Chris holds up the temptation: a pint of Bolt beer. But to go only
‘Out! Out! I’m not having my car stunk up with fish and chips!”
Sigh. These Scots. One minute they’re all about how they have the best fish and chips — “shark and taties” — in the wurrrld, next they’re kicking you out of their cars.
1971 India, San Diego
And that’s how come I’m standing on India Street with a polystyrene box of fish and chips, another with a bacon cheese burger in a sea of fries, and this pint of Bolt’s Dan Stouts beer in a dangerously squeezy 16-ounce plastic soup container. Gotta do something before it belches and floods the rest. Now I get a text. “I’m home. Don’t worry. Got plenty of leftovers.”
This is mid-Saturday afternoon. Half an hour ago, Annie and I were trolling India Street for late lunch take out.
The outside counter. No, he’s not drinking that beer
“Not pasta,” said Annie.
“We’re in Little Italy, but no pasta?”
“Pub food,” Annie says. “Something simple.”
On India, at Grape, I spot a pint of beer shining golden in a sunny open window counter. Bolt Brewery. Behind it, the saloon in the gloom looks like a darkened movie set.
So we’re just crossing India as Annie gets a call. “My sister, Scotland,” she whispers. “I’ll been in the car. Burger, anything.”
“Beer and a snack,” says the sign on the Bolt’s countertop. Ooh. So tempting. They also have a sign. “Please do not drink your to-go beer here.”
This guy Chris hands me their one-page menu. Definitely bar food: Starters are the likes of fried zucchini with Parmesan and ranch for $9.95, or six wings for $13.95. So yeah. Little Italy prices here. But they have three sliders for $11.95, with grilled onions and American cheese on Hawaiian buns, so that smells like a deal.
Clint and Molly: back to basics, and loving it
Then the heavies in the burger department: The Bacon Cheese Burger is a half-pounder with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and “Bolt sauce,” whatever that is. Costs $13.95. Or you can upgrade to the “All-American Burger,” which is also a half-pounder, plus bacon, American cheese, onion rings, and BBQ sauce, for $15.99. The bacon-free Bolt Burger is cheaper at $12.95, and a BLT on thick “Texas Toast” goes for $11, and simple grilled cheese on toast is the cheapest at $8.
Oh, and then under “Favorites,” fish and chips, four pieces of cod with the usual fries, cole slaw and tartar sauce. Not bad for $13.95. Or chicken tenders with choice of sauces, including blue cheese, also $13.95. And a Caesar salad (with romaine, parmesan, Caesar dressing, croutons), $11.95.
My bacon and cheeseburger
Chris has his pencil ready to rip. He seems to be manning the post alone until this glam girl in a red face bandanna comes out from the kitchen.
Molly. Wife of the owner.
“Sorry for the wait,” she says, “but we’ve only got one cook, my husband.”
“Working hard?” I ask.
“Well, we’ve both been at it 25 days straight. Ten-twelve hours, since corona began.”
Hmm. Dishes not the cheapest, but I’m spending way less since the lock-down. So I get the fish and chips for Annie, and the bacon cheeseburger for me.
“Won’t be long,” says Molly. “Clint’s cooking. He’s fast.”
Turns out Clint Stromberg started Bolt Brewery back when there were no San Diego breweries. Guy looks too young, hauling out a basket of crinkle fries from the deep fat, with his orange cap on backwards and his star-spangled bandanna. But at age 19, in 1987, he launched Bolt before Stone, before Strauss, before anyone.
Fish and chips. Four pieces and lots of crinkle cuts = enough for two
“I started home brewing when I was like 16,” he says, when he brings the food up in bags. “I couldn’t drink it legally, but I could brew it.”
And pretty soon, Clint and buddies went the whole hog and started selling their beers as Bolt Brewery — named for the Chargers — out of a hole in the wall in Fallbrook.
Oh man, the saga that follows would fill a book. Being buried by the financial meltdown of 1989, years building craft breweries around the world, a return to roots and restarting Bolt Brewery in 2014.
That was in La Mesa. Then he saw this spot. “I had to have it, even though we had spent every dime on the other place. I shoved all the chips into the middle of the table for this one. And it worked out, until five weeks ago. Now, corona, and I’m chief bottle washer and cook again. But you know what, I love it! We both do. It’s like a kind of rebirth.”
Oh, no! Annie. She’ll be sitting in her car. I grab my bags and run the two blocks down. I swing the car door open.
“Ed!” Annie says. “I’m not having that smelling up my car...”
So yeah. Two minutes later, I’m standing alone on the sidewalk with my pile of food, ordering a Lyft. Ten more minutes, I’m back at the ranch (Corona benefit!), and amazingly, the burger’s still hot. I flop down, pig out. It’s a generous one. Big shags of wide, thick, semi-crunchy bacon, red onion rings, and a true half-pound lump of hand-squeezed ground beef. I swear, there’s nothing like a hand-made patty.
And that “Bolt Sauce”? Has to be a kissing cousin of Thousand Island or Ranch. And the Dan Stouts beer? Beeyootiful, and strong. And oh yeah. Dan Stouts, Dan Fouts! Guess I’m not the brightest crayon in the box.
But I’m mostly thinking about Clint. He pioneered what’s now a 6000-employee, $1 billion craft beer industry in San Diego. Why isn’t he known as the Father of San Diego Beer?
One more call. “Hank? Free fish and chips! Still warm. Come and get it!”
- The Place: Bolt Brewery and Eatery, 1971 India Street, Little Italy, 619-917-6082
- Hours (take-out only): 4pm-8pm, Monday-Friday; 12pm-8pm, Saturday, Sunday
- Prices: Beer and parmesan fries, $14.95; fried zucchini, parmesan, ranch, $9.95; wings (6), $13.95; three sliders (grilled onions, cheese), $11.95; Bacon Cheese Burger (half-pounder, cheddar), $13.95; All-American Burger, half-pounder, bacon, American cheese, onion rings, BBQ sauce, $15.99; Bolt Burger (no bacon), $12.95; BLT, $11; grilled cheese on toast, $8; fish and chips (fries, cole slaw, tartar sauce), $13.95; chicken tenders, $13.95; Caesar salad, $11.95
- Bus: 83
- Nearest Bus Stops: (Northbound) India at Cedar; (Southbound) Kettner at Grape
- Trolley: Green Line
- Nearest Trolley Stop: County Center/Little Italy