Surf & Soul Spot's new location on El Cajon Boulevard at the border of La Mesa
The first time I ate at Surf & Soul Spot, it was operating as a pop-up restaurant, serving fried fish and soul food select days per week at a church banquet hall in the southeast neighborhood of Mountain View. I knew it was only a matter of time before Surf & Soul would find its own place, and at the end of 2019 it happened.
7229 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego
I made plans a couple months ago to visit its new location, a small stand-alone kitchen on the western outskirts of La Mesa (7229 El Cajon Boulevard). The folk working the ad hoc restaurant had been a joyful and joking bunch, but being in a sublet church hall had meant Surf & Soul ownership couldn’t do anything to personalize the space. As much as anything, I was curious to see how it might decorate its own dedicated dining room.
Of course, events transpired to derail my visit, and when I finally made it back to pick up some take out, I found the new place fully locked down in deference to coronavirus: everyone in masks and gloves, with a table blocking the front door. My bagged order, paid over the phone via credit card, was passed across that table by the young woman working, and even if I couldn’t see the smile behind her mask, I swear I could hear it.
Surf & Soul Spot's fish hook sandwich, with fried catfish
I could only peek through the windows to see into the pristine little counter shop, and its large painted waves breaking across the walls. Also on the wall is a framed Eastern Michigan jersey of Sergio Bailey II. Bailey was a star wide receiver at Olympian High School in Chula Vista before racking up 16 touchdowns and 114 receptions in two years for Michigan. The past two years he’s pursued football at the pro level in both the NFL and XFL.
He’s the entrepreneur behind Surf & Soul Spot, which acts as two different restaurants depending which day of the week you visit. On Friday and Saturday, think of it as the Soul Spot, serving up big portions of fried pork chops and chicken wings, along with sides of mac & cheese, rice & gravy, and smoked turkey collard greens.
Those sides aren’t available Monday through Wednesday, when it goes full Surf Spot, dishing up $15 baskets of fried catfish or shrimp (or those fried chicken wings). It’s the rare restaurant that makes me wish I could eat shrimp: first, to try its blackened shrimp and crab roll ($16); and even more so to enjoy its popcorn shrimp and grits with smoked turkey gravy ($14).
That sounds so good, I might have to ignore my shellfish allergy to return one of these days with an epi-pen and just live dangerously. This time around I settled for a safer bet: the fish hook sandwich ($12), featuring some of that fried catfish with slaw and garlic remoulade, plus a side of fries.
I would have enjoyed the catfish better with some of those soul food side dishes, so I’ll probably stick mostly to soul days in the future. But for those who love eating shrimp, I don’t know what to think. I guess you’ll have to eat at Surf & Soul Spot twice a week.