104 Orange Avenue, Coronado
"What’s that guy eating?” yells Carla. “It looks ginormous!”
We’re shouting at each other at the new Nicky Rottens place in Coronado. Carla wanted to meet here at the bay end of Orange Avenue after her hair appointment, so we could see the lights across the water. But inside, thumpa, thumpa, thumpa. The music’s in charge.
Still, view-wise, here, right at the corner of First Street, you get pretty much that panorama of everything across the bay that Carla wanted: illuminated downtown high-rises, the red-and-green navigation lights of water taxis.
Nicky’s newest place (he started off in the Gaslamp) is full. Lotsa shouting about the next deployment, housing allowances, Navy life.
At one table, they got some kind of eating contest going on.
“Hi, folks,” this gal Jessica says to us. “Drinks? Eats?”
Me, I’m starting off lite. I get a large lemonade, one with the true taste I’ve grown to appreciate — actual lemons. Carla has her new crush, ginger ale. They’re $2 each.
We’ve agreed it’s gonna be burger or bust, because these guys have an awesome reputation. Not cheap, but, unlike Burger Lounge, at least fries are included in the price.
Two burgers cruise past. I swear, each is as tall from bun to bun as my outstretched hand, pinky to thumb. Back and forth I go, tryin’ to decide between a Rottens Bacavo burger and the Maui Wowi. (“Whata da minkya isa Bacavo?” asks the menu. Then it tells you: bacon, avo, burger, cheese, $10.95.)
For the same price, they have the Maui Wowi, with a pineapple ring and teriyaki. Hmm…have a little craving for sweetness…
Carla almost falls for her other obsession, hotdogs. ’Specially the “Tijuana Style. Home Wrecker” ($9.95). They’re wrapped in bacon, and you get chopped jalapeños with them. They use Hebrew National beef frankfurters. “Best flavor, bar none,” Carla says. But she ends up going for a Rottens Stinky Burger ($10.95, Bacon, blue cheese), because of the blue cheese. And, yes, I have the Maui Wowi. I know pineapple in a burger’s probably as cool as asking for pineapple on your pizza in New York City. But the Food Fashion Police will never make it back here.
Whew. A moment to look around. Our table, for starters, looks expensive. Glossy burl walnut, Carla says. And Jessica says the bar’s backboard and overhang are solid mahogany. Right above us, a 6-by-10-foot screen has guys kicking footballs almost into our drinks.
“They really went to a lot of trouble,” Jessica says. “They spent a lot.”
“You’ve been here before, right?” Carla asks me, like I’ve been holding out on her.
I have. I remember it exactly. September 30…spectacular. They were brand new then, Rottens owner Nick Tomasello having just taken over the Island Sports Bar, and also the corner Laundromat. The result: big new Rotten bar on the island. The locals were thrilled.
It was rockin’ that night. Sunset. Outside, the green-flash crowd. (I know, you need to face west for that, and this bar faces pretty much east across the bay, but the sun was giving a show anyway, daubing the mainland waterfront hotels with a slow, golden paintbrush.)
But the real action was inside. Happy hour. I’d ordered a Ballast Point Yellowtail Pale Ale ($3) and a plate of fried zucchini slices (four bucks, half the usual price). So then this guy named Shawn Burkholder, the manager, comes up and pours my Yellowtail, and starts…juggling. Not beer coasters, but bottles. Champagne, beer bottles, full. Things that could go crash in the night. Up, around, and behind him. Man was crazy-perfect.
“That’s nothing,” he said to an open-jawed Scottish couple. “Let me offer you a drink.”
Right there, he started assembling one, two, eight large metal beakers. Turned some upside down. Placed five champagne glasses around the base, poured raspberry vodka, lemon juice, triple sec, cranberry juice, and Sprite, then scooped them together so each sat partly inside the one behind it…Then he held all five up horizontally over his head like a concertina — and started pouring.
He filled all five glasses simultaneously, in long streams. Not a drop spilt.
But, tonight, there’s no sign of Shawn. No tricks going down at the bar.
At the eatin’-contest table, a gang of guys and gals chants, “Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat!”
One guy has his fangs into an obscenely big burger. I see on the menu, “Da Ultimate Challenge” burger, 2 1/2 pounds of meat, plus fixins. Costs $19.95, or free if you eat it in half an hour. Finish within the hour, you still have to pay but get your name engraved on a hall-of-eating-fame plaque. But they have a strict “no going out and upchucking on the sidewalk halfway through” rule. You leave your seat before finishing, you’ve lost.
Jessica comes with our burgers. Man, oh, man. These are half-pounders, humungous in their way.
I’m getting decadent whiffs of Carla’s blue cheese burger. And the sounds as she squishes into her first bite! Have to stop myself from asking if she wants to share. The glint in her eye tells me, “Don’t even go there.”
Besides, whatever Gothamites may think, that sweet-savory flavor in the Maui Wowi is glorious to my jangling taste buds. Teriyaki talks back to the pineapple. Just like Filipino people, I love combos of sweet and savory.
The garlicky fries are great, too.
I’m just about to lunge into my second bite when a roar goes up from the contest table.
“Yeah! You da man! Don’t throw up! He did it! Over here!”
Looks like the guy got his 2 1/2 pounds down in time.
Here’s hoping he can hold it. ■
The Place: Nicky Rottens, 104 Orange Avenue (on the corner of Orange and First), Coronado, 619-537-0280
Type of Food: Burgers plus
Prices: Plate of fried zucchini slices, $8.95 ($4.48 happy hour); Rottens Bacavo burger (bacon, avo, cheese), $10.95; Maui Wowi burger (with pineapple ring, teriyaki), $10.95; Stinky burger (with bacon, blue cheese), $10.95; “Tijuana Style” hot dog (Hebrew National, with bacon, chopped jalapeño), $9.95
Restaurant Hours: 10.00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Sunday–Thursday; till 11:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday
Buses: 904, 901
Nearest Bus Stops: First and Orange (904); 3rd and Orange (901)
Ferry: Hourly on the half hour at Ferry Landing