I’m kind of a foodie, well, in the sense that I love food and like being linked to trendy words or terms. (If you call me a ‘hipster’ I’ll probably high-five you while throwing out a “YOLO!” your way). And then there’s baseball, America’s pastime, and another personal favorite of mine. Okay okay, I’m getting to the point of all this. Recently, San Diego’s East Village neighborhood got a new watering hole courtesy of Good Time Design and Chef Rich Sweeney. As luck would have it, it combined two of my loves: food and baseball.
Situated in the old El Vitral building, Southpaw Social Club is a new Southern barrelhouse and eatery paying homage to the baseball days of yore. Naturally, I was excited to check it out and took a friend along to explore the menu and atmosphere. Walking up to Southpaw is impressive in itself, the exposed brick building gives off an East Coast vibe, but with a little bit of that Southern-California-chill feeling. Inside, historical bricks, distressed woods, industrial-aged steel, hanging star-shaped light bulbs and lacquered sawdust flooring make up the rustic restaurant. Outdoors the patio is filled with tables and benches as well as lounge chairs a firepit for an easy socializing setting.
We sat outside with a perfect view of Petco Park and while it was crowded, we could easily hear the live music in the main dining room. (Live music typically heightens my opinion of any place). Starting off with a glass of red wine each, we discussed the ambiance and prime views of baseball men fans. The eatery has a good selection of cocktails, wines, craft beers and brews that change often to keep up with the seasons.
Here’s the concept of Southpaw, it’s all about sharing. A self-proclaimed “fat kid,” Top Chef contestant and Executive Consulting Chef Rich Sweeney wanted to create an American-style menu that was unpretentious, one that would evoke interaction, conversations and reduce “food envy.” You know the feeling, you decidedly order a meal and think you’ve done well (maybe even pat yourself on the back) and then it happens, your companion’s meal comes out looking so much better than yours — food envy.
Sweeney knew this feeling all too well, and so his menu — while not tapas — was formed to be shared among diners. Everyone wins when sharing is involved. My friend, a small woman in stature, may possibly out-eat even the hungriest eater; so we were stoked to be enjoying three separate appetizer platters to start. Our food flights consisted of the Hummus, Veggies and Olives dish; Veggies, Cheese & Nuts ensemble and my favorite, the Meat, Cheese & Pickles platter. All were incredibly tasty and fresh, with just the right amount of food for an appetizer.
Following a Justin Beiber cover by the night’s musician, we were brought our flatbread pizzas. Thin, light and topped with a variety of toppings, they were no joke. The Fig & Pig was dressed in bacon, gruyere, fig, baby arugula, caramelized fennel, onions and honey balsamic. This year, TripAdvisor members gave San Diego the award for the nation’s best pizza. Yeah, we thought that was crazy too. But maybe those voters were eating at Southpaw? While we may be hesitant to claim that title, I’ll go ahead and say that as far as melt-in-your-mouth flatbreads go, Southpaw definitely won me over.
A cheeky Sweeney described our main course, throwing in jokes about his physique and allowing his cheery disposition to take center stage. Hangar Steak and Upstream Salmon were up next and thankfully we still had room to dig in. For dessert there are two options, cobbler or bread pudding (it’s as if Sweeney knows everything about me!). This was by far the best part of the evening, the bread pudding was moist, flavorful, topped with vanilla ice cream and, with a little Maker’s Mark in the recipe, how could this dish go wrong? Exactly, it couldn't and didn't.
While San Diego has a surplus of cool/trendy establishments scattered throughout its sunny locale, they can at times get lost in the mix. But stepping inside of Southpaw felt comfortable, like a new friend that somehow felt like an old friend. Game day or not, you’ll find me there from now on; so a friendly “Hey, hipster!” when you spot me, wouldn’t hurt.