“’Scuse me. Ever hear of Miller? Schlitz? Pabst? Old Milwaukee? And you’re trying to tell me San Diego is the beer capital of America?”
Did I mention Saf is from Milwaukee?
Turns out, Saf has had Stone’s Arrogant Bastard in Milwaukee. “Okay. Give you that one. That is a real beer.”
Saf’s originally from Amritsar, India. Works for some medical corporation in Milwaukee. Serious about beer. We first got talking when I sat up to this eatery’s bar and ordered a half-yard of ale. Filled with, uh, Bud Light.
“Bud Light?” Saf said from his stool. “A yard of…Bud Light?”
“Hey, I walked in here. I want to be able to walk out.”
2547 San Diego Avenue, Old Town
Actually, I came in for two reasons. One, this place has yards of ale. And, two, I remember O’Hungry’s because they always had incredible deals. Six-dollar ribs, ten-dollar filet mignons, three-dollar breakfasts. Basically, it was Old Town’s Anglo food haven for taco’d-out tourists from Toronto. And, yes, I liked the way a lot of eaters online always complained about how scuzzy it was and how the servers didn’t treat you right and on and on. But the take-it-or-leave-it attitude was the part I loved, along with the fact that you always got big plate-loads for little dinero. The owner, a guy named Stan Chu, wasn’t greedy.
And, yes, they always had the yard of ale, that long, ancient English glass trumpet with the treacherous bobble in the bottom.
It’s only when I get inside that I see things have changed. This ain’t O’Hungry’s anymore, it’s “Hungry’s Kitchen and Tap.” Those six-buck chicken-fried steaks and $10 ribs? Now I see ribs are $14.95. Chicken-breast salad’s $12.95. Pastrami sandwich is $10.95. Burgers start at $8.45 and go up to $13.95 (that’s for Hungry’s Burger: two one-third-pound Angus beef patties with the usual fixings). Dogs run from $6 to $14.
Shannon — who, this time of a Sunday night, is bartender, waitress, and mother-confessor — says the new owners have been going only three months. “Before, it was kinda Irish cooking,” she says. “We’re still working on our styles, and menus and prices.”
I’d better hurry. Their last orders are at 8:30. Tempted by Baked and Loaded Fries ($8.95), with beef chili, cheese, sour cream, green onions. Chicken-fried steak’s $14.95, chili cheese hot dog and cole slaw is $7.95, a pulled-pork sandwich is $10.95. And they do have tacos: two fish tacos, $12.95. Chicken, $9.95.
So, I know I’ll be out $10 for the half-yard. I start with a bowl of wild-boar chili with beans ($6.45) and add toasted bread for $1.50. Good choice. Turns out the meat is from feral pigs hunted up in Northern California. Really tasty.
But also, chocolatey?
“Cocoa nibs,” says Shannon when I ask. Oh, man. Now I see the scattering of them over the top. Plus some cocoa powder is mixed in with the chili. That’s the making of this excellent chili.
“Are you going to drink that thing?” says Saf.
Shannon has been gently pouring my half-yard, all 33 ounces, then setting it in its vertical wooden frame, then topping it up to the very top. Uh, generosity or cruelty?
I ease the glass off its stand. Think of all the stagecoach drivers in Merrie Olde England they used to hand these things up to at roadside inns.
“Slowly, gently,” Shannon says. “And spin it a bit, to relieve the pressure, so it doesn’t rush down at you.”
Saf has been googling the history of yards. “Aha! This guy drank a two-and-a-half-pint yard of ale in 6.5 seconds. So, yours is only half a yard. Three seconds? Tell me when to start the timer.”
No way I’m gonna do this in one three-second gulp. First part is the easy part. I have a few swigs, then start feeling hungry again. In the burger section I see a “Fun Guy cheeseburger,” where they pile sautéed mushrooms and swiss cheese on the top of the burger ($11.95). “That’d be my choice,” says Shannon.
But then I see the “Old Diego Burger ($11.95), topped with sharp cheddar cheese, grilled onion & candied jalapeño spread.” Huh. “Candied jalapeño?”
“It’s candied jalapeño mixed with cream cheese,” says Shannon.
Whatever, it makes for one of the tastiest burgers ever. Dang, it’s delicious. The other good thing: I asked for the patty to be well done, so it was crisp on the outside. Perfect combo!
“Drink, drink,” says Saf.
“Oh, man. Think I’ll call it a day at that,” I say when there’s still six inches plus the bottom bulb to go. I mean, it goes on and on.
“You San Diego guys wimp out that easy?” says Saf. “Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink!”
And you know what? I do just that. I take care not to let that end-of-yard rush happen, and when I’m done, I feel good. Okay, a little spinny.
“This is why we don’t do full yards anymore,” says Shannon. “They’re, like, four and a half pints. And when you put one of our San Diego beers in, maybe 10 percent alcohol, that’s, like, nine Buds in one serving.”
Just as well I have this dee-lish burger to mellow me out. Really, I’m impressed with the food here. The chili with the cocoa, this burger with its candied jalapeño... Original!
Shannon has upended all the chairs by the time I’m out the door and back into Old Town’s lonely plaza. Heading to the trolley, I swear I can feel its ghosts looking at me, tut-tutting.
2547 San Diego Avenue, Old Town
Prices: Baked and Loaded fries (beef chili, sour cream, cheese), $8.95; pork ribs, $14.95; chicken-breast salad, $12.95; pastrami sandwich, $10.95; hamburger, $8.45; Hungry’s Burger (two 1/3 lb. Angus beef patties), $13.95; Fun Guy cheeseburger, sautéed mushrooms, swiss, $11.95; Old Diego Burger (cheddar, grilled onion, candied jalapeño), $11.95; classic hot dog, $5.95; chili cheese hot dog, cole slaw, $7.95; chicken-fried steak, $14.95; pulled-pork sandwich, $10.95; two chicken tacos, $9.95; wild-boar chili, beans, $6.45
Buses: 8, 9, 10, 28, 30, 35, 44, 84, 88, 105, 150
Trolley: Green Line
Nearest Bus and Trolley Stop: Old Town Transit Center, 4005 Taylor Street