Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
Southpaw: Wild life behind the batting cage
Petco Park's newest hang-out has East Villagers going wild!
It’s open, at last.
Southpaw Social Club (815 J Street, 619-269-2255) has only been in business a few days, but seems to have struck just the right note among those wild and crazy East Villagers.
Where El Vitral, which this pub-eatery has replaced, was usually half-filled with lawyers and out-of-town guests, it always seemed, this evening in happy hour (four to seven, Monday to Friday), the place is nicely packed with a bunch of condoistas and the fixie bike crowd.
You take your pick from the balcony with the great green views of the park at Petco Park, to the row of sidewalk tables out front on J, to the great little caged side area (see above) with cushiony astroturf, plus comfy chairs, a fire and a lively crowd.
For starters, you get welcomed outside by Antoinette...
...the gal with the fab gold earrings.
Me, I’m at the bar, ordering a $5 happy hour half-pint of Stone Barleywine, and looking at the menu. Décor’s kinda industrial. High, rusty corrugated iron ceiling, raw saplings tied together to form a shelter over da bar.
“El Vitral was okay, but it was just too expensive for people who live and work around here,” Carlos, the guy next to me is saying. He says he came for the opening last Friday. Now he’s back again. So it has to be doing something right.
Not that this is greasy-spoon cheap. You’re going to pay $11 for the steak burger, or for a polenta pie, $9 for a chicken soup, more for mains, like $19 for Red Eye Pork tenderloin with fruit chutney.
But Nino, the muscled bartender...
...says all grilled flatbreads are $4 off during happy hour. That’s $9, instead of $13.
So lessee, flatbreads: Chicken on Fire, Rat-a-tat-tat (basically ratatouille), St. Louis, with provel cheese, ’shrooms, sausage, shaved beef...Then there’s funky pear (poached pears with blue cheese, candied walnuts), Pig and Fig, basically bacon and fig, and The Wild Shroom, cheese, prosciutto ham and roasted ’shrooms.
“I had the fig and pig on Friday,” says Carlos. “Kinda sweet. Good.”
That’s what I end up getting. It’s this big, oval, crispy flatbread loaded with arugula, and underneath, gruyere cheese, caramelized fennel, onions, the bacon and shiny slabs of fig. Spare, light, tasty. I mean yes, it's what you're seeing everywhere from Queenstown (in Little Italy) to Prep Kitchen to, like, Craft and Commerce (okay, also in LI). I guess it's the locovore thing. Good, though.
I did right choosing the barley wine to drink with it, all swoopy and sweet. It goes perfectly with the fig flavors and that little hint of fennel. You feel you’re eating something healthy, too.
It’s too early to tell if this place is going to take. So far signs are good. This ex-warehouse part of town it’s in, just beyond the Gaslamp, well south of Market, not quite in East Village, gives you the feeling the area’s still a sleeping giant, but just starting to wake up. Hey, maybe this new Back East eatery is gonna be the frog that turns it into a prince.