3827 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest
Last July, I reported the establishers of Local Habit (3827 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest) were selling the business. Immediately, regulars at the “Cali-Creole” spot were worried it would veer away from that unique style of cuisine or, even worse, abandon its dedication to supporting the craft beer renaissance. Since then, I’ve had the chance to meet with the new owners as well as founding chef and partner Nick Brune, and it turns out such fears were premature and needless.
While Brune has handed over his kitchen to former sous chef, Tammy Soto, he remains a consultant to the eatery and his protégé, who continues to pump out Louisiana-rooted cuisine constructed with ingredients from Southern California’s farmers, ranchers, and other assorted artisans. A gumbo I recently sampled was downright soulful and delicious, as was a trio of beers I sampled from a chalkboard’s worth of exclusively Californian offerings that remains impressive and full of esoteric gems, including those from harder-to-engage operations like Craftsman Brewing Company and Noble Ale Works. Casks remain a fixture, as do beer dinners and other events centered around brewing companies.
This weekend marks the return of an annual tradition San Diego, quite frankly, couldn’t afford to lose — Local Habit’s two-day Crawfish Boil. Held the weekend prior to Mardi Gras, it’s the best and most authentic version of this classic Louisiana fête I’ve come across in America’s Finest City. While guests feast on boiled crawfish, piquant andouille sausage, potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob, they are serenaded with gusto by a brass band belting out Dixieland ditties. And, of course, there’s plenty of craft beer. This year’s event-specific specialty ales will be provided by Valiant Brewing Company out of Orange County, and attendees who wear Mardi Gras beads will get a dollar off their beers.
The boil will take place March 1 and 2, but it’s Cali-Creole is on the menu daily. It’s the way the owners and Soto want it. The latter is in it for the long haul — she has the restaurant’s name tattooed on her arm, for goodness’ sake. Brune feels as deeply enamored with the eatery he helped create and, though he runs his own catering company, stays as close to Local Habit and as helpful as he can in keeping it true to its base ambitions. The restaurant still bakes its own bread and cases its own andouille. Additionally, Brune handles conceptualization and execution of brewmaster dinner events at present. In a town where good Creole is hard to find — especially in tandem with quality craft beer — it’s nice to see Local Habit sticking to its cayenne- and ale-loaded guns.