6118 Paseo del Norte, Carlsbad
“I’m going to send a lot of money here,” I thought to myself as I entered Tip Top Meats. The Eurocentric market and counter service restaurant has been operating in some form since 1967. It took me 40 years to find it, but — with apologies to The Flower Fields — Tip Top has instantly become one of my favorite excuses to drive to Carlsbad.
The first thing you hit when you walk in is the grocery side of the property. It’s loaded with European cookies, beer, and sundry food items, but the reason I expected to spend a lot of money this day is I walked straight to a cooler packed beyond good reason with a comprehensive assortment of German sausages: knockwurst, weisswurst, Hungarian kolbasz, bratwurst — both Munich and Nuremberg styles! Fast forward a couple of hours, and my freezer would also be filled with such things.
Where I spent a surprisingly small amount of cash was the restaurant side, a deli counter at the rear of the market where a line forms for the all-you-can-eat breakfast and remains strong throughout the day.
The ten-minute wait gave me plenty of time to deliberate over the menu. As this was around St. Patrick’s Day, there were even specials of corned beef and cabbage and braised rabbit. However, when I reached the counter I bypassed the sausage sandwiches, the pastrami sandwiches, the sauerbraten roast beef plate, and even chicken cordon bleu. I decided to try something I’d never even heard of: zwiebelrostbraten.
My internet phone was telling me it’s a pounded-thin Austrian steak and onions dish, but my Tip Top server told me it was pork. What do I know? Unless we’re discussing sausages or beer, German is all Greek to me.
It did wind up being thick chunks of pork loin, roasted beyond tender and smothered in caramelized onions and gravy. There couldn’t have been much used in the cooking of this thing — butter and salt, maybe marjoram. It barely needed chewing; it wanted to fall apart so easily. I still worked my jaw plenty, mostly to make sure the succulent onion and pork flavors got a chance to fill every corner of my mouth.
The plate also included German potato salad, braised red cabbage, sauerkraut — all bright, worthy counters to the roast’s deep commitment to savor. It also included a dinner roll and a simple side salad. All for ten bucks.
Seriously, that’s the biggest ten-dollar lunch I’ve had in years. When a server delivered it to my table I glanced around anxiously, half-expecting I’d gotten away with something. But no, everyone else’s tables were practically sagging under the weight of the generous portions as well.
I also noticed that more than half of the other patrons were quite a bit older than me. They probably caught on to this place decades before I did.