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Escape from the daily grind

Posted: July 27th, 2018 | Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews, Top Story | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review

You can mosey in wearing a hard hat or carrying a briefcase. Whatever your occupation and the apparel that goes with it, Working Class welcomes you with open arms — then sends you off with a bellyful of craft beer and hearty, affordable grub.

The North Park restaurant and bar replaced The Ritual earlier this year with a catchy “working class” theme that co-owner Jeffrey Kiyama noted doesn’t only speak to blue-collar types.

Working Class co-owner Jeffrey Kiyama (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

“We relate to all people who work and need a place to hang out. It’s a social space for everybody,” Kiyama said earlier this year, after giving the building an extensive remodel.

Inside and out, the structure is unrecognizable from when it was The Ritual. Gone are the exterior’s quasi-Gothic details and the dim, Old-World feel of the dining room. The building is now clad in light wood and incorporates roll-up garage windows. In addition, skylights were installed, the bar was moved to a central area, and the once under-utilized back patio now greets visitors with picnic tables and AstroTurf — a faux urban park offering games and ample wiggle room.

What I especially like about Working Class is that it isn’t trying to be anything in particular; it’s neither some goofy retro-style diner or uber-hipster beer bar, even though it slings classic American fare and has a lengthy tap system for craft brews.

General Tso cauliflower (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

Nor is it a place claiming to make everything from scratch. So what if the bacon isn’t cured in-house or the sweet-spicy sauce cloaking the popular General Tso cauliflower originates from a bottle? It’s good enough for me that the meats are from a reputable wholesaler (Tarantino’s) and that select items — including beef meatballs containing minced jalapenos and the sausage gravy draping outsourced buttermilk biscuits — are made onsite.

The menu is fairly concise, which I find comforting in comparison to those attempting to gratify too many consumers with too many choices. Basically, you can score breakfast or lunch between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. and dinner from 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. Yet some breakfast items and most lunch dishes carry over into the later part of the day.

The “Day Off” breakfast with biscuits and gravy (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

We visited on the cusp of breakfast and lunch and ordered accordingly.

The “Day Off” is what some might dream about when settling for a Denny’s grand slam breakfast. Minus the pancakes, this combo features the aforementioned biscuits and gravy, plus two eggs, bacon or sausage, hash browns, and toast. The quality of everything was exceedingly better — and you’ll pay only a buck more in comparison.

We loved the General Tso cauliflower. For $8 you get a heaping of the florets coated in the sweet-and-spicy sauce and topped with sesame seeds firmly trapped in the sauce’s unapologetic stickiness. Even at second glance, it looks like Chinese orange chicken. For this carnivorous twosome, it tasted just as good.

Fried chicken sandwich with Buffalo sauce (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

The mother of all fried chicken sandwiches resides here. A pre-soaking in buttermilk resulted in miracle tenderness of a chicken breast this big and thick. Encasing it was superbly crispy batter, which became a best friend to the house slaw and sandwich pickles tucked between the bun. For us, the Buffalo-style sauce served alongside wasn’t needed.

Until now, I never had a Reuben made with sourdough. It’s always been rye bread or nothing for this New York state native. I found it an acceptable, if not appealing, alternative to the slightly chewy pastrami layered inside.

I would have preferred the meat sliced thinner. But the grilled, buttered bread and the finely minced sauerkraut bedding the chicken made it a hard-to-put-down sandwich.

Pastrami Reuben on sourdough (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

The portions at Working Class are generous without being obnoxious, and reasonably priced without forfeiting quality.

“I’m function versus fashion,” Kiyama said, citing the menu’s third-pound burgers, some of which are well stacked with veggie garnishes, eggs, bacon, O-rings — but “not too big to handle.”

Other menu items include a fried bologna sandwich with egg and cheese; shrimp and cheddar grits; various salads of decent size; chili con carne; Salisbury steak; and cast-iron chicken pot pie — foods that us over-worked stiffs need every so often when our batteries run low.

—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  fsabatini@san.rr.com.

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