My eyes adjusted to the darkness of the dimly lit bar from the bright early evening sunshine outside as my husband and I crossed the foyer of the Turf Supper Club. Immediately, my stomach started growling as the aroma of charring steak wafted out from the inner room that holds a large grill table capped by a giant copper hood.
We shinnied up to the bar that dominates the right side of the front room and each ordered a Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, contemplating our dining options along with the eclectic displays of horse racing pictures, Dia de los Muertos skeletons, Christmas lights, and gleaming, jewel-like bottles of liquor.
A longtime denizen of Golden Hill’s 25th Street corridor, the Turf Club (as we’ve always called it) skirts the line between dive and trendy. In the old days when my partner and I would wander up from downtown, the walls were genuinely browned over from meat smoke and cigarettes.
Crusty old dudes from the neighborhood clustered along the bar. The bartenders were either wizened men or street wise women, and they welcomed you to their cave but let it be known that this was no place for slumming hipsters. The beer was cold and cheap; the cuts of meat were bargain basement; and the grill had layers and layers of ancient grease dripping into the fire below.
Times have changed for the Turf Club, and, indeed, for the 25th Street business corridor of Golden Hill. Innovative food can be found here along with meals designed to keep you at the table long after your dishes have been cleared. The Turf Club, Pomegranate, and Counterpoint offer up three completely different options for one’s dinner experience.
For our first night, my husband and I decided to go low key and highball by stopping into the Turf Club, which has been spiffed up considerably from the old days but still has a lot of heart. (For example, the grill is well-seasoned but has lost its layers of antique grease).
While we started off with Sculpins (a welcome addition to a formerly disappointing tap list in this craft beer-rich part of San Diego), we also eyed other patrons’ giant cocktails. Before ordering our cuts of meat, we threw in the towel and got a couple of Mai Tais. These were not for the faint of heart. Served in pint glasses, these were 16 ounces of tropical deliciousness—well balanced, fruity, and perfectly chilled. We felt extremely relaxed and in the mood for cooking our own food.
The Turf Club has a long history in San Diego and is one of the city’s oldest cocktail bars. As the website states:
Back in 1950 cocktails began pouring inside a nondescript 2-story building near the corner of 25th & C Streets in the heart of Golden Hill; Turf Club was its name. A few years later in 1955 a gas line was plumbed into the dining room where a new grill had been installed for the use of patrons to cook their meat the way they wanted it … and so the following year the name settled on Turf Supper Club.
With only a few minor changes that original model remains the same to this day. Oh sure you can talk about changes to the color of the paint, the presence or absence of a self-service salad bar, or the size and type of jukebox in the house…
… but the tangible things that make Turf Supper Club what it is, are the same today as they were decades ago; a long bar with plenty of stools, a piano to entertain, red lights and carpet, photos of horse races and movie stars from days of yore, antique neon marquis lights … and that classic wallpaper.
What we used to like about the Turf Club’s previous incarnation years ago—aside from the dark funkiness—was that you could get some good protein for very little coin. That still holds true, though you can also spend more on a better cut of meat. For $6.75 you can get a hamburger, a chicken sandwich, or for the vegetarians in the group (who don’t mind sharing a grill with carnivores), there are vegetable kabobs.
The prices go up from there, and I recommend shelling out a bit more on the Ribeye Delmonico or Marinated Flank Steak. The steaks and kabobs come with giant slabs of garlic bread for you to grill along with your meat. And if you really want to do it right, order a side salad and a baked potato to live life ‘50s large.
One last thing: when you grill your steaks, put the steak or Worcester sauce on AFTER you’ve finished. To get the best char, your meat should be dry with just salt, pepper, and maybe some garlic powder. When it’s nicely grilled, THEN sauce it up. Just sayin’.
A couple of nights later, my husband and I were invited to join a group of our friends at our neighborhood’s newest addition, Kafe Sobaka Restoran Pomegranate, just up off of 25th and Broadway. We’d been watching with a great deal of anticipation the slow transformation of Golden Hill’s former pot dispensary as it metamorphosed into this charming restaurant.
At first we assumed that this was just an outpost of owner Mark Djugashvili’s North Park institution, Pomegranate, but once it opened this spring, we realized that though the two places share a lot of dishes, our Golden Hill Pomegranate has its own vibe and menu. The menu announces its whimsy right at the top:
We offer a casual peasant menu shaped by seasonal produce, faraway spices, fine dining techniques, and foraged ingredients that we learned at the knees of our babushkas.
4 possibilities for dining sizes: Communist (priced for the people at $2.87), Socialist(S), Imperialist(I), and Anarchist(A-amount and price change daily.) Ask your server for pricing on the different sizes.
*To those paying in cash we offer a glass of free tea from the village of Gusevka or a bone for your dog to encourage financial responsibility.
Djugashvili, who gets around in a wheelchair, is ever-present, welcoming guests, directing traffic, and recommending food and drinks. The wait staff is phenomenal—kind, informative, and mindful. And the place itself is just fabulous: the bare concrete floor is warmed up by an eclectic mix of found and mismatched wooden furniture and a wonderful array of lamps, candles, statues, paintings, bits of poetry, record album covers, baskets, murals, knick knacks…you name it. Our party sat at the long communal table that lines the center of the restaurant.
On the two other occasions we checked out Pomegranate, we sat very cozily at one of the smaller side tables. Djugashvili is also planning on opening up a private space off the main dining room for bigger groups. In the meantime, we had a good, if loud, time in the middle of the café.
The food is a self-described “ménage á trois of Georgian, Russian, & California Cuisine” which means that while there are a fair number of dumpling and meat dishes, the chef has a lighter touch than other Eastern European establishments.
Make sure to order a drink—there’s a full complement of Eastern European beers, some wine, and, of course, vodka, in addition to sodas—and take some time over the short story-like menu.
Each item literally and figuratively sings. For example, we ordered Salat Vesna: “Salad made of fresh cabbage with berries, herbs, and serious love. This dish is as rare as chastity.” Indeed, it was. For dinner, we splurged on “Shashlik: (Thursday through Sunday only) Is tantalizing meat fire roasted on long evil-looking daggers until it is as tender and juicy as the lips of your lover. Just be patient it could take 20 minutes until the flesh is just right.” And it was just right.
Others at our table ordered the stuffed cabbage (divine) and the Chnakhi, a Georgian lamb stew that comes in its own little pot. There are also all manner of dumplings and pirozhki along with soups and a delectable cheese pie, which apparently “evokes passionate praise from the lips of any Georgian.”
We were all too full to order desert, though Pomegranate has some amazing sounding ones. This place is definitely on our regular rotation—even our son, whose usual diet consists of cheese pizza and bean burritos, asks to go there.
For our final foray into our neighborhood we decided to make the arduous trek….across the street to Counterpoint. As I wrote in my review of it in The Reader a while ago:
Several friends of mine have essentially taken up residence at Counterpoint, a Golden Hill nouveau tavern, leading me to chew on some of urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s ideas about the importance of “place” in peoples’ lives. After “work” and “home,” the “third place,” as Oldenburg calls it, is often given short shrift, but it is where we find solace to get through our days. Oldenburg puts it this way: “The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends…. They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.”
This is how Counterpoint has been conceived. It aims to be a “great good place” — a “place for people,” as its website puts it — and it is. Sporting a beer menu that features pints from San Diego’s craft breweries, along with a short but nicely put together wine list, Counterpoint gives locals that neighborly vibe.
A large part of that neighborly vibe comes from Counterpoint’s own philosophy:
Our place for people, on Golden Hill. We love craft things, and we go all out to find them. Beer, wine, cheese…pure and simple things made by actual people for the pure and simple love of making them. We love their stories and their crafts, and we love sharing both… but Counterpoint is, first, foremost and always, about our ‘hood, and the people who give it life. We are an urban tavern, a place to see neighbors, see friends, to feed your body, and, hopefully, your spirit, too. Come grab a Blue Chair, a beverage and a bite. Bring a friend, or make a new one here…it is what goes on at Counterpoint.
Counterpoint is where we go when we want to be pampered for dinner and drinks but don’t want to break the bank. We can bring our son—lots of folks in the neighborhood tote along their kids and dogs—and the wait staff and owner greet us with a hug and a chat when we darken the door.
This is where my family takes me for Mother’s Day brunch and where my husband arranged a birthday dinner party for me (upstairs where we nearly burst over the bannister).
The above is not to take away from the incredible food on hand, however, which just sings and which changes constantly.
When we first started going to Counterpoint, we were smitten with their cheeseboards, flatbreads, and sandwiches. Our son still dreams about the fried bologna with pink cheese beauty that left the menu some time last year. That has been replaced with a juicy cheeseburger and fries in his slumbers (though he wouldn’t mind getting that sandwich back). My husband and I like to mix it up, though my current obsession is with their kimchee-sauced fried brussels sprouts, out of which I can almost make a whole meal.
Their main plates, such as the Andouille and Shrimp Pasta, which my husband ordered that night, and the Pan Seared Salmon that I had, are the chef’s artistic creations and quite seasonal. Everything is vegetable and grain-forward, deftly seasoned, and not too heavy. Which is a good thing since the deserts, like the bread pudding, shouldn’t be missed.
Finally, Counterpoint wouldn’t be a neighborhood tavern if it didn’t have a wonderful craft beer list that’s heavy on San Diego’s breweries along with some excellent wines.
And….tah dah! They just started serving liquor—Bloody Marys at Sunday brunch along with other yummy concoctions. Cocktail hour just got more interesting.
Turf Supper Club
1116 25th Street
San Diego, CA 92102
Kafe Sobaka Restoran Pomegranate
San Diego, CA 92102
619-297-4007 or 619-702-2007
830 25th Street, Suite 100
San Diego, CA 92102