Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
If you live in San Diego's East Village (or are a fan of the Padres), chances are good that you've eaten (or had drinks) at one of Ty Hauter's Good Time Design venues. The restaurant design and consulting firm owns and operates 11 restaurants and bars in downtown San Diego, and has a virtual monopoly on the area around Petco Park. For deli sandwiches, there's Lucky's Lunch Counter. For brews and sports on the tube, there's Bub's at the Ballpark. For Mexican with a Baja accent, The Blind Burro. And now, for "American social dining," there's Southpaw Social Club, co-helmed by popular local chef and former 'Top Chef' contestant Rich Sweeney.
Originally, Sweeney was slated to be a partner and on-site Executive Chef, but the passing of his father took him out of state during the final months of planning. He's now working in tandem with chef Chris Trevisin (formerly of Vintana), splitting his schedule between Southpaw and his other restaurant, R-Gang.
Southpaw represents a shift in the company's efforts. Past venues were built around having a bar scene, but the two most recent additions put the food in the spotlight. "Everyone here is making a conscious effort to be very aware of walking that fine line between 'a restaurant that has a really great full bar with killer cocktails' and being 'the bar that happens to have food'. We want to stay on that restaurant side of things," says Sweeney.
To that end, cocktail consulting group Blind Tiger was hired to design a line of lemonade-based cocktails, the bar was decked out with three dozen taps of mostly local craft beers, and Rich and Chris developed a menu geared around social dining. "We have some entree-type items...but we want it to be something where everyone's interacting and sharing," says Sweeney. Indeed, some of the dishes, like the Fat Boy Mac ($12), with smoked cheddar cheese sauce, crushed pretzels, Ritz crackers, and pork belly, should involve the help of your entire table to help take them down.