777 G Street, East Village
“Life’s too short to drink crappy beers,” says Todd. He’s sipping on his Allagash Black, a dangerous-looking high-octane brew from Maine. But most of the 27 microbrewskis on tap behind the bar we’re sitting at are from San Diego County.
I mention this to Todd. “But of course,” he says, putting his tulip-shaped glass down and taking a forkful of jalapeño mac and cheese ($7). “Do you realize that San Diego has more breweries than any county in the United States? We have 33!”
“For sure,” says this wax-mustached younger guy behind the counter. “That’s how I got interested in all this.” Turns out he’s the owner of the joint. Arsalun Tafazoli. All of 27 years old. “I was at the beerfest in Munich, and I noticed that three of the ten beers voted top in the world [on ratebeer.com, which claims to be the world’s biggest beer contest] came from San Diego craft breweries. Alesmith, Port, and Stone. Yet you never hear about them here.”
“Classic,” I mumble. “Prophets in their own town. Never appreciated.”
“Darned right,” says Mark. He’s the airline pilot to my left, sipping a Stone Levitation, the “best beer I’ve had all night.”
“When I came back to San Diego,” says Arsalun, “I wanted to create a craft-beer place that was less fanatical, less single-minded, where you could also eat. Basic food like burgers, but made better.”
Rule Number 1 here: no Bud Lights, and please, no ketchup, so the cook’s flavorings can come through. A burger joint with no ketchup? That’s gotta be asking for trouble. The right to splot ketchup’s in the Constitution, isn’t it? “It’s okay for you to bring your own, if you have to,” Arsalun says.
This place has been around for a while: My friend Naomi reviewed it a couple of years ago. Mostly, I remember that her
posse’s favorite dish was the steak tartare (read: raw) appetizer and that they couldn’t hear themselves think for the blast of music. But the fact is, each time I’ve passed by, I’ve yearned to come in and try their burgers and beers, just ’cause it looks so damned cozy through the big plate-glass windows. Tonight, I couldn’t hold off. And looks like I came in at the right time. Got the last seat left at the counter.
And I guess they did something about the music. It’s there, but not the blare. Mark the airline pilot is reading the New York Times, sipping his Stone Levitation and snacking on a long plate of olives and almonds (“marinated olives, oven-roasted almonds, citrus zest, and herbs/cherry peppers, $5,” says the menu).
“How is it?” I ask.
“You should really try this beer. I’m from Chicago, and that’s a beer city. But this is outstanding.”
Trouble is, tonight I can’t drink. Have to work, dammit. So I order a Coke. At least it’s Mexican Coke, made the old-fashioned way, with cane sugar. And, yes, it has that sweeter, cleaner flavor.
Food? Hmm… Checking the menu. It’s so danged interesting. ’Specially the “smalls.” They look the size my wallet would approve of. The “pink salted deviled eggs” with “artichoke mousse and paprika dust” are $6; the steak tartare — which I’ve had a thing for ever since Carla forced some down my gullet one night in TJ in 1999 — comes with capers, onion, and a roasted pepper “rémoulade” (mayo-mustard-anchovy mix, I think), for $8. And I’m kinda desperate for the chorizo corn dog with mustard-seed aioli and smoked-chipotle aioli ($9). In the “mains,” I should probably go for the Neighborhood Burger, the flagship item, which looks delicious with a half-pound slab of ground beef, caramelized onions, “blue Gruyère” cheese (whatever that is), and “pepper greens” (whatever they are). It’s $10. But then they have things like poached black mussels ($9), “apple wallie” salad ($9), beer-marinated beef ribs ($14), and even a PB&J stack with three jellies ($8).
About this time Kristen brings out a long plate of steak tacos with different sauces ($10) for Mark. “Not bad,” he says, munching into the first. “Not out of this world, but good, tender.”
I decide it’s got to be a burger. That means we’re down to the Neighborhood ($10), the 777 (with spinach and béarnaise sauce) ($11), the spicy Cajun ($10), the vegetarian beet burger ($10), and the mushroom marsala ($11). I choose the mushroom marsala, because it sounds like it’ll be a little sweet. And medium-rare.
“I always grind my beef the moment before I cook a burger at home,” says Mark. “There’s a night-and-day difference in flavor.”
“We grind our meat here too,” says Arsalun. “Fresh, every day.”
Mine arrives quickly, with plenty of pink in the middle of the whopping patty and a layer of sliced mushrooms, all in a roll that has a great crispy outside. The meat is beautifully fresh-tasting. Yet, for 11 buckeroos, it’s a bit plain. I’m wishing I’d gone for the Neighborhood, after all, with those caramelized onions.
Still, we’re happy campers here tonight. The conversation’s good. Todd and Mark exchange high-falutin’ insights on the brewskis they’re trying. Kristen’s plying them with samples in little tall glasses. Arsalun’s popping in and out of the conversation.
“Bet your parents are proud of you, running your own business at age 27,” I say.
“Are you kidding?” he says. “I was at UCSD, headed for law, when I decided to go for this. My mom said, ‘If you do, I’ll never speak to you again.’ And she didn’t, for a year and a half.”
“Wow,” says Mark. “See? A prophet in his own town.”■
The Place: The Neighborhood, 777 G St, San Diego CA 92101, 619-446-0002
Type of Food: Offbeat pub grub centering on half-pound burgers. Local microbrewery beers, and international wines.
Prices: The Neighborhood Burger 10, The 777 Burger 11, Stone Smoked Porter Braised Beef Ribs 14, The Grilled Cheese 9, Pink Salted Deviled Eggs 6, Steak Tartar 8, Sweet Potato Fries 7, Pale Ale Battered Onion Rings 5, Chorizo Corn Dogs 9, The Neighbors Chicken Nuggets 9
Hours: Open Daily 12-5 for lunch, and 5-10:30 Sunday to Thursdays well as 5-12 Friday and Saturday nights for dinner. The bar is open till 2am all week.
Nearest Bus Stop: Broadway and 8th Ave