“Beat the Clock” meatloaf entrée
3711 Sports Arena Boulevard, San Diego
Oh, man. That smell. That barbecue smell, reaching out and pulling you in by the nose. It’s coming from Phil’s BBQ, right past the sports arena. Even now — it’s early evening — streams of people are headed toward the entrance.
But, I tear myself away and cross Sports Arena Boulevard, because over on this side of the road, there’s a deal going on that I’ve gotta try.
It’s called “Beat the Clock,” and it’s part of the operation at Du-par’s, a small, 73-year-old chain that’s come to town from L.A. Seems if you make it here between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m., the price you pay for your meal is whatever the time is. Like, eat at 4:11, pay $4.11.
They’re in a plant-filled eatery that used to be Baker’s Square. A big sign reads “Du-par’s Restaurant and Bakery.” There’s another sign below it: “24 Hours, 7 Days.”
Good to see this strip-mally part of town has gotten itself an all-night eatery.
So, in I go to this very ’60s L.A. coffee shop–looking place. Flowery carpet and booth upholstery, swoopy coppertop chandelier lights, low music, a central counter area where cakes glisten in a neon-lit glass cabinet. This is the kind of place where grandma brought you, and you hated it because you had to be quiet all the time while the adults talked. But you also loved coming here because of the hundred pies you could choose from and the way you were allowed to top them with ice cream. Vanilla, of course.
Jaime and Ricardo
It’s fairly quiet now. Two guys on duty — Jaime and Ricardo. A few customers hunch over their food.
Ricardo sits me down at a booth next to the window. He sets a big plastic menu book near another menu wedged around the condiments and sweeteners. The one thing I don’t see is anything about this “Beat the clock” idea. My friend Eddie — I met him on the number 8 bus on the way back from P.B. — told me about it. It’s just turning 5:00 now. So I’m in the zone.
“Oh, yes,” says Ricardo when I ask him about the deal. He scurries off, comes back with a paperback-sized menu.
“Beat the Clock. Daily between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. You pay whatever the time is…Just beat the clock!”
The menu for this game looks fine, too, with a choice between four entrées. Entrée #1 is meatloaf with mushroom gravy, “seasonable vegetables,” and mashed potatoes; #2 is fish and chips — cod with fries and coleslaw and tartar sauce; #3 is penne pasta with mushrooms, tomato sauce, and garlic bread; and #4 is country-fried chicken, “lightly battered” with bread crumbs, served with gravy, mash, and veggies.
I decide on the meatloaf. You don’t get the quantity of a regular-priced entrée, like the evening meal version of country-fried chicken, but when my meatloaf comes (normally, it would be $10.60), it looks like plenty. There’s a nice chunk of meat smothered with gravy, a lake of white mash, and for veggies, broccoli, beans, and carrots, all aboard a thick plate with brown and white checks and “Du-par’s” written in script around the rim.
When you look at a souvenir menu from 1938, when “Tiny” Naylor opened the first Du-par’s in L.A., you realize how things have changed. “Smoked liverwurst sandwich, 15 cents. Hamburger sandwich, 20 cents. Ham and corned beef–stuffed baked potato, 20 cents. Coffee, 5 cents.”
We can only dream. I pay $2.85 for my coffee. Farmer Brothers. But free refills. Burgers are mostly $10, $11. But, hey, changing times. Adjust for inflation, and it’s probably still as good a deal today.
No complaints about the meatloaf. It’s nicely spiced and has slices of bacon dotted around the sides that really punch up the flavor.
Pam and Bob in the booth next door are on their first visit, too. He’s paying full fare for a chicken pot pie ($10.95), but she’s on Beat the Clock with fish and chips, paying $2 more for an added garden salad, which looks very fresh.
I blow my budget once I see the array of “famous pies.” I spot the rhubarb ($4 per slice), which really was one of those granny things of my kidhood. For a buck extra, I get it à la mode. It’s nice and tart. And the ice cream softens it. Just a twinge of regret that I didn’t try the — time-travel again back to granny’s place — melted cheddar I could’ve had over it.
Suddenly, I see it’s three minutes to 6:00. I grab my bill and head for the cash register. Maybe the price is tied to when you pay. Would hate to blow this whole thing. Ricardo tells me to relax. “We time it from when you arrive, not when you pay your bill.”
So, it’s $5 for the meat loaf plate because 5:00 is when I arrived.
When I come out, I look across Sports Arena Boulevard. Outside Phil’s BBQ there’s a line snaking all the way around the side of the building. I feel like shouting, “Suckers! The deal was over here!” ■
Original menu from opening year, 1938
The Place: Du-par’s Restaurant & Bakery, 3711 Sports Arena Boulevard, 619-224-4454
Type of Food: American
Prices: Corned-beef hash breakfast with two eggs, $10.95; chef salad, with turkey, ham, boiled egg, $11.65; “Beat the Clock,” daily 4:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m.: you pay whatever the time is when you sit down. Entrée choices include meatloaf with mushroom gravy, veggies, mashed potatoes; fish and chips, coleslaw, tartar sauce; and country-fried chicken, with gravy, mash, veggies; regular meatloaf plate, $10.60; rhubarb pie, $4 slice; cheddar cheese on ice cream, $1 extra
Hours: Open 7/24
Buses: 8, 9
Nearest Bus Stops: Sports Arena Boulevard at Kemper