499 Tenth Avenue, San Diego
“I didn’t drive here,” says Dale. “Why would I? I live two blocks away. This is my local. I used to spend $200–$300 a month on gas. Now it’s more like $60. We walk! This is East Village.”
We started talking after I sat on the stool next to her here at Dirty Del’s. Dale’s your typical empty-nester. Abandoned the ’burbs when the kids flew the coop and came to live downtown in East Village. But she also spends half her week up in La Jolla looking after an 85-year-old photographer who keeps hauling her away to places like Kenya. Days off, this bar’s where Dale ends up for a glass of wine and maybe a sandwich. And company, with folks from her adopted neighborhood.
Me, I just happened to be passing when I heard all this talk echoing out onto the street and saw the cluster of people inside this see-through corner bar. Next moment, I’m yakkin’ with Dale at the black marble bar. And here’s the thing: she sips from a tall, thin-stemmed glass of red wine while I’m sucking from a bottle of two-buck beer. Beauty and beast. Class and crass. Mix and match. That’s what seems to make this place work. And for me, that $2 happy-hour beer deal sure helps. Pretty unbelievable, so close to the ballpark.
It’s not a big place: half a dozen tables inside and walls dominated by six 40-inch hi-def sports screens. But you can still talk without shouting. When I arrived, it had a sprinkling from all ages, kids, metro-cool 30s and 40s, and people a little older, like Dale.
So now Dale’s talking about what fabulous sandwiches they have, ’specially the “Diego.” I look at a big chalkboard menu leaning against the wall by the kitchen. Great, except it’s all sandwiches. Heck, was feeling like a boiger.
But their logo does say “Sports, Beer, and Sandwiches.”
Diego’s the fourth one down. “Turkey, bacon, avocado, provolone cheese & veggies on ciabatta bread.” Hmm… It’s $7.99. Others have two prices, small and large. Like the “Del Trio,” which comes with three meats, capicola, mortadella, and Genoa salami, plus mozzarella cheese and veggies. It goes for $6.99 and $7.99. These seem to be the prices for most of the sandwiches, except for “Old Geezer” (bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and Colby jack cheese on sourdough), which goes for $5.99, and “Skinny,” which is all veggie, including cucumber, avocado, red onion, bell peppers and sprouts (also $5.99). While I’m stewing on all this, a guy comes up and plonks himself down on the stool to my left. Name’s Roger.
“Whew. Good to be here. Can’t afford the Gaslamp no more,” he says. “I’m a mortgage specialist. Ha! Used to clear $225K a year. Now I’m down to $80K, with a $7500 monthly mortgage. These are hard times.” Yeah, right. He’s a nice guy, though. Climbed from barman to restaurant manager to real-estate whiz. Bootstraps. Jeez. I’m starting to feel like a total slacker. ’Specially when this other guy with dreadlocks and a brimless baseball hat turns up.
“I’ve had every sandwich on the menu,” he says. Danny. “My fave’s El Scorcho.’ ” Oh, yeah. Roast beef, nacho cheese, jalapeños, and veggies on a baguette ($6.99/$7.99). Turns out — oh, man — Danny’s an executive too. Advertising. Senior account executive, no less. And he seems such a…kid. He was born in Ethiopia. The whole family is made up of overachievers. Doesn’t have time for a social life. “That’s why I absolutely love this place,” he says. “Big sports bars don’t do it. Brian’s nailed it.”
He says Brian — Brian Delbrino — is the ex–SDSU student who opened this place early this year.
So, decision time. “ ‘El Scorcho,’ ” says Danny. “If you can handle the heat.”
“ ‘The Diego,’ ” says Roger.
Problem is, I’m also looking at the antipasti salad, only $5.49 during Happy Hour. It’s lettuce, cauliflower, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and pepperoncinis — plus olives, salami, pepperoni, mortadella, and provolone. Or, I’m kinda tempted by that “Del Trio,” with all those meats, all those cheeses.
Hell, that’s what I go for in the end, the “Del Trio.” And it is a nice, big sourdough sandwich stuffed with plenty of salad as well. I finish the $2 bottle of stout and ask Lea for a pint of Bud ($2.50). Oh, man. Now with Honest Bud, my “Del Trio” delivers. All the meats are together on one side of the sandwich, but they’re tasty, and the bread seems minutes out of the oven.
“So, why no burgers?” I ask Brian “Del” Delbrino, when I get to talk to him later.
“I could have had burgers, buffalo wings, pizzas on the menu,” he says. “But that would have cost $75,000 in extra ventilation. I couldn’t afford that.”
He says he’s dreamed of creating a small bar-bistro since he was 19 years old at San Diego State.
I have to ask him about two items I didn’t get. One was the $8.99 “Dipshit” special on the chalkboard. “That’s just au jus, slow-cooked shredded beef, and cheese on a baguette,” he says. And the name? “Well, this is Dirty Del’s, after all.”
And the other is a turkey-ham-bacon-cheese-veggie combo sandwich called “Richard Cranium”…What? Oh, right. I don’t have to ask.
The Place: Dirty Del’s, 499 Tenth Avenue (at Island), East Village, 619-677-DRTY (3789)
Type of Food: American
Prices: Ballpark nachos, $6 ($3 during happy hour); antipasti salad (lettuce, cauliflower, carrots, cherry tomatoes, pepperoncinis, olives, salami, pepperoni, cheeses), $6.49 ($5.49); Diego sandwich (with turkey, bacon, avocado, cheese, veggies), $7.99; Del Trio sandwich (with capicola, mortadella, salami, cheeses, veggies), $6.99 (small), $7.99 (large); Old Geezer (BLT and avocado), $5.99; Skinny (all-veggie sandwich), $5.99; Richard Cranium (turkey, ham, bacon, cheddar, veggies), $6.99 (small), $7.99 (large)
Hours: 4:00 p.m.–midnight (Mondays); 11:00 a.m.–midnight (Tuesday–Saturday); 10:00 a.m.–midnight (Sundays); Happy Hours: 4:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. to midnight, daily
Buses: 11, 901, 929
Nearest Bus Stops: Tenth and Island
Trolleys: Blue, orange lines
Nearest Trolley Stop: Park and Market