Brandon Hernández 9 a.m., Dec. 10
When I wrote my piece about two of the owners of Bailey Wood-Pit BBQ pulling out of that business venture, I was bummed, but there was a silver lining—the fact they’d be taking their new found spare time and energy, and applying both to another of their businesses, La Mesa’s West Coast Barbecue & Brew (6126 Lake Murray Boulevard). That spot opened a few months back and I’d been looking for time to get over there and check it out. Increased managerial focus as well as new recipes and extra firepower in the kitchen provided just that.
West Coast is old school La Mesa inside and out. Approaching the small strip mall enclave, were it not for the current model cars in the parking lot, you could easily believe you’d traveled back to the mid-eighties. Walk through the door and the first thing you’ll see is a big Coca-Cola soda dispenser and an interior that, with the exception of an extensive set of taps, brewery signage, and a pair of beer boards straddling a flat-screen TV, looks as though it’s been largely untouched since the ‘cue joint’s renovation.
In other communities and with other venues, this wouldn’t come across well, but in a burg like La Mesa, an all-American place where few things change and that quality is something residents enjoy about their hometown, it works. Trying too hard by attempting to bring something metro-chic or upscale mod’ would look silly. West Coast is simple, straightforward, and replete with the smell of smoke, melting animal fat, and cask ale run-off; everything one expects from a spot that’s all about beer and meat. Another nice thing about the fact it’s not gussied up to the owners’ financial detriment—the menu is extremely affordable.
My wife and I grabbed stools at the bar and, in an effort to try as many items as possible, ordered a dinner “feast” that included ribs, chicken, beef, pulled pork, half a fresh-baked baguette, and four sides. Total cost for all of it (enough for two and, had I not been famished, there would have been enough to bring home): $21.99. I immediately put my savings to use procuring craft beer.
The tap list sports a good variety of beers. Many would expect mostly West Coast IPAs given the venue’s name and the fact the aforementioned co-owners also own hop haven O’Brien’s Pub in Kearny Mesa, but the field here varies from session (low-alcohol) ales and lagers to Belgian beers, stouts, and, of course, pale ales and IPAs. It’s a different variety than O’Brien’s, but just as high quality. Non-hopheads (like my wife, who ordered and enjoyed a fruity Hangar 24 Orange Wheat followed by a Societe Brewing Debutante Belgian amber ale) will likely prefer it.
The beer barely beat my feast to the bar. Service was swift even with a packed dining room. Impressive. So, too, were the baby backs I ordered, which had more meat on them than any I’ve gnawed on in the past. The meat was tender and flavored up with a nice lacquer of house barbecue sauce that was mostly sweet with just the littlest hint of spice. Coming in, I’d heard the folks at West Coast are liberal with their saucing, but if anything, there wasn’t enough on my plate. Fortunately, unlimited hits of that tasty condiment were just a squeeze bottle away. That came in handy with the chicken breast, which tasted nice but was a bit dry, as was the beef. Pulled pork, on the other hand, was moist, delicious and served up in a healthy portion.
The biggest delight of the night came from one of the sides—a bowl of potato salad. The potatoes were cooked perfectly, the salt was right on (just a dash shy of too much, the level every cook shoots for and any good cook hits), and slices of celery added nice crunch. I also loved that it showed zero trace of mayonnaise. It just might be the best version of this dish I have ever had (I’m suddenly glad my grandmother, who our family touts as a spud salad savant, doesn’t own a computer and refuses to embrace the Internet).
Biggest baby backs and most delicious potato salad of my life—not bad for a Wednesday night in La Mesa. Not bad at all.