3416 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
Answer this: What kind of place gives you a big chunk of chocolate to munch with your beer?
A real serious-about-beer place. Where a man can find a far-out stout.
Sayer the server hands me the chocolate-colored beer in a squat, stemmed glass and then a big chunk of actual dark chocolate on a paper napkin.
“Man, that’s thick,” I say. And I mean the stout.
“It should be,” she says. “They’ve added coffee into the mix, and be careful. It’s 12 percent alcohol. Double the normal.”
Wow. It’s called Alesmith’s Speedway Stout. Local. I take it to a seat by the bar in front of the kitchen, where UFOs — looks like — are spinning in midair. Okay. It’s guys flinging pizzas. I look at the beer. It’s only half a pint and cost me $4.50. Better be good. At least it looks good — totally black, with a creamy head.
I take a slurp.
Oh. Coffee, yes, and hoppy, malty, chocolatey — you almost have to chew it. That reminds me. The chocolate. Mmm. Nice touch. Chomp, slurp. Chomp, slurp.
What a find! This is on the Number 11 route. Bus stops right across the road. I saw the sign, “Blind Lady Ale House,” when I got out across from the bricky block that also houses Rosie O’Grady’s.
Thursday night, but inside it was packed, noisy, clattery. But not, like, raucous. We’re talking Normal Heights’ middle-class, sitting, quaffing, eating pizza at long, communal tables beneath a big screen where Inspector Clouseau’s driving his boss mad.
I made my way up past a huge old Hamm’s beer poster to the counter at the back. Seemed to be two lines. One for beer, the other for food. And, man, maybe two dozen draft-beer taps, with temporary signs handwritten on little steel plates above them. Meaning this is a changeable feast. Most I’d never heard of. I went for the Alesmith because it’s a stout. Love stouts. Also ordered a “Li’l bowl of olives” ($4).
So, while I take mini-slurps of my Speedway Stout, the couple next to me is cutting up a just-delivered pizza. “Care for a slice?” the girl asks. “It’s the mushroom.”
Gosh. That’s really nice. Menu says it’s a $15 pie, with “chanterelles, fresh porcini, portabellini, enoki, and oyster mushrooms,” plus “fontina and pecorino romano cheeses and spring leeks.”
Not that I know a porcini from an enoki, but I accept the offer and bring my olives in to share. She’s Elvia and he’s Gonzalo. Guess you could say they’re the future. Binationals. Live, work, both sides of the border.
“You know what I love about this place?” says Gonzalo. “All this noise. It’s like places in Latin America. Full of life.”
I’ve finished the beer. That 12 percent is real. Things are looking up. And round and round. I munch into my slice. This mushroom pizza is thin, crisp, and, well, mushroomy, but with a tang. I see most of the pizzas go for around $13, $15. Except for two: the marinara, with tomato sauce, basil, and olive oil, is $7, and the margherita, with mozzarella and basil, is $8. But add five or six bucks, and things get interesting. The salsiccia ($13) is topped with house-made sausage and “rapini.” That’s broccoli-raab (or rape), a cabbagy-turnipy thing we usually feed to animals because it’s so bitter. But Italians love it, so, hey, maybe I’ll give it a try.
On the other hand, they have one called the “farmer’s eggplant and squash pizza” ($15), with cherry peppers, pesto, fontina and scamorza, a nutty-tasting cheese that’s traditionally made with buffalo milk. They even have an egg pizza ($13), with bacon, Swiss chard, caramelized onion, and pecorino romano (a sharp, parmesan-type cheese). At least these guys are trying to bust out of that pepperoni/tomato/cheese-pizza syndrome. Plus, they have starters such as steamed clams and sausage ($10) and salads like the orange and pomegranate salad ($9). And they promise that “97 percent” of their produce comes from California producers. They title it the “BLAH” menu, but that means “Blind Lady Ale House,” and it sure don’t look blah.
In the end, I opt for the House chorizo pizza ($14), which comes with the zing of dried epazote herbs and poblano chiles. I love chorizo. When it arrives, the three of us dig in, and maybe it’s the chorizo being very Mexican, but we get to talking about how much Mexican-ness there is in San Diego. For starters, says Gonzalo, look at the Spanish name, “San Diego.” Huh. You say it every day and never think about it. If we were truly English Only, we’d be the town of Saint James or Saint Jacob or, like, Saint Jack. We chat and chew. The chorizo has a definite, torrid bite to it, and the pungent olives help, and I’m wishing I had enough dinero left to try just one more beer. Like the “Automatic #1,” which has a ginger flavor. They make it right here ($5.50 for a pint, when it’s available).
But I’ve spent enough already. On the way out, I come across one of the owners. Jeff Motch. You’d never know it — he’s just one of the boys at the bar. But Sayer says he’s the only one who can answer the question that’s nagging me.
“Who was the blind lady?” I ask him.
“Oh, she used to run this place. When it was a Venetian-blind store.”
The Place: Blind Lady Ale House, 3416 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights, 619-255-2491
Type of Food: Pizza, salad
Prices: Bowl of olives, $4; steamed clams and sausage, $10; orange and pomegranate salad, $9; marinara pizza (tomato sauce, basil, olive oil), $7; margherita pizza (mozzarella, basil), $8; salsiccia pizza (house-made Italian sausage, mozzarella), $13; Crow’s Pass butternut squash pizza, $15; egg pizza (egg, bacon, Swiss chard, caramelized onion, pecorino romano cheese), $13; chorizo pizza, $14
Kitchen Hours: 5:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m. (weekends, kitchen opens at 11:30 a.m.); closed Mondays; bar closes at midnight
Nearest Bus Stop: Adams at 34th