Uptown Food Briefs – Oct. 9

Posted: October 9th, 2015 | Featured, Food & Drink, Uptown Food Briefs | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

After a 10-year run, Tractor Room in Hillcrest is up for sale. Owner Johnny Rivera, who also runs Hash House A Go Go and Great Maple, says he decided not to renew Tractor Room’s lease because “a lot is going on with opening three other Great Maples in Southern California (outside of San Diego County) plus another Hash House in Dallas.” He assures, however, that “we’ll choose a right buyer that fits the neighborhood, and that we will stay open until that happens.” 3687 Fifth Ave., 619-543-1007.

“There’s a new bear in the den at Waypoint Public,” Rich Sweeney said of his recent appointment as executive chef at the popular craft beer-focused restaurant in North Park.

Chef Rich Sweeney (Courtesy of H2 Public Relations)

Chef Rich Sweeney has re-emerged at Waypoint Public in North Park. (Courtesy of H2 Public Relations)

A former contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef” series (season five), Sweeney rooted himself in the San Diego dining scene with R Gang Eatery in Hillcrest, where he incorporated into his comforting bill of fare playful takes on Tater Tots during the restaurant’s five-year run. He also recently helped launch Florent Restaurant & Lounge in the Gaslamp Quarter.

“I’ve been hiding back in my office at Waypoint to get my wits about me while revamping the menu and putting together a new system,” he said, referring also to the planning of a Waypoint offshoot in 2016, in a location that hasn’t yet been disclosed.

In recent months, Sweeney said he has enjoyed traveling and spending quality time with his husband, Steve Farrow. He hopes to roll out the new menu in time for San Diego Beer Week (Nov. 6 – 15), adding that bacon-beer linguine with clams will be on it. As for his famous Tater Tots: “I’m sure we’ll run them as specials here and there.”

Waypoint is operated by ELE Collective, which also owns Hotel Vyvant in Little Italy, and more recently, it opened Park & Rec in University Heights. 3794 30th St., 619-255-8778.

Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant is holding “Sunday school” with a focus on wine and beer. Beginning Oct. 4, and running one Sunday a month through Feb. 7, various vintners and brewers will head up classes that include tastings and food pairings. The first session in the series explores California wines, followed by “beer vs. wine” on Nov. 8, and “bubbly diversity” on Dec. 13. The classes are held from 2 – 4:30 p.m. and cost $45 each. Advance tickets are required. For a complete schedule, contact the restaurant. 2202 Fourth Ave., 619-231-0222.

San Diego’s mother of all culinary competitions is coming to the Port Pavilion at Broadway Pier on Oct. 29, as 10 local toques, divided into two teams, battle it out at the 11th annual Center for Community Solutions’ Chef Showdown. The event each year benefits a number of programs at The Center that support victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Among the chefs taking part are Hanis Cavin of Carnitas Snack Shack; Lori Sauer of George’s at the Cove; Robert Ruiz of The Land & Water Co.; Rose Payron of High Dive; James Montejano of La Valencia; and others tasked with creating dishes based on secret ingredients unveiled at the start of the competition. They will be judged by a panel of celebrity chefs, including Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room. Emceeing the event is esteemed television personality, Sam the Cooking Guy.

General admission is $250, which includes tastings from food and dessert stations. For more information, call 858-272-5777, ext. 151, or visit 1000 N. Harbor Island Drive.

In preparation for a November opening, Liberty Public Market has announced additional vendors coming to the 22,000-square-foot culinary venture in Liberty Station. Among them is a third outpost of Bottlecraft, which has existing locations in North Park and Little Italy. Also on board: the Grape Smuggler wine bar, and Mess Hall, a “market-to-menu” restaurant by Chef Kolanko of Stake Chophouse & Bar, and Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge in Coronado. The latter will double as an event space for culinary classes and pop-up dinners.

The growing list, expected to total 30 vendors, also includes new artisan signups such as The Produce Section, Bread & Butter, Mama Made Thai and Crafted Baked Goods. 2816 Historic Decatur Road,

Spaghetti-eating and grape-stomping contests are among the activities planned at the 21st annual Little Italy FESTA!, which runs from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Oct. 11, along India Street between Ash and Grape streets. From nearly 30 restaurants taking part, some of the foods available for sale will include ravioli from Buon Appetito; oysters from Ironside Fish & Oyster; meatballs and sausages from Petrini’s; calamari and cannoli from Café Zucchero; and pizzas from Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, Napizza, and Isola Pizza Bar.

Napizza slices (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

Napizza slices (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

“This is our first year since merging with The Sicilian Festival, which was held every May. So now that we’re one, we will have a lot more cultural elements,” said FESTA! events director Sandy Cottrell, referring in part to a procession of costumed dancers and performers taking place at noon along India Street. In keeping with tradition, more than 60 chalk artists will create their masterpieces on sidewalks along Beech Street.

Because of limited parking, Contrell recommends visitors take the green trolley line to the County Center/Little Italy station. The event is free.

Basil fried rice at Ka Prao (Courtesy of )

Spicy basil fried rice with chicken at Ka Prao (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

A new fast-casual Thai eatery has opened in Mission Valley’s Rio Vista Shopping Center, where O’s American Kitchen, Sombrero, Jersey Mike’s and Kasi reside. Since coming into the fold last month, Ka Prao has been cooking up made-to-order stir fries, pad Thai noodles, spicy basil fried rice and a range of curries. In addition to pork, chicken and shrimp, the menu includes tofu and mock duck as alternative proteins. Lunch specials are available daily, from 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., with plates starting at $7, which include a choice of two sides. 8590 Rio San Diego Drive, #105, 619-326-8083.

—Frank Sabatini Jr. can be reached at


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