A better cheesesteak for East Village beer drinkers
There’s an unavoidable sense of déjà vu as I sit at the bar, steadily chomping my way through a cheesesteak, intermittently washing it down with a local craft beer. Part of that feeling is driven by convenience — though this East Village spot, Bottle Rocket, opened just two months ago, it’s a short walk from my pad, so this cheesesteak scenario has already played itself out on multiple occasions.
807 16th St, San Diego
But more than that, I’ve been enjoying beers and cheesesteaks here for years. Until about 18 months ago, this place was a brewery, Monkey Paw Brewing, counted for a time among the city’s finest. Along with a wide assortment of house beers, Monkey Paw could be relied upon to offer a terrific guest beers, and to serve a slew of cheesesteaks out of its tiny kitchen. Though the Monkey Paw brand may have been swallowed up by history, the people behind Bottle Rocket are familiar with the attachment some of us had. So, while the many taps of beer remain, so too, do the cheesesteaks.
The right size burger for a bar
It's a tough act to follow, so no big surprise that the beer selection has degraded just a bit — I consistently see a glut of hazy IPAs (I’m not the only one who thinks so) and there are too many ho hum out of town brands taking up tap handles in this San Diego beer fan’s opinion. But, since we’re being honest here, the cheesesteaks have gotten better, and that’s the real reason behind my repeat visits.
A Nashville hot, but could be hotter, chicken sandwich
The $10 cheesesteaks include American cheese melted over grilled onions, peppers, mushrooms, and a choice of beef, chicken, or Beyond fake beef. While the latter was fun to try for curiosity’s sake, the actual steak cheesesteak is the winner here: I’m liking it better than most of the Philly purist shops in town.
Chunky $6 deep fried pickles hit just right.
Another regional specialty Bottle Rocket has taken on is the Nashville hot chicken sandwich: fried chicken with a spicy glaze served with sliced pickles, on a potato bun. It’s a solid fried chicken sandwich, and though they’ve been making it a little spicier since I first tried it, I still plan to push for a little more heat. Perhaps all these hazy IPA drinkers can’t handle the extra heat any more than they can the bitterness of a proper west coast IPA, but some of us like to live, damn it!
Playful murals add to the new look in a familiar space.
While the food game has stepped up, this place is still more bar than restaurant, and the backroom space that used to house brewing equipment has been tapped to become a game room, which should make this a fun group destination regardless whether the Padres are in town. So shareable bar snacks on the menu deserve a look. I haven’t been able to talk arteries into taking a chance on the “awesome sticks,” which are thick, battered and fried slices of bacon dusted with powdered sugar (six for $8). However, the chunky $6 deep fried pickles hit just right.
Arguably the best bar snack on the menu is the $6 burger. Also served on a potato bun, this small burger is never going to fill you up, but it’s nearly as tasty as the cheesesteak, and the perfect size for a happy hour snack to accompany a pint or two.