company. She also owns Alcazar, a 34-room boutique hotel.

For several years, Lazar said she wanted to break into the restaurant business in San Diego, but she struggled to find the right space. Then she connected with S.D. Malkin Properties, the Connecticut-based global retail investment company that built the Mission Pacific Hotel and the adjacent Seabird Resort, which both opened in 2021. Founder Scott Malkin is a fan of the movie "Top Gun," so as part of the development deal for the 2.75-acre oceanfront property he offered to give the peripatetic Top Gun House a place to stay and a facelift.

Originally known as the Graves House because of its original owner, Dr. Henry Graves, the 500-square-foot house was one of several cottages built along Pacific Street in downtown Oceanside in the 1880s. Over the years, as the downtown area's commercial district grew, all of the other cottages were torn down. According to local historians, the Graves House had important historic merit because of its age and Folk Victorian architectural style, which is more commonly seen in San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest. As a result, the city purchased the Graves House in the 1980s to protect it from demolition.

Meanwhile, in 1986, "Top Gun" was released to global acclaim. Tom Cruise starred in the movie as a cocky San Diego-based Navy pilot. The Graves House was featured in one scene of the film as the home of Cruise's onscreen girlfriend, played by actress Kelly McGillis.

In 2019, the home was hoisted up and moved a few blocks away to make way for the hotel's construction. With the consultation of the Oceanside Historical Society and Save Our Heritage Organisation, S.D. Malkin Properties spent nearly $1 million restoring the home to its original design with a new chimney, refreshed roof and re-creation of its ornate gingerbread filigree along the roofline and porches.

Malkin first hired Lazar to develop the menu for the High/Low café at Mission Pacific Hotel, which she described as a healthier take on the breakfasts surfers eat around the world, like Hawaiian fried rice, Australian corn fritters and Southern California breakfast burritos, but with house-made SPAM and American-style cheese.

Lazar said her concept for HIGH-pie is tied closely to the movie "Top Gun," American patriotism, the military and the ocean. Because of the shop's small size, a dessert concept worked best for the space and Lazar said she knew Scott Malkin was a fan of apple pie. So is she.

"I loved the McDonald's apple pies growing up. I wanted to re-create that in a really nutritious, recognizable-ingredient kind of way, using old-fashioned butter, cup-for-cup flour that's gluten-free and fillings that are very clean ingredients, like cherry, almond extract and sugar.

The shop will host a grand-opening event on May 20, which is just five days before a long-awaited film sequel, "Top Gun: Maverick," opens in cinemas.

Managed locally by Elijiah Alexander, HIGH-pie is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The menu can be found at famoushighpie.com.

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©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit sandiegouniontribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This story was originally published May 16, 2022 4:00 AM.

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