By Frank Sabatini Jr.
This summer the former S&M Sausage and Meat turned into a serious drinking establishment under the Trust Restaurant Group. It’s now Hundred Proof, where you can surf with your mouth wide open through a hefty inventory of whiskey while hopscotching between various gins, rums, agave and liqueurs.
Or if boilermakers are your thing, you’ve landed in the right place for throwing down the liquor shots paired to beer. The casual, non-pretentious atmosphere allows for such hedonistic rituals in what feels like a hybrid of Starlite and The Rabbit Hole.
There are also boozy dessert shakes, should you care to experience the effects Junipero Gin behaves with ice cream, lemon curd and meringue, or how Whistlepig Rye Whiskey goes over in an “Almond Joy” shake.
Because a friend and I imbibed on other libations during our evening visit, we opted for no gin in the lemon meringue shake. Nevertheless, we found it outrageously toothsome, unlike any cold dessert I’ve consumed from anywhere. The sweet and tangy flavors were big and balanced.
Hundred Proof is the party-happy sibling of Trust Restaurant, located less than a mile down the street. The kitchens at both are helmed by co-owner Brad Wise, whose menu on paper here appears like common bar food — a footnote to copious drink options. Yet on the palate, the dishes are admirably complex, which is the hallmark of Wise’s cooking.
In painfully dim lighting hanging over the booths and tables around a roomy central bar, we zeroed in on several noshes from the fine-print menu with our phone flashlights, starting with roasted beet hummus.
If you’re normally turned off by the intense earthiness of red beets, these are tamed by a little bit of pureed chickpeas. In addition, the hummus is garnished brilliantly with pistachios, green onions and creamy feta cheese, thus adding a depth of flavor married to fantabulous, grilled pita bread.
An order of deviled eggs might have tasted ordinary without little sheets of crispy chicken skins laid over their creamy dressed-up yolks. Pickled shallot also enters into the scheme, offering a subtle onion-y tang.
But the best poultry surprise of the night — if not the whole year — came after we obliterated an iceberg wedge salad cloaked in thick blue cheese dressing that tasted extra special as it mingled with drizzles of saba, a sweet syrup made from grape must.
What followed were grilled chicken thighs, which I’m guessing receive flat reactions from patrons lured foremost by the house burger with English cheddar or the short rib boa buns. Save those trendier items for another visit.
The boneless-skinless chicken is deeply marinated in citrus and other ingredients I couldn’t define. The result is extreme tenderness and a slightly fruity flavor augmented by chary grill marks from the flame grill.
“Holy (expletive),” my friend blurted when taking her first bite before we gobbled down the meat with gusto. Even without the accompanying chipotle aoili, Wise somehow takes the boring out of chicken.
Also memorable was a wild mushroom pizza, some of which came home with me for a delightful reheat the following day. In the presence of thinly sliced ‘shrooms were ricotta, mozzarella and Pecornio cheeses, thyme and roasted garlic — a cut above most pizzas of this variety.
My drink of choice throughout dinner was a cocktail called The Bird, capped by a glistening layer of pellet ice that disguised the kick from Diplomatico Rum, Plantation Pineapple Rum and campari ambushed underneath. Fresh citrus in the mix made it innocently refreshing.
My friend stuck to a couple glasses of not-so-complex Spanish Tempranillo that I felt was a few degrees too warm. She didn’t mind the “baked” flavor of the wine or that she was probably the only person in the house drinking vino in an establishment that’s so liquor- and cocktail-focused.
But that’s the beauty of Hundred Proof, a neighborhood drinking spot that doesn’t lean heavily into any particular scene and one that actually fulfills its claim of serving “elevated bar food.”
—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.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.