Princess Pub & Grille
1665 India Street, San Diego
Princess Pub and the site of the former Reader HQ
Wow. Last time I met so many submariners at the same time was at the late, great underwater sailors’ hangout named the Horse and Cow, across from Liberty Station. Tonight, there’s a bunch of them right next to me at this pub in Little Italy. Jordan, Greg, Alex, Jake. They tell me their ship, the USS Tucson, is a fast attack nuclear sub. They’re docked in San Diego right now. “Normally we’re in Pearl Harbor,” says Jordan.
This is the Princess, at India and Date, a British-owned British pub in the heart of Little Italy. It sure feels English. Wood, dark floors, pictures of Winston Churchill, the Beatles, Princess Di on the walls, a yellow-and-black British license plate that reads “RU 21,” football (soccer) on a couple of the TV screens, people playing darts in a corner, and a general whiff of beer in the carpet.
Which isn’t why I’m here. I guess I came to Little Italy to see what all these chi-chi places have to offer a po’ boy at happy hour. Except the happy hours I found ended at six. Only the Princess’s went till seven. Say no’ mo’, matey.
For sure, this part of town is jumping. Two new Italian eateries opening, just on this block. Another opened recently in the old ironworks. And the whole block right next door here, where the Reader HQ used to be, is now a huge hole and about to become a giant piazza (that’s piazza, not pizza) filled with more eateries and condos. Makes the Princess look a little old-school.
And yet this public house is popping. Maybe because here, Tuesday night is not just taco night.
“Tap Takeover Tuesday,” reads a flier on the bar counter. “All pints $5.50. All night. Twenty taps to choose from with your friendly barkeeps Gar and Adria. You name it!”
My only brew tonight
That’s a pretty good deal for Little Italy. They have some ’Diego brews, like Ballast Point Sculpin. But mostly you’re seeing Guinness, Newcastle, Boddington’s. Whatever, academic for me. Working tonight. Need coffee. Gar comes and whips out a menu. “Happy hour has ten minutes to go,” he says. “Fifty percent off all the pub starters.”
“Pub starters” are the apps. Looks like deep-fried everything. Plate of “housemade colossal onion rings with dressing” runs $6.95. So, reckon the happy hour cost is $3.50. Tempura chicken tenders, same price. Chicken wings (“spicy, BBQ, or mango honey glaze”), same as well. But then they have nachos (“beans, cheese, olives, salsa fresca and jalapeño”) for $11. Or to add chicken or chili con carne, $1.50 extra. Total, $12.45; say, $6.25 happy hour price.
I keep looking. Crispy fish goujons. Goujons? Strips of fish “beer battered with Cajun pepper, $7.95 ($4).” Turns out goujons are long chunks of fish. The word is the French name for the gudgeon fish. Guess the British must have borrowed it.
The chili tiger prawns
I end up ordering the goujons, plus potato skins ($3.50 at happy hour) and a plate of chili tiger prawns (“pan fried with chili flakes, garlic, and chopped herbs”). They cost $9.95 ($5).
So, this is going to come to about $12.50 all in all. A deal, I’m thinking. But I only realize what a deal when Gar brings them to the counter after about 15 minutes. Wa-aay too much. Like, six potato skins loaded with grilled cheese and bacon and scallions (and ranch and sour cream to gunk them up with), six fish goujons — and they are big, gnarly, long, deep-fried chunks — and six decent-sized and really peppery prawns with garlic bread.
This is about when I offer some of them to the guys, and discover they’re submariners. They say they’ve already eaten. “I understand,” I say, “because don’t you submarine fellers get way better food than the rest of the Navy?”
“No way! A myth,” says Glen.
What $12.50 buys
“On surface ships,” says Alex, “you get a buffet selection yea-long.” He measures out maybe 10 to 15 feet of imaginary buffet choices. “Us, maybe three or four choices.”
“So, your favorite foods when you’re down under the waves?” I ask the guys.
“Meat and spaghetti,” says Jordan.
“Chicken cordon bleu,” says Greg.
“Corn dogs,” says Jake.
“Taco Tuesday tacos,” says Alex. “We have it onboard.”
Tuesday night specials
Whatever they feel about the food, you can see they love the life. “On one cruise, we surfaced at the North Pole,” says Greg. “We played football at the actual North Pole. Ran around the world in 60 seconds! But we had to have a double polar bear watch. And we only had a few minutes before the cold got unbearable.”
’Course all this time I’m munching. The prawns are absolutely ace. Peppery hot-hot-hot, but full of garlic flavor. Way better than you’d expect of pub food. And those goujons are like fish sticks on steroids. So much fish, so much batter, so little gut space left. Lemons and tartar sauce help, too. And the spuds hit all the right marks of tough skin, juicy flesh and lashes of melted cheese, bacon, scallions. A taste of that Newcastle Brown brewski would go down so-oo well with this.
The story the guys tell that gets me the most is about how, lying in their bunks way down under the waves, they hear blue whales singing right outside. Dolphins, too. Jake imitates the clicking, tapping sounds. Alex imitates the whales’ strange song.
“They’re talking to each other,” says Greg.
I think about ancient stories of terrified sailors praying when sirens of the deep cried to them at night through the hull. Must be something to actually sleep nights down in the realm of giants.
“Hey,” I say. “This pub used to be Princess of Wales, right? From now on, why don’t we just call it the Princess of Whales?”
Happy Hour Prices: Onion rings, $3.50; chicken tenders, $3.50; chicken wings, $3.50; nachos with chili con carne, $6.25; fish goujons, $4; potato skins, $3.50; chili tiger prawns, $5
Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. Monday–Wednesday; till 1:00 a.m. Thursday, Friday; 9:00 a.m.–1:00 a.m. Saturday; 9:00 a.m.–12:00 a.m., Sunday
Nearest bus stops: India and Cedar (northbound); Kettner and Cedar (southbound)
Trolley: Green Line
Nearest trolley stop: County Center/Little Italy, near Cedar and Kettner