The new muffaletta sandwich being served at J & Tony’s
631 Ninth Ave, San Diego
When I grab a seat at the counter, the first question I’m asked is whether I’d like any parmesan to snack on. The correct answer to that question is always yes. It’s especially so when the half wheel of cheese sitting on the counter is imported, straight outta Parma.
Gently cooked tuna belly in a tin of olive oil
It's a fitting welcome to J & Tony’s Discount Cured Meats And Negroni Warehouse, the aperitivo bar slash sandwich counter that prolific restaurant group CH Projects recently opened in the East Village. It shares the same the Ninth Avenue real estate where its Modern Times branded coffee shop, The Invigatorium, opened this summer. It’s higher than I care to count, but I have to assume this place offers the highest syllables-per-address ratio of any business downtown.
Chicken pâté served in a jar with schmaltz and balsamic reduction
The building serves as the CH Projects headquarters, where the creative minds behind the hospitality business plot the course of its dozen-plus restaurants and bars, such as Ironside Fish & Oyster, Craft & Commerce, and Polite Provisions. Those minds would include a couple of CH partners: chef Jason McLeod and beverage director Anthony Schmidt, a.k.a. the J and Tony seen in sketch artist caricature on the shop’s menus and sandwich wrappers.
A sandwich wrapped up with J & Tony caricatures
The dudes themselves pop in and out from offices in the back and upstairs, as do their colleagues, and the impression I’m given is that this casual food and bar set-up was designed to provide the sort of quick eats they and other chefs, bartenders, and service industry pros might want to grab before or between shifts. Kind of like North Park’s The Friendly does with pizza and burgers, except here they opt for high brow, with house cured meats and imported sundries.
A shiny Ronald McDonald ready to make a move
Like that complimentary parm. Or a tin of tuna belly, poached and swimming in olive oil, so tender it’s rendered virtually spreadable on accompanying slices of bread. Imported from Spain, it’s served in its own tin for $15, along with alternative options including sardines ($10), mussels ($11), or squid in its own ink ($13). As canned fish goes, it’s maybe the best I’ve ever had. As fifteen dollar snacks go, I’ve already repeated.
A golden storefront for the CH Projects headquarters
Should you prefer your snacks house-made and served in small jars, opt instead for the artichoke tapenade ($5), or the chicken pâté, topped with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) and a balsamic glaze, and served with a side of fig jam ($6). They’re quick, casual, light meals one can take with or without a negroni or amari cocktail, served with large ice cubes cut by hand with a very sharp knife ($10-12).
Aperitivo bar and sandwich counter
You will likewise find quick salads and sandwiches, dine in or take out ($6-9). Both menus have been shuffled in the early going, but most recently I spotted kale, celery, and brussels sprouts-based salads, with hot and cold sandwiches incorporated a mix of house cured and outsourced meats. You’ll find the house wagyu pepperoni on a light pizza ($10), Italian sub, and as a snack of pepperoni sticks ($2), whereas the prosciutto is country ham, I’m told, raised in Virginia and cured in North Carolina. It’s gloriously fatty, salty, and silky in texture, best experienced on a simple sandwich with creamy, cultured butter and that uber umami parmesan.
One of the newer sandwiches I’ve tried is Big Momma Chiara’s Muffaletta: a combo of salami and mortadella with provolone, roasted red peppers, and its namesake chopped olive spread, served on focaccia ($8). It’s been my favorite of the sandwiches so far, but I can’t see anyone going wrong with various ham, roast beef, and turkey sandwich offerings.
Of course, because this is a CH Projects business (co-branded with Modern Times), you may count on a gleefully over the top decorative experience, which include a gold veneer storefront and a sparkling Ronald McDonald statue, sitting in a position of come hither creep on a vintage leather tuxedo sofa. However, for my money, the best contribution to this eatery’s atmosphere is the vintage record player and vinyl collection. Rather than the now trite and generic digital streaming playlists most restaurants rely upon these days, at J & Tony’s, you’ll be treated to one or both sides of a classic album. It’s enough to make a person want to nurse your cocktail and parmesan and hang out all day.