Poutine, fries, gravy, curds, with $4 brisket add. Worth the $4.
“It’s pandemic Armageddon, downtown,” says Jess. She’s the general manager here. She’s just brought out my poutine. “We’re hanging on by our fingernails.”
1065 Fourth Avenue, San Diego
Armageddon? She’s talking about the number of homeless people who come by, in a time when customers have to be outside. Jess feels for them, but, specially with new kinds of covid flying around, they make it difficult to take your mask off while you eat.
Jess Cox, manager holding it together in these hardest times, with my poutine.
Because this is the lone spot open, from what I can see, in this north-of-Broadway section of downtown. The fact it’s open is a little miracle.
I heard them before I saw them. Cheerful ladies behind the bar, joshing away as they serve up beer and food. With the sun slanting strong down 4th Avenue, it was hard to see what was going on inside. But with all the laughs, I was already getting a good vibe. Here, outside on their patio, opposite the U.S. Grant Hotel’s Grant Grill (shuttered, natch), three or four people sit up to tall tables on the sidewalk patio, and sip ales. This is on the “uncool” side of Broadway, up where the trolley is. Although, maybe it’s cooler than the Gaslamp side right now. I haven’t been across, but I’m guessing they’re hurting as much as anybody. With the conventioneers so absent it’s like “What if they had a war and nobody came?”
So the fact these guys are open, I mean I’m guessing, but what with “no restaurant dining” orders still up (at least this time last week), for places who are serving food anyway, we’re looking at “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” right?
Pre-lunch beers. Table was made from building’s century-old rafters.
“It’s our protest patio,” says Jess. “Our peaceful protest patio. We have lost 80 percent of our business. All the offices we used to depend on, empty! We have 16 TVs, we’re a [Green Bay] Packer bar. None of that is happening. We have to do business to stay open.”
The deal is they sell you an order of food, and if you happen to start eating it at a table on the sidewalk outside, they’re not going to object.
“We came over from Little Italy to support these guys,” says Kate. She’s sipping a beer with her buddies Laura and Megan. They’re sitting out in the sun, waiting for their orders.
I hear a lot of that, people coming to help keep struggling establishments afloat.
I see Jess, always with a weather eye on passing foot traffic. She quietly sends off a couple of guys with supermarket trolleys.
Laura’s chicken enchiladas
“We’ve been here 18 years,” she says. “Since the pandemic, the homeless problem’s way worse. But we do have the Downtown Partnership’s ‘Clean and Safe’ people. They patrol downtown on their bikes. They’re always around to move people on if they have to.”
I decide I’d better make this brunch, if only because there ain’t great choice besides 7-Elevens out there anyway. And you can see, these guys are really trying.
So I get a Bud Light draft ($7), and start looking at the chalk wall menu. Prices are pretty typical pub. Like, just be prepared to pay $15 for anything. Okay, staples like buffalo cauliflower (meatless florets with buffalo wing sauce, blue cheese crumbles, and blue cheese dressing) go for $12, pretzel balls with a kind of fondue melted-cheese dipper, $13. But a rosemary mac’n cheese with bacon crumbles runs $15, ahi poke bowl with rice is $14, “Big Ass” Nachos, with black beans, guac, sour cream, run $14. If you want to pay $4 more, they’ll add chicken, brisket, or skirt steak.
Jess brings out the food for the ladies at the table next door. Laura gets the chicken enchiladas ($15), Kate’s got fish tacos (tempura-fried mahi-mahi, $14), and Megan’s trying the blackened shrimp burrito (with jalapeño white sauce, cheese, black beans, rice. Looks delish. Costs $14).
On the other hand, that Canadian favorite, poutine, is maybe the best deal at $11. (Or add skirt steak for $4.) I mean, fries in gravy, can’t go wrong.
That’s what I go for. For starters, it brings back memories of a crazy Stanley Cup Final night at Stout, the hockey fanatics’ pub one block east. I guess because poutine’s a Canadian thing, everybody, even the Russians and Icelanders and Norwegians and Finns who were there that night, were eating it between gulps of Molson or Bella Ciao Devil’s Hole, a Quebec beer.
Have to say, I love this stuff, the way you love mashed potato. And the brisket is truly tender.
I mean, okay, you don’t hear a lot about Canadian cuisine. Up there, they just want chow that thaws you out as the ice falls off your eyebrows. But poutine does have its secret weapon: real cheese curds.
They add a salty, lemony, maybe yogurty thing to the mix of gravy and fries. Curds are just young cheddar that hasn’t been aged. Up in Manitoba, it’s definitely a thing, and these definitely make for good, hot nosh on such a cold San Diego day.
I look around. This is a historic building. They have exposed the century-old wooden skeleton of the building. “When we took out the ceiling rafters, we turned them into these tables and stools,” Jess says.
Huh. Tables from the gables!
“Are you going to make it through all this?” I ask her. Because seeing her on the covid front line like this, you worry.
“If we do, it will be because of our local customers,” she says. “They make sure they come for takeout. They are wonderful. We’ve had the same owners for 18 years. Same with our cooks, Rico Martinez and Carlos Ramirez. They have been with us since the start. They’re the heroes.”
Beer’s great, but next time, think I’ll try the stouts they brew from their own brewery right here. Resident Brewing. Dark beer for a cold season.
And next time, I’ll come earlier, while the sun’s still slanting down 4th.
- The Place: The Local, 1065 4th Avenue, downtown, 619-231-4447
- Prices: Buffalo cauliflower (meatless florets with buffalo wing sauce, blue cheese crumbles, and blue cheese dressing), $12; pretzel balls and beer cheese, $13; rosemary mac’n cheese, $15; ahi poke bowl with rice, $14; Big Ass Nachos (with black beans, guac, sour cream), $14; add chicken, brisket, or skirt steak, $4; chicken enchiladas, $15; fish tacos (tempura-fried mahi-mahi), $14; blackened shrimp burrito (with jalapeño white sauce, cheese, black beans, rice.), $14); poutine, $11 (add skirt steak for $4)
- Buses: All downtown
- Trolleys: Blue Line, Orange Line
- Nearest Trolley Stop: Fifth Avenue