879 W. Harbor Drive, Suite G, Downtown San Diego
Hank had been on about this for the longest time. He’s a carpenter and wannabe carver, and he reckons the carving of the horses in the carousel at Seaport Village is the best. In the world. Period.
And tonight, when we’re on the orange line trolley heading for 12th and Imperial, he suddenly jumps up. “Seaport Village, pal. The carousel. Let’s go look. Now.”
I mean, yes. I jump off with him. But I’m gonna admit this up front. I always have trouble with set-piece places like Seaport Village or Disneyland. Everything’s designed to hit your cute button.
We walked around the Hyatt Hotel’s grand entrance and up into Seaport Village’s West Plaza. And suddenly, all you’re hearing is voices, the burble of conversation, kids laughing, one or two restaurant exhaust fans rattling. That’s about it. The amazing thing is, you’re in a car-free environment. Rare in this town. Amazing how all the tensions fall away.
Not with Hank, of course. He’s all fired up. “Aha!” he cries. He’s spotted the carousel. It’s even turning. Has kids and grown-ups riding the horses.
“ ‘Charles I.D. Looff,’ ” says Hank, reading off a plaque, like he was discovering his own grandfather. “A pioneer. Danish. Do you realize there are 54 animals in here? Not all horses either. Guy was a master. And catch their expressions. These are some of the greatest animals you’ll ever ride, dead or alive. He carved them. And they’ve been whirling round since 1895!”
He goes on. He wants to wait for it to slow down so he can look at individual horses, or giraffes, or dragons, or lions. He wants to take the $2 ride.
“Look,” I say. “This is your thing. My thing’s grub. I’m hongry.”
Fact is, I only have about ten bucks on me right now. There’s no shortage of food around here, but mostly it’s beyond my sorry excuse for a budget.
“Seven-five-four, 754? Chicken fillet burger and fries? 754.”
The amplified voice comes from behind an arch up in this little pink-tiled plaza behind us. The plaza’s dotted with big ol’ ficus trees and a couple of palms and Caribbean-looking brown-and-cream-tiled houses with outside stairs and stuccoed walls and arches. One has a sign painted on it: Burger Lovers This Way!
Over the arch, another says, San Diego Burger Company.
Beside it, a bunch of pictures show the choices. I see the standard 1/3 lb. burger is $4.50, the cheeseburger’s $5.50, the double-patty “burger burger,” $6.99, and a delicious-looking avocado-bacon cheeseburger with guacamole oozing from every patty corner goes for $6.99. The most expensive thing is the $7.99 double bacon cheeseburger (single’s $5.99). Then they have variations on the theme, like the vegetarian gardenburger ($5.99), turkey burger ($5.99), and chicken fillet burger ($5.99).
The place is basically an orange Mexican-tiled counter alongside a yellow-painted courtyard with tables and a protective wall with a mural of a sea vista.
“I’m gonna get me a burger,” I say to Hank.
“Sure, be my guest. If you want to turn into a laardvark — hey! Laardvark. That’s good.”
So now I pass under the arch, through the courtyard, between the blue mosaic-topped concrete tables, and up to the counter where this guy Gabriel is taking orders. He leans in to a big mike. “755, your double bacon cheeseburger is ready.”
“I’ll take a number seven,” I say. That’s the avocado-bacon cheeseburger.
“Anything with that?” Gabriel asks.
And that’s when I realize I have a problem. I look again at the menu board. Burger’s $6.99, but…aaargh! French fries don’t come with it. A tiny little cardboard tray of ’em costs $3.50. Drinks cost about that again. Before you can say “tourist trap,” you’ve doubled your outlay.
“Uh, no,” I say.
“Something to drink?”
When my avo-bacon cheeseburger comes, in its little cardboard tray, it doesn’t look anywhere near as high-piled or colorful as in the picture. (But when does it ever?) I check under the lid. It does have everything they promised, including grilled onions, lettuce, bacon, and lots of oozing guacamole. And it’s definitely juicy. Which is just as well, because I don’t have a danged thing to drink, and I’m too embarrassed to ask for water. Very stupid. Very male. Carla wouldn’t give it a second thought.
But what I find is, it provides its own liquids. It’s a juicy piece of meat with good slippery onions. I down it sitting at one of the tables in the ficus plaza, resisting ye olde gut’s calls for a drink to slurp. I look about me. Okay, this place is cute, ’specially at night. I see the inky bay waters through a gap in the buildings, and beyond, a sweeping light beam that has to be North Island’s naval lighthouse. I’m starting to like this place.
“For Chrissakes,” says Hank. He’s just come up from the carousel. “Would you stop feeding your face and come look at this?”
He points out the life in the horses’ faces and their body movement. “And see? They were designed for adults to ride, not kids.”
Of course we end up riding the danged things. Hank keeps up the commentary. “Looff carved these in his middle period, his most intricate. Look at this detail. Charles I.D. Looff, man. The Picasso of the carousels! Are you listening to me?”
Actually, I’m thinking of all who’ve ridden these ponies before us over the 113 years since their first spin, in Fairpark, Texas, Hank says. Plus, as our horses swoop up and down, I’ve gotta concentrate on keeping my avocado-bacon cheeseburger where it belongs.
The Place: San Diego Burger Co., 879 West Harbor Drive, Suite G, Seaport Village, 619-239-7901
Type of Food: American
Prices: 1/3 lb. burger, $4.50; cheeseburger, $5.50; double-patty “burger burger,” $6.99; avocado-bacon cheeseburger, $6.99; single bacon cheeseburger, $5.99; double bacon cheeseburger, $7.99; vegetarian garden burger, $5.99; turkey burger, $5.99; chicken fillet burger, $5.99; small container of French fries, $3.50; cheese fries, $3.99; regular burger combo with fries, small soda, $8.99
Hours: 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. daily; summer, till 10:00 p.m.
Trolley: orange line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Seaport Village