1521 30th Street, San Diego
"Are you seeing another woman?”
It’s Carla, on the cell.
“Sweetheart, corazón, what da heck makes you ask that? Seriously.”
“You never come straight home these days. You’re always calling from a different place.”
She’s right, there. These past few weeks, I’ve got all enmeshed in this thing that’s going on around us: the beer thing. Brew pubs appearing from nowhere like moles out of holes on a sunny morning. Blind Lady, O’Brien’s, Neighborhood, Station, Pizza Port. Tonight, can’t resist stopping by Hamilton’s Tavern. Heard they have more micro beers on tap than just about anybody in town. Like, 29, somebody said. But I mainly want to make sure they have decent food — not just make-you-drink-more salty teaser food — before I haul Ms. Carla along. I’m also interested in their talk of “pairing” certain chow with certain cervezas. Wine-pairing, yes. Beer-pairing? Convince me.
I open the little door. Wham-bam! What a crowd. What a noise. And it’s only Thursday night. It’s not like high-blast music, but, well, some lively folks here. The place has hundreds of what look like bats hanging from the rafters. Turns out they’re draft-beer pulls from all over. Posters and flags are everywhere, too, for beers like Delirium Tremens, Red Seal Ale, Kriek. Jeez, where to start?
I head up to the crowded bar to order. That’s where I spot a guy at a table, kinda hot-breathing. He’s holding a chicken wing in his hand. “Oh, man,” he says. “Hot, hot, hot. And I’m Mexican.” He has a plate of wings.
His name’s Omar.
“What kind of wings?” I ask.
“They’re called ‘Volcano,’” he says. “These are some hot chicks.”
Hmm…food. Maybe I’d better eat first, lay down something to blot up the ale.
“Where’d you get them?” I ask Omar.
“Out the door, first left,” he says.
So out I go and into the first door next door. “Hamilton’s Café,” the window sign says. Turns out it’s part of the pub. Another big sign reads, “Home of the Hop Sausage.”
Just as I come in — shwoom! — the cook dunks a big ol’ wire basket of fries into the deep-fry fat vat. The gal working with him hands me a menu.
“Pretty much everything we make here has beer in the recipe,” it says.
A stuffed jalapeño popper snack — peppers stuffed with deep-fried cream cheese, bleu cheese and salsa roja — is $7.50. For another dollar you can add a little bowl of beer cheese soup to use as a dipper. “Baja dogs” might be the best deal at $6, two bacon-wrapped dogs with pico de gallo and mustard (they have a vegetarian version for $6.25). Or, hey, this sounds interesting: a chili bowl with shredded cheddar — or nut yeast. Guess that’s “nutritional” yeast. Vegan, $4. Add sour cream for 50 cents.
I scan on down. Wings — “over a pound” — marinated in Ballast Point Wahoo Wheat beer and “glazed with our world-famous ‘beer candy’” for $9.25, Mole (“Davey’s own Chiapas-style recipe,” $9.50), and…ahh: there’s the Volcano (“made with habanero, Thai chili, and the fearsome bhut jolokia,” $9.50). Bhut jolokia is the world’s hottest chili, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. That’s what this customer next to me says, anyway. “I checked with Wikipedia,” he says. Uh, right. Whatever, I wouldn’t chew one of those down on its own. Not after watching Omar sweat.
Still, I’m starting to get the beer-food connection. I look further down the menu in search of burgers. Cheese sandwiches range from $4.25 for the basic to $9.50 for the Fancypants, with Brie, orange-blossom honey, chopped walnuts, and apple. “Hammyburgers” go from $8.25 to $11.00 for the Jamilton, a “stoner burger with a fried egg and ranch dressing.” The Stoner has stuff like serrano chilis, raspberry preserves, and “witchfyre” (peppers and onions) mixed in it. Maybe that’s the “stoner” part. They even have “potato hammys,” sandwiches made with potato patties for $8.50.
“Any ideas?” I ask Jennifer. She’s the ever-running gal serving this café.
Jennifer points. Oh, yeah. That sign. “Home of the Hop Sausage. Our signature handcrafted spicy Italian hop sausage on a roll with sweet peppers, onions, mushrooms, and stone-ground mustard.” It’s $8.50. Fifty cents more for a slice of provolone.
“Take the provolone,” says Jennifer. “It’s worth it.”
Actually, when I get to chomping this big dawg, I don’t notice the cheese. What I do notice is the sweet caramelized onion and the sweet peppers, which make a great juicy contrast to the really herby — I guess “hoppy” — sausage.
But what’s going on with the beer/food pairings? When I get back next door, Dennis the tavern manager says, “Some Fridays, I’ll personally make sausages — right here — that will pair well with the particular cask we open for that night’s happy hour. Last Friday, before we tapped a cask of Imperial Porter with chili and cocoa in it, I made a pork sausage with dark chocolate and dried apricot rehydrated with pinot grigio wine. They paired beautifully.”
Wow. But how much? “Ten dollars for the plate — two sausages and usually two to three sides that go with it. And $3.75 for a pint of the cask ale.”
Damn, this is interesting. A little later, as I head back to the #2 bus stop, the happy-hoppy-herby taste of my sausage stays with me. So does the thought of the Friday-night pairings, when the spirit moves Dennis. Honestly, if all these new brew pubs are as serious about their food as this one, we’re carving a new chew-brew landscape here in ’Diego.
The cell phone rings.
It’s Carla. “Sweetie pie? You know my thing with hotdogs — could you bring back two? Seven-Eleven would be okay.”
“Darling, tell you what. Let’s skip it tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to a couple of really hot dogs.” ■
The Place: Hamilton’s Café and Tavern, 1517 and 1521 30th Street, South Park, 619-238-5637
Type of Food: American
Prices: Stuffed jalapeño poppers, $7.50; Baja dogs (two bacon-wrapped dogs), $6; vegetarian version, $6.25; chili bowl (with cheddar or nut yeast), $4; nachos “drenched in jalapeño beer cheese soup,” $8.50; wings, “glazed with our world-famous ‘beer candy,’” $9.25; Volcano wings (with habanero, Thai chili, bhut jolokia), $9.50; cheese sandwich, $4.25; Fancypants sandwich, with Brie, orange-blossom honey, walnuts, apple, $9.50; Blue Boy hamburger, $9.25; Jamilton burger (with fried egg, ranch dressing), $11; spicy hop sausage sandwich, $8.50
Café Hours: 4:30–10:00 p.m., Monday–Wednesday; till midnight, Thursday–Friday; 1:00 p.m.–midnight, Saturday; 1:00–10:00 p.m., Sunday
Nearest Bus Stop: 30th and Cedar