By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
You wouldn’t know from immediately stepping inside 5th Ave Kitchen & Tap that chef and co-owner, Andrew Boyer, funnels the spirit of his native New Orleans into the establishment.
There are no glittery voodoo skulls peering at you from dark corners and no Mardi Gras beads hanging from decorative wrought iron. The menu, however, is the giveaway. It features the recent additions of jambalaya, catfish and gumbo.
New Orleans staple po’boy sandwiches are also available. (Although they were already on the menu when Boyer opened the place earlier this year.) In fact, the airy French-style rolls he uses for making them are sourced from Leidenheimer Baking Company, which was established in The Crescent City more than 100 years ago.
In addition, the atmosphere will soon be fueled by fans of the New Orleans Saints whenever they play in the upcoming NFL season. The games will be broadcast across 10 flat-screens that dominate the bar and front dining areas, thus raising the allegiance to Boyer’s hometown.
Replete with familiar roll-up windows and a large bar, the space last housed Spitz, and Doghouse Bar & Grill before that. It came with a full liquor license and a spacious back patio. Both have played to Boyer’s advantage since he took over the address, which followed a 10-year stint working as chef and general manager for Carver’s Steaks & Chops in Rancho Bernardo.
His cocktail list offers perky temptations such as “lime in the coconut” made with coconut vodka, lemonade and soda water. There’s also a spicy mezcal mule accented with cayenne pepper, plus a variety of botanical cocktails flavored with orange blossoms, cucumbers and roses. Craft beer lovers get to choose from 16 taps.
The dog-friendly patio has become a profitable draw. Almost equal in size to the main dining room, it serves as a venue for fashion shows and weddings, as well as meetings by the San Diego Young Democrats, the ACLU, and the Bankers Hill Business Association.
I visited with a carnivore in tow on a Thursday night, when prime rib dinners are available from 5 p.m. until closing. For $15, you get a 12-ounce slab of the slow-roasted meat accompanied by mild horseradish sauce plus a vegetable and a starch. It’s a deal you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
Fortunately, I was told about it ahead of time because we didn’t see any signage promoting the meal. Nor were we informed about it by our server, who doubled that night as the bartender.
On this evening, the plate featured a pleasing salad of mixed lettuces, and fried potatoes tucked under the steak, which gave the spuds extra flavor as they absorbed the juices. A steak knife wasn’t needed (or ever brought to us), as the medium-rare meat cut easily with our butter knives.
Like the prime rib, meats such as brisket and barbecue pork ribs are roasted in-house. And bacon is cured onsite.
Boyer also cranks out meatballs that rival those in trendy Italian-owned restaurants. (Sorry Maestoso, but yours can’t hold a flame to these.) Served two to an order as an appetizer, and with a toasted slice of garlic-kissed Leidenheimer bread, the orbs are moist from ricotta cheese that’s folded into the meat mix. They’re also braised all day in tomato sauce, which is key for achieving memorable texture.
We had kicked off the meal with a shareable roasted beet salad dressed judiciously in pesto vinaigrette. The veggies tasted garden-fresh, the feta crumbles were creamy, and the candied walnuts weren’t overly cloying — a comforting summer medley by any standard.
For my main course, I was initially lured by the selection of internationally inspired burgers, which include the banh mi with pickled veggies; the Argentina consisting of house-made Spanish sausage and chimichurri sauce; and the Cajun combining crawfish and Cajun sausage.
But I was hell bent on a shrimp po’ boy.
Without regret, my teeth glided through the lightweight French roll and into scads of fried, breaded shrimp. Mixed within were the usual po’boy essentials: shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, pickles and zesty remoulade. Substantial in girth, half of it came home with me.
Other po’boy choices include chicken, meatball, brisket and rib eye.
The dessert list features white-chocolate bread pudding, bananas foster and peach crumble. We chose the latter. If high doses of cinnamon float your boat, as it did ours, this loose version of cobbler with vanilla ice cream on top won’t disappoint.
Service at 5th Ave Kitchen & Tap is very casual — it’s a seat-yourself kind of place boasting all the trappings of a San Diego sports bar, but with food and drinks that will probably exceed your expectations in quality.
— 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.