Chef Frank’s Sunday Paella
1985 National Avenue, #1115, San Diego
Frank Pazos parades the steaming pan out of the kitchen, down the steps, and into the bar. Eighteen orange langustas (I count them) lie curled up on a yellow bed of saffron rice, green veggies and chicken chunks. A kind of cheer goes up. This is Frank’s Sunday Special. Paella! But in a pub?
Aubri, and her front desk friend, owl by Paco
The story really starts two days earlier. Friday evening, I’m heading down to the Barrio Logan trolley station. Notice a small crowd outside Attitude, the new brew-pub at Chavez and National. Guy in a black tee shirt is selling wooden tokens.
“Our official opening,” he says. “Tonight’s the night!”
So, what can a peckish traveler do? Place has an atmosphere of TJ party meets serious brewhouse. They also have a lot of nice art strewn around the walls. Been here before, for beer. But tonight, the food’s onstream too.
Chef Frank’s Sunday Paella
I buy a token. It gets you a $6 deal on drinks. I make my way inside to where a small crowd has gathered, and sit up to the bar, beside a Philosophers’ Row of, like, brewing tanks. Each is named after a philosopher. I see Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Jefferson, Paz Lazano. Cool idea.
I exchange my token for a black IPA I’ve had before. Except tonight, it’s different. “This is opening night, so I added coffee and passionfruit to the batch,” says Alvaro, the guy behind the bar. Turns out he’s the head brewer. Only 28. Learned his craft in Germany and Brazil, where he’s from.
My fruity black beer sluices down well. But it just tells me how much food I ain’t got in my gut. This is where Art — Arturo — comes in. He’s sitting next to me with Angela, his wife. They’re a lot of fun. He has a giant laugh. He’s been eating here even before this launching.
Is it a burger? Is it a wrap? Yes.
“Go for the burger wrap,” he says.
“We have a limited menu for tonight,” says Aubri, at the food counter. Menu’s above her on a sports screen, and yes, not a long list. Like “Colossal Barrio Fries.” Better be colossal, because they’re $10.95. Then I see other sizes: “Epic” goes for $2.95 or $4.95.
Glowning onion rings. Has to mean “glowing,” right? They’re $6.95. “Iconic Nachos” are $13.95, twelve wings are $12.95, and “Barrio Bomberos,” whatever they are, are $6.95. In a section called “Wraptitude,” an asada wrap’s $11.95, “Intriguing Vegan” is $11.95, the “Original Cali Club” wrap’s $9.95, and they also have a straight “All-American” burger. But the most interesting-sounding deal’s what Art talked about: the “Outrageous” bacon cheese burger wrap ($11.95). Burger wrap. When you think about it, that’s a new thought.
On the other hand, I’ve gotta find out about these “Barrio Bomberos.”
“Think of them as mini chile rellenos,” says Frank Bazos, the chef. He’s carrying an aluminum tray of what look like deep-fried chicken chunks. “Barrio Bomberos,” he says. “Jalapeño poppers. We put peppers in them, but we de-seed them first. This way, you don’t burn your mouth out.”
Kurt, with his Brazilian brewer Alvaro, responds to crowd. Paco’s $4,400 “Quetzal Urbana” painting shows a brewpub can also be a gallery
Seems Frank’s been a chef all over, including Europe, and was banquet chef at the San Diego Zoo. (Banquets at the zoo? Who knew?) But he was born and raised right here in the Barrio.
By the time I get back to the bar, the crowds are really starting to fill the place. It’s getting happily noisy. I sit down with Art, just as my Barrio Bomberos turn up. Why “bomberos”? Art’s bilingual. “It means ‘firefighter,’” he says. “It’s honoring the guys at the fire station right across the street.”
Oh, right. But time to see if these little bombs are going to set me on fire. I pick one up, dip it in a pot of chipotle sauce and chomp. It’s picante but in no way over the top. The eight chunks go down fast. A wedge of orange freshens you up.
I have also ordered Art’s “Outrageous” burger wrap, and while I’m waiting, Frank does the rounds with some of those “glowning” onion rings. These are a nice surprise, because they are so sweet and tender. “Tempura batter with hefeweizen,” says Frank, “and we drop the onions in hot, then cold water. That’s why they’re soft and sweet and bite off easily.”
My serving of paella. Not cheap, but totally delish and filling.
But the main event is definitely the burger wrap. It’s basically a bunless bacon burger wrapped in a flour tortilla with lettuce and the usual fixin’s. But, in wrap form, it feels new, unexpected. ’Course, a second glass of black IPA adds to the glow.
By now, the evening’s in celebration mode. Attitude’s creator, Kurt Bach, is giving a speech. “My father accused me of being optimistic. ‘You can sell optimism,’ I said. And I still believe it.” Then Alvaro speaks. Then the Mexican artist who painted all these paintings, Paco. And, turns out, Paco’s sold the painting behind the bar to Art for $4,400. Art for Art’s sake!
Kurt says he has known Paco for 20 years. Kurt lived in Mexico for over 20 years. So the guy’s perfect, in a way, to mastermind a cross-cultural pub here in the Barrio.
And the paella? Fast-forward to Paella Sunday.
“This is not true paella,” says Chef Frank, even as he passes it out. “True paella began in Valencia. Valencia’s inland! Paella started as chicken, snails, rabbit meat on rice. Including shrimp and seafood comes from Americans on vacation asking for it. Now everybody expects seafood.”
It’s not the cheapest: The dish costs $20. But that does include a green salad, tortilla and a drink. The langustas are deliciously garlicky, and there is plenty of chicken.
At the last minute, Frank comes scurrying back. “Saved you the best part. The socarrat. The scrapings.” He dishes out blackened rice from the bottom of the pan. “The rice caramelizes as it starts burning. In Valencia, this is a true paella delicacy. Here too. Every Sunday!”
- The Place: Attitude Brewing Company, 1985 National Avenue, #1115, Barrio Logan, 619-762-0438
- Hours: 11am – 10pm, daily (till 11pm, Saturday, Sunday)
- Prices: Glowing onion rings, $6.95; Iconic Nachos, $13.95; wings (twelve), $12.95; barrio bomberos (jalapeño poppers), $6.95; asada wrap, $11.95; “Intriguing Vegan” wrap, $11.95; Original Cali Club wrap, $9.95; All-American burger, $9.95; “Outrageous” bacon cheese burger wrap, $11.95
- Buses: 12, 901, 929
- Nearest Bus Stops: Logan Ave. and Cesar Chavez (12); National Ave. and Cesar Chavez (901); Main St. and Cesar Chavez (929)
- Trolley: Blue Line
- Nearest Trolley Stop: Barrio Logan Station, Cesar Chavez and Harbor Drive