The muffuletta uses Italian deli meats, but was invented in New Orleans.
I’ll go ahead and say it. I never much cared for South Park Abbey. It had a solid beer list, and I would catch the occasional NFL game there, but between food and booze, and my own snarky standards, there wasn’t a lot to keep me coming back. It’s possible the place just suffered the comparison to its predecessor, South Park Bar & Grill, which used to host a terrific weekly jazz jam, and which I still miss nearly a decade later. Regardless, when the Abbey closed last year under dubious circumstances, this South Park resident secretly approved, sensing an opportunity for its community-central corner location to become something new and better.
1946 Fern St,, San Diego
Enter Fernside. Last month, a partnership of hospitality industry vets opened the new all-day bar and restaurant concept, named for its location at the intersection of Grape and Fern streets. One of those vets counts among the city’s best-known cocktail gurus, and with Christian Siglin on board, Fernside’s worth as a cocktail destination is a given. I showed up more concerned about the food.
A pair of smashed patties make up one of two burgers offered at Fernside.
But what impressed me the most upon arrival were the upgrades made to the building’s architecture. What used to be a narrow smoking patio along Grape Street has been expanded to become a dog-friendly dining patio, made wider with installation of roll-up doors that help the interior feel more connected to the neighborhood on a warm weather day. That structural change alone makes the place feel infinitely more welcoming, automatically a place to meet with friends over drinks from late morning to late night, even as the nascent food menu evolves and finds its identity.
To begin with, that menu, reportedly a product of chefs with top restaurants such as Nine Ten and Born & Raised on their resumes, does a decent job of appealing to herbivores as well as the meat and potatoes crowd. Salads and veggie burgers complement a menu boasting waffle fries and two types of hamburger: a gourmet style half-pounder, and one of the smashed patty variety, as recently popularized by The Friendly in North Park.
Like The Friendly, Fernside proves industry-friendly as well, serving both food and drinks late. And I’m told, when brunch service starts, it will start Friday and extend through Monday morning, a common day off for those who work in restaurants.
I was immediately drawn to a section of the sandwich menu with New Orleans leanings, including the po boy-inspired All That Pizzazz, which accompanies garlic shrimp with ham, turkey, and roasted mushrooms on a roll. But I knew my first order instantly: the muffuletta. Italian deli meats with giardiniera peppers and olive tapenade, served on toasted ciabatta.
On their own, soppressata, mortadella, and speck can each make a reasonably good sandwich. Stack them together with provolone and a briny tapenade, and I want to start making stereotypically exaggerated Italian-American hand gestures to express my appreciation.
At $15, it’s not the cheapest sandwich and fries combo in the neighborhood (note: this is a full-service restaurant). But I seriously love a good muffuletta, and once my dog learns to pull my leash in the direction of Fernside, I can see its patio becoming a destination for me once more.