By Frank Sabatini Jr.
In one of the most remarkable property transformations North Park has seen in a while, local designer Michael Soriano performed cosmetic surgery on what used to be Eddie’s Philadelphia Steaks, Hoagies and Burgers, and left it beautifully unrecognizable as Dunedin North Park.
Dunedin (pronounced dun-EE-din) is part of a portfolio of San Diego restaurants containing names of New Zealand cities, such as Queenstown
Public House in Little Italy and Raglan Public House in Ocean Beach. They’re run by the same set of owners who operate Bare Back Grill in Pacific Beach.
Soriano bestowed his whimsically earthy touches on those establishments as well, not to mention places like Pearl Hotel in Point Loma, Vin de Syrah in the Gaslamp Quarter, and others around town.
For Dunedin, which was long ago a Craftsman-style home, he partially surrounded the structure with lumber poles, expanded the front and side porches, and accented the windows with solid wood framing.
Inside, an inviting central bar was added; faux red corral hangs from an angled ceiling insulated with Levi fabric; and a wall of sculpted wood resembling a sand barrier ties together the Maori-inspired theme. The layout feels double the size compared to when it was Eddie’s.
Dunedin and its related restaurants is where you partake in lamb or grass-fed beef burgers — the latter crowned in New Zealand tradition with creamy Edam cheese. Most of the menu items take their cues from that country, but reveal enough Southern California spins to make them ours.
From the starters list, my companion gravitated to the anchovy toast, which offered a refreshing break from ubiquitous avocado toast. The crostini were topped with roasted tomatoes, red bell peppers, burrata (young mozzarella) and thin slivers of anchovies that tasted fresh rather than salt-cured.
Turkey chili fortified with small white beans, cheese, jalapenos and onions was especially warming as we swiped the accompanying tortilla chips through it.
Our meal took a tropical turn with a salad of grilled shrimp and pineapple that unleashed a stunning interplay of sweet, grassy and spicy flavors from the additions of arugula, sautéed red peppers, and peri peri sauce used for cooking the butter-flied shrimp. It’s the best salad I’ve eaten in months.
The burger choices extend to New Zealand elk, grilled swordfish, flank steak, bratwurst and a few others.
We ordered two: the grass-fed beef with bacon, avocado and Edam cheese (named “hogs & heffers”) and the wild boar burger mantled with mozzarella, roasted peppers, pesto aioli and fresh basil.
In both cases, the flavors of patties were dependant on their garnishes, as we felt the meats were under-seasoned. When isolated from their fixings, the wild boar actually offered a bit more verve in terms of natural gaminess. The beef, however, cried for salt and pepper.
Conversely, the lamb burger I tried at Queenstown Public House earlier this year, garnished the same as here with mint jelly, blue cheese and beets, was stellar because the meat steered the overall flavor profile. I suspect the elk burger would perform similarly.
A la carte fries are listed as “skinny,” “sweet,” “fatty” and “portabella.” We chose the fatty steak-cut version dusted pleasantly in Old Bay Seasoning. They were generously portioned and came with creamy wasabi and red pepper dipping sauces that vanished quickly.
Dunedin’s booze list consists of beer and wine, plus beer and Champagne cocktails. There’s also an ambitious selection of sangrias, such as the cabernet-based clericot distinguished by a lively bouquet of cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, grapes and pomegranate. It tasted like I always wish sangria would taste, but rarely does when I’ve ordered it in other places.
Adding to Dunedin’s super-comfortable vibe is an upbeat staff and a crisp sound system that was playing modern indie-pop during our visit. The establishment is a cozy boon to the neighborhood, and one that prompts you to eat, drink and linger.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.