Quinn. No worries.
We’re at the source here. Where it all began.
This is Home Brew Mart, Ballast Point’s original outlet in Morena-Linda Vista, right under the University of San Diego, that Catholic campus on a massif that makes you think of Masada in Israel. The strip mall is called “The Presidio,” and it’s where Ballast opened for biz in 1992. And where their brewery opened in 1996.
5401 Linda Vista Road, San Diego
Not only that, but it turns out yesterday (and this was last week), was their first day to open the doors of their Home Brew Mart tasting rooms since Corona (virus, not beer) hit.
A recent development: now, they’re serving whatever interesting beers they want. They don’t have to “run them by Corporate” at Constellation Brands, the behemoth that Ballast Point left for its new, way smaller owners, Kings and Convicts.
Chicken lettuce wrap: healthiest Thai alternative.
I’m finding this out from Quinn, who’s waiting for me to make up my mind about which beer to order from their groaning list.
I have a zillion questions to ask about how come Ballast left the big boys, but my main question right now is, “Do you have food here?”
“No,” says Quinn. “But you can bring it in, no problem.”
Huh. Maybe not a bad idea. But first I’ve gotta have a slurp of something. “I’m thinking IPA or stout,” I say.
Hmm. He’s pointing out porters: Black Marlin, Mocha Marlin, Victory At Sea double coffee, raspberry cocoa Victory At Sea. On and on. But the one I go for is this strange, Indian-sounding one, Indra Kunindra.
And boy, can’t say they don’t warn you. Whiffs precede the actual grog. Curry and more curry. Quinn also mentions coconut, kaffir lime leaves, cumin, and hey, cayenne peppers. Wow. This has to be the first beer I’ve had that actually burns you like an level eight Indian curry.
“Think I know where I’m going to get food,” I say as I hand over the $5.50 for this half-pint.
“I’ll keep it safe,” says Quinn.
Drunken noodles. And no, chopsticks are not a Thai thing.
I head out for a touch of hunting and gathering. Natch, the strip mall has a Domino’s, a Mexican, a donut shop, and an Italian joint. Really though, no contest. If I want food that fits Indra Kunindra, it’s gotta be Thai. So I drop into J&T Thai Street Food.
It’s still take-out only here. The sign upfront says to stay six feet apart, so I’m too far away to read the wall menu. Luckily, I can capture that squiggly square and so manage to read it on my iPad. Chicken soup’s $3.50, calamari soup’s $4.50. J&T Spicy noodle soup ($8.75 for chicken, $9.75 for beef) is three stars hot. Grilled salmon with curried rice is top dollar at $11.75.
Then I see it: Pad kee mao. Drunken noodles, $8.75. Oh man. Flashback! Lost youth! Bangkok. End of a long night working radio with my friend Ithiwat. To Petchburi Road and its all-night garden cafes. Lots of beers, lots of Thai bands, rock bands, upcountry luk thung bands. And after a couple of hours, we just had to have something to soak up all that booze. “Pad kee mao!” we’d yell. “Pad kee mao!” “Drunken noodles!” “Mao” is “drunk.”
Giovanni’s salad’s a $10 meal.
The idea of drunken noodles was to soak up your Singha beer and Mekhong whisky and thus sober you up enough to keep going all night long. You could get these noodles anytime, any place on the street. But specially here in these famous beer gardens. And guess what? I spot them today, on J&T’s menu, and delight in the promise of those nice, wide, floppy, rice noodles in a spicy gravy sauce. Their sign says this is a place for “Thai Street Food,” and it sure looks like they’re coming through. Turn’s out “J&T” are the founders, Jit and Tom.
“Uh, yes, I’ll take the pad kee mao,” I say. It costs $8.75, with chicken. (What I like about this place: appetizers are all standardized to $5.50, and entrees like yellow or red curry or pad kee mao, are all $8.75, unless you go for more expensive meats.) The rest of my pad kee mao is basically steamed veggies like bok choy in this kind of gravy sauce, and those big, wide, spicy (I asked for an “8” on the spicy scale), sloppy noodles.
Of course, on the way back to Ballast, I have to ruin everything by spotting another temptation: the menu at Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant. Because, turns out, Giovanni’s does Thai too. A salad. Also to-go only. It’s a big square box loaded with mixed greens, peanuts, green onions, carrots, and the great Thai thing of grilled limes and Thai peanut dressing. Costs me $10.
So I haul all this back to the table at Ballast. “Oh wow,” says Quinn. “You on a diet?”
“I should be,” I say. I take a slurp of Indra Kunindra, then tuck into my drunken noodles.
Oh yeah. Goes perfectly with the Indra Kunindra. All that curry taste!
“We’re so much happier now,” says Quinn. “Those other people were inching us towards middle-of-the-road. ‘Acceptable’ beer. That’s not who we are.”
I open my Giovanni’s salad. OK, yes, it is a little middle-of-the-road. But once you splot some hot sauce, squeeze those grilled lime halves, and empty out the peanut sauce, you appreciate Giovanni’s is reaching out to offer something new.
I have to work, or I’d definitely be soaking up more of this Indra Kunindra. But I will be back, both for the Thai street food and the beer.
- The Place: Home Brew Mart (Ballast Point tasting room), 5401 Linda Vista Road, Suite 406, 619-295-2337
- Hours: 11am-6pm, daily
- The Place: J&T Thai Street Food, 5259 Linda Vista Road, 619-294-7500
- Prices: Chicken satay, $5.50; lettuce wrap chicken, $5.50; garlic short rib, $5.50; pad Thai (with chicken), $8.75; Panang curry, $.8.75: pad kee mao (drunken noodle), $8.75; pad prick king pork, $8.75; duck noodle soup, $9.75
- Buses: 44, 105
- Nearest Bus Stops: Linda Vista Road and Mildred Street (44); Morena Boulevard and Napa Street (105 northbound); Morena Blvd and Sherman (105, southbound)
- Trolley: Green Line
- Nearest Trolley Stop: Morena/Linda Vista