Thursday, May 9, 2013

Coronado Brewing, Family Fun!

I realize that many people don’t leap to a brewery or brewpub when they need a family-friendly restaurant, but I think that’s a mistake.  It’s not all beer-drinking and drunkenness.  In fact, I have been in very few where beer was the only focus.  However, I have been in a few where beer was just the trendy gimmick.  Coronado Brewing Company in San Diego does not brew as a gimmick, nor just for drinking.  They have created a restaurant that really is family-friendly serving quality meals, excellent beers, with an atmosphere and service to make you come back.

We stopped by on a weekday evening around 7pm only to find the place mobbed and a 30-minute wait for a table.  Fortunately, CBC is in a lively part of town with lots of people coming and going.  People watching can help the time pass quickly.  And it turns out that Tuesday nights are kids' night and they eat virtually free.   Better yet, on this night there was a roving balloon clown.  Well, not really a clown.  He was dressed like a server, but had a giant tool belt loaded with tools and balloons.  He worked for tips only making some of the most outrageous, complex balloon “animals” I have ever seen.  And he did them at light-speed.  It was incredible!  Our 30-minutes flew by and the kids got a couple balloon friends to come along for dinner.

Service was excellent from the start.  Any time we eat in a new restaurant we need to ask about nuts; our son has a nut allergy that could be life-threatening.  Our server, Matthew, knew immediately what we were talking about and why.  He reassured us that CBC is nut free with the exception of desserts which come from elsewhere, but then he offered to double check with the chef to be sure.  He returned quickly and cheerfully to reassure us – no nut allergy problems here.  In fact, he did everything at light speed with a smile.  He looked after every table in his area this way, flying from table to table, giving everyone his undivided attention with cheer.  

We got our drink orders in, which of course included beers for my wife and I.  Their IPAs, both the Islander and the Idiot were excellent.  Wish I could have had more than one, but at 7% and 8% ABV, you’re gonna feel this, particularly if you’re already drowsy.  Our food arrived just as the crayons and coloring were completed by the kids.  Mac and Cheese, Penne with marinara and some Caesar salad for the kids, an Ahi sandwich and Fish and Chips for the adults.  I think the Mac and Cheese came from a blue box, but then that’s what makes the kids happy, right?  The Fish and Chips were delicious, crisp and a little slice of England for me.  If only they had been served on newsprint with mushy peas.  The Ahi was cooked just right – just slightly pink in the middle and was apparently delicious; it was consumed with such gusto I didn’t get a bite!  Matthew stopped by a couple times to make sure it was all great – and it was.

We were having such a great time on our vacation we figured we had to get dessert.  A gigantic bowl of ice cream for only $4.95 pleased us all.  And this entire meal can be yours for $10 less than hot dogs, sodas and fries at Legoland.  Seriously…this entire meal was under $50.  Wrap your brain around that…great service, delicious food and drink for four in a major American city over spring break for under $50!

Coronado Brewing Company, you’re doing something right.   Now it’s your turn.  Get there for a beer and dinner – with the kids!      

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Carnitas Snack Shack - Carnivores' Dream

The Carnitas Snack Shack has quickly become one of the cool, hip places for carnivores in North Park, San Diego.  My wife surprised me with an impromptu stop a few weeks ago, and we were met by a long line and a longer wait.  I say that not as a point of criticism, but warning.  This place is great.  In fact, I want to live within walking distance so I can place an order, do some errands and walk over.  I will happily wait in that line, grab a beer, sit on their inviting patio and wait.  When my food pops up I will just grab another beer.  
Wait…I am supposed to explain the place before revealing my review.  Sorry, got excited.

So anticipate a line, and it won’t move fast.  That’s ok.  You will need the time to check out the menu which changes all the time.  In fact, just to make your mouth water, join them on Facebook.  They often post pictures of their menu and it’s enough to make a pork lover weep.  When you reach the little window you will likely be greeted with cheer.  Order a drink and get that part rolling.  Great selection of beers, by the way.  I ordered something from Green Flash or Stone, as one should do in San Diego.  But what to eat amongst all this deliciousness?!  I asked for the seared, chili-glazed pork belly with frisee and some fries with bacon ketchup.  You’re drooling now, aren’t you?  Then I waited.  And waited.  Waited some more.  Enjoyed the patio.  Talked to some regulars who assured me the wait was well worth it.  Fortunately the patio seems to invite conversations amongst patrons and the time passes quickly.  But once my food arrived in a paper bag I could not wait.  The fries were crisp and hot.  The ketchup had a tanginess mixed with smoky bacon that was really nice.  The frisee was dressed with a very acidic dressing that cut the fattiness of the pork belly beautifully.  And that pork belly….wow.  Tender, flavorful, mmmmm…like butter, but better.  This was porkiliciousness at its finest.  It is not a large piece.  You don’t need that!  But it was just right.  And the balance of fat and acid…I know this is what Aristotle meant when he discussed the Golden Mean…right?  

I wish I had the room and the time to try more, but I will be back.  And when I return I hope they have chilaquiles and that Triple Threat Pork Sandwich.  I saw one of those, and I think it looked so good, so delicious, I blushed.   

Get over to the Snack Shack.  Look for the pig on the roof and the line on the sidewalk.      

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Panificio E Ristorante Solunto? Now Panetteria

One Saturday we wandered down to San Diego’s Little Italy and its wonderful farmers’ market.  What a great and diverse event.  If in San Diego on a Saturday I must recommend you wander up and down, taking in the sounds and aromas, try a sample here and there and see what you want to take home to cook with.  But when you are done grab a bite for lunch at the former Panificio E Ristorante Solunto, now Panetteria, on India Street.  You can’t miss it; it’s brightly painted a yellowish orange and has tables out on the sidewalk.  You will be greeted by a true Italian who will likely invite you to sit where you like, order what you like and take as much time as you like.  Apparently the old place, Panificio E Ristorante Solunto, was quite beloved.  However, little seems to have changed and under a new name, it will continue to please.    
Photo from
We had a simple lunch.  We shared a plate of calamari fritti and bruschetta (and as we all have our ‘things,’ please say ‘brus-ketta’ and not, ‘bru-shetta.’) a great salad with a light, bright, citrusy dressing.  The food was delicious, fresh, flavorful and simply perfect for a sunny afternoon.  Service was authentically Italian – kind, leisurely and informal, charming and enthusiastic about every food in the place.  The special attraction at Panetteria is the pastry and cookie selection.  We sampled at least five different ones, and they we were exquisite.  Finished off with cappuccino and espresso, and we felt as though we had stroll back through Tuscany to get to the car.  And all that Italian joy for under $40! 

In the San Diego area?…Make a Saturday of it…. andiamo!