200 Marina Park Way (behind the Convention Center), Downtown San Diego
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
Wow. Pointed prow of a big ol’ Navy cruiser knifes right past. In the waters between us and the island of Coronado. It kinda fills the sky. Heading under the bridge and home port. The fishermen on the pier don’t even notice. Behind it come those big-butt orange-and-cream tugboats. Now the fishermen look up because the tug-wash is making serious chaos with their hooks and lines.
Then, silence. Maybe it just feels that way because these chips I’m crunching are so loud. Good, though. BBQ flavor, especially if you take a bite of the little yellow chilies that sit beside them. The quiet? Part of the deal right here on the water, close to the Hilton, just out from the convention center. You suddenly realize: you can hear people’s conversations floating o’er the waves. Man could wax poetic. You hear the chuck! of fishing hooks and weights hitting the water again. It’s because there’s no traffic. No cars. No horns. Only sound is a chopper overhead every now and then. But mostly it’s kids, gulls, lovers negotiating, a bit of KSON somewhere, the fizz of burgers grilling, and the barp! barp! of the Silvergate, the li’l ol’ ferry heading out past the Russian oligarch’s superyacht and right in front of the Dole banana boat unloading at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal. Love it.
“Got one! A baby one!” yells the girl from the rocks where a bunch of kids are playing. She hauls up a little shellfish, weaves through the thin, berry-brown bodies of three old men with white mustaches and serious faces jogging past.
This is JJ’s. About the only eating place by the water where they don’t have herds of turistas and prices to match. JJ is a real guy, this take-it-easy ex-merchant sailor who kinda set up his li’l piece of heaven on Earth right here near where the San Diego Symphony plays. I keep meaning to bring buddies down here on a day off, for breakfast — say their egg sandwich ($4.35) — then rent JJ’s fishing poles ($5 hour) and just chew fat, fish, toss ’em back, maybe down a couple of brewskis (about $4.50 for a Ballast Point, but they have Buds and stuff, too), and then come back and order for lunch a ribeye plate. It’s $10.38, but, hey, it’s a steak and it’s grilled right here in the open in front of you. Comes on a toasted hoagie with provolone cheese, so the wall menu says, plus grilled onions, honey mustard, ranch beans, and choice of potato salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad, or fruit cocktail. Ribeye as sandwich is $8.16. Burgers start at $6.25. Best deal: probably the hot dog ($4.35) or the 16-oz bowl of chili for $4.53.
But this end of this day — it’s just about hitting three — we’re more or less down to the daily special, a pulled-pork sandwich with one of those four sides and a can of soda for $6.75.
Melia brings it out. Lotsa pork with lotsa onions snaking around on top, pack of BBQ chips, a bowl of BBQ sauce, plus a can of Sprite. Not a bad deal.
So, now I’m sitting on the little patio with the BBQ smokin’ pleasantly and people chatting, a sea breeze, and all that ocean highway right beyond the fishing pier. At a hotel restaurant, you’d be paying maxxo for this setup.
This pork is something else. Nice and N’awlins sweet...or is it Texas? Whatever. Now it’s under a lava flow of the caramel-brown thick sauce. And tender like it’s been through a blender.
This is pretty much when Michael starts scraping the BBQ. “We’re closing,” he says. “Three-thirty.”
Oh, wow. Soon enough, he’s onto the tables, the collapsing tent poles. Clang. Thwack. I’m the last table left.
But, no biggy. I just transfer it all to the bench on the fishing pier. Now you really catch the slap-slap of waters and the salt air. And the gulls hovering right beside you at eye-level. Unblinking. Okay. Take the hint. I’ll leave you guys somethin’.
A mighty-sized landing craft rumbles past, followed by a few smaller ones. Feels like D-Day, but nicer weather. Man, how lucky we are, I’m thinking, not to have to go land on some cold beach and go kill people.
Gotta meet Carla down at the Gaslamp. Beyond that mountain of steps over the convention center. Back in the world.
Only two problems with this little place: The “counter” is a little hole in a black grill with some voice barking at you from behind, wanting to know what you want. It’s like going to the prison gedunk.
Also: Pity they close so early. Okay, they stay open when the symphony’s playing. But, no sunset at JJ’s “Sunset” Deli by the Bay? Because, for sure, sunset is the time to be here. The colors, the ruffling blue waters, the sun setting behind the palm trees of Coronado, the lights popping on... Don’t get me going. As they say, morning’s fine and fresh, but there’s nothing like the real thing.
As I leave, the orange tugs come plowing back. Cruiser must be docked. Guess all the sailors are down at their own gedunk now.
- Prices: Breakfast egg sandwich, $4.35; ribeye plate (on toasted hoagie, with provolone cheese, grilled onions, honey mustard, ranch beans, choice of potato salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad, fruit cocktail), $10.38; ribeye as sandwich, $8.16; burgers start at $6.25 (1/3rd lb) hot dog, $4.35; 16-oz bowl of chili, $4.53; pulled-pork sandwich with one side, soda, $6.75
- Hours: 7:30 a.m.–3:00 p.m., daily (till 8:00 p.m. when SD Symphony performs at Embarcadero Marina Park South)
- Trolley: Green Line
- Nearest trolley stop: Gaslamp