Ken Leighton 5 p.m., Jan. 24
Tour de Cheesesteak: stage 4
The Tour heads to Pacific Beach for non-Philly steaks
I had a harder than expected time finding Pop’s Jersey Style Cheesesteaks in Pacific Beach. What is it with these sub shops that they are so sneaky? At least it existed. I eventually located pops at the back of a plaza, between two separate Starbucks and next to a nail salon. It’s actually kind of peaceful back there in the fading light of dusk with the red-stained wood of the patio all around and the buzz of Garnet Avenue lost in the background.
The guy who seemed to be the owner greeted me with lots of smiles and bonhomie, asking me why I’d come by and if I lived in the area. I flubbed the answer because I can’t say, “oh, well, you know, just a restaurant critic out to review your place!” Sorry, dude. He was super cool though and he gave up some background story on Pop’s. It’s been there for five years and he’s been trying hard to get a sign put up on the main roadway. Get this: the property managers refer to the big sign board for the plaza’s business as “the monument.” Maybe that’s an official architectural term, but it still sounds complicated for Pop’s. Oh, I’m trying to get my name up on the monument. Like an act of heroism is required.
Inside Pop’s, it’s humble but laid out with much attention to detail. Computer printouts dot the walls, thanking customers for loving the place on Yelp and advising them that the restaurant stocks Amoroso rolls, which are available “upon request.” The decor pays homage to Frank Sinatra and movie gangsters, for the most part, with some views of the NYC skyline thrown in for good measure.
I was gladdened to be order a steak bomb ($8.75), which is my personal favorite term for a loaded cheesesteak. Loaded, in this case, meant bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, cherry peppers, and pepperoncini. Normally, Pop’s uses mozzarella cheese (the rogues!), but I threw down an extra dollar because I’d sworn to get a sub with Whiz. Had I been hungrier, I suppose I could have gone for “da forgetaboutit,” which comes with double everything for $11.25. I liked being able to get a San Pellegrino with my sub instead of a sugary soda. Made me feel like less of a porker after the 4th straight day of cheesesteak consumption.
As it was, the standard sized sandwich was adequate. Part of what makes the sub “Jersey style” is a firmer, crustier bread, or so I was told. Where the typical Amoroso roll is toothsome, Pop’s bread served as a medieval trencher that soaked up the gobs of melted Whiz and grease from the sandwich, but only after it softened up a little. The process was evolutionary, with bread and steak becoming less and less distinct from each other throughout the eating. The mild, salty pickle spear served with the sandwich got eaten first, but it would have been a refreshing palate cleanser had I reserved it for afterwards.
Pop’s delivers to a limited area and offers breakfast plates all day, if you’re into that sort of thing. The menu is packed with subs, hoagies, grinders, and heros of all sorts, as well as a few pasta dishes and the like. I also gathered that they bake and stuff their own cannoli there, which would have been delightful to share, but I didn’t have the heart for it after eating a foot-long cheesesteak.
1730 Garnet Avenue