Sausage rolls are the standard quick lunch of cops in all Brit mysteries, but I don’t think that Proper’s version benefits from the juiceless house-made pork sausage, tasting like leftover meat loaf, served en croute in its fine puff-pastry crust. (At least they weren’t bangers. If you’re really hot to eat like a Brit, you can find those horrors, with mash, among the “small plates,” but by worldwide acclaim they’re probably the worst sausages ever invented: greasy, bland, and bready, all the worse for the inevitable sauté in packaged white fat made of lard, suet, and/or mutton tallow — I wonder, has the Queen ever eaten bangers and grease-fried mushrooms for breakfast, as her subjects do?)
As for the Proper Pub Fish Taco, dirt cheap but overwhelmed by raw onion — just fuhgettaboudit. “Never eat Mexican food in a restaurant that isn’t Mexican,” said Ryan. “Unless it’s the grilled fish tacos at Blue Waters,” said Lynne. “Which aren’t all that Mexican,” Ben said, “just really good.”
Turning to the next page on the long menu, we find pizzas, wraps, and entrées. We sampled a slice of the Margherita pizza (tomatoes, basil, buffalo, and regular mozzarellas) and it was dandy, with a thin, crisp crust somewhere between New York and Roman styles, and a thin, tasty topping. The list of specialty wraps and pizzas, each named for a wine grape, is intensely tempting.
Then we tried two fine versions of what the menu calls “Pub Classics All Dressed Up.” The Shepherd’s Pie, that quintessence of comfort food, would fill a family of four, or two nongrazers coming just for this, or one Fat Andy Dalziel in Reginald Hill’s novels. It’s a homely peasant dish, but this is the version you’ve always wanted. Nowadays most shepherd’s pies are made with ground beef (more properly called cottage pie) or with any chopped-up leftover meat. Given the name of the dish, lamb is obviously the original, designated animal. The cook mixes the meat with vegetables and reduced broth or gravy to moisten it and enrich the taste and nutrition of this one-dish meal before topping it with mashed potatoes. Here, this enrichment includes wonderful chopped wintry roots — rutabaga, turnips, carrots, celeriac — and the mash crust on top mixes parsnips with Yukon Golds. Authentic, seasonal, and tastes great, too!
The Black & Tan Mac & Cheese includes smoked cheddar, gruyère, roasted garlic, grape tomatoes, grilled onions, applewood-smoked bacon, and “Guinness béchamel,” with a bacon and panko crust. It’s fearfully rich and tasty enough to make you forget about your cholesterol level. The half-size portion would sate a heavy eater who hadn’t snacked beforehand.
No desserts were offered. (Say, apple tartlets with melted English or Vermont cheddar on top would fit this restaurant’s format!) Of course, we didn’t miss a sweet, being too well fed already. I’ve been eating at gastropubs all year, and judge Proper one of the very best, offering good value for tasty food, with a serious chef for the gastro and classic Brit menu items. If fictional Fat Andy miraculously showed up live in San Diego, this is where I’d take him. But they’d better put some Wensleydale on that cheese plate for him! ■
Proper Gastro Pub
★★★ (Very Good)
795 J Street (on pedestrian alley near 8th), 619-255-7520; propergastropub.com
HOURS: Monday 4:00–12:00 p.m., Tuesday–Thursday, Sunday 11:00 a.m.–midnight; Friday–Saturday until 1:00 a.m.
PRICES: Cheese and salumi boards $15–$27.50; mussels $10–$17; bites/sides $4–$7; small plates $5–$11.50; salads $8–$12; wraps $6.50; pizzas average $3/slice, pies $14–$20; “Mains” and “Pub Classics” $18–$24.
CUISINE & BEVERAGES: Long menu of creative grazes, pizzas, and substantial British pub/mainstream American entrées, made with locally grown organic produce. Vast beer list, modest selection of affordable wines (all by the glass or bottle). Full bar with inventive or historic specialty cocktails.
PICK HITS: Stuffed piquillo peppers; crispy cocoa pork belly; pork cheek lasagna; shepherd’s pie; mac and cheese; pizzas. Worth a gamble: double bone-in pork chop with apple sauce, dates, root vegetable gratin; specialty wraps.
NEED TO KNOW: No storefront on J Street; look for block-long pedestrian alley left (east) of Mexican restaurant on corner of 8th. Walk south on alley next to Petco Park’s low fences to find Proper and adjoining Wine Steals. Easy local parking (street or paid lots) when there’s no game. Huge wall TVs are noisy on Monday Football Nights. Happy hours 4:00–7:00 p.m. and 10:00–closing nightly, with half-off beers, wines by the glass, non-call hooch, plus appetizer discounts. Loads for lacto-vegetarians, about five grazes for vegans, many gluten-free dishes by request. Check website for weeknight specials.