Southpaw Social Club
815 J Street, San Diego CA 92101 (map); 619-269-2255; southpawsocialclub.com
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: The beef burger is totally serviceable, but it's the veggie burger you want
Want Fries With That? Burgers come à la carte and trust me, they're plenty of food on their own
Price: Steak Burger, $11; Veggie Burger, $10
Talk to chef Rich Sweeney about the food at Southpaw Social Club, and within the first two minutes, he'll probably point to himself being a "fat kid" as an explanation for why it's so delicious. "Fat kids make the best mac and cheese" was his summation of the Fat Boy Mac (a bowl of cheese-enrobed noodles topped with crushed Ritz crackers, pretzels, and optional pork belly) when I dropped in for a First Look, and he used the same logic when I tapped him for details about Southpaw's veggie burger ($10).
You might argue that his explanation is too self-effacing, but you can't argue with the food itself. Sweeney's gleeful lack of restraint pays off not just when approaching carb and cheese-heavy dishes that are supposed to be bad for you, but also items that are typically thought of as healthy, like veggie burgers.
Southpaw's version starts off reasonably enough. The housemade mixed vegetable patty has whole and mashed black beans, and is liberally seasoned with garlic, pepper, and cilantro. But once it's smeared with mashed avocado and globbed with aioli, it's clear that the veggie burger was never intended to be low-fat, only delicious...and it really, really is.
By pre-forming the patties in ring molds, freezing them, breading them, and then flash-freezing them before they finally hit the griddle, the veggie patties are able to hold their shape, not break apart into mushy bits like most. They also get a golden brown crust, which simulates the texture of a charred beef patty and gives the burger more dimension.
The patty is intensely flavorful, nose-drippingly spicy, and multi-textured. On the side, you get a housemade habanero pickle that's even spicier than the burger itself. Tread wisely.
The curiously-named Steak Burger ($11) is a perfectly fine option if you insist on beef. Between a toasted and buttered brioche bun spread with a Thousand Island-esque sauce with a kick, you get two thick slices of heirloom tomato, crisp bacon strips, and a pre-formed half-pound patty made from a blend of chuck, short rib, and brisket—no steak.
Mine arrived with some tasty browning, but was cooked past my requested temperature (medium-rare). The patty was still quite flavorful and moist, but not exactly juicy. The heirloom tomatoes were a nice touch, but I'm not sure that they're an improvement over your average beefsteak in terms of flavor. Those salty strips of bacon need a more acidic tomato to balance out the flavor profile, especially since there's no pickle on the burger. While the heirloom tomatoes were cut thick, they weren't totally up to the task.
Since burgers come à la carte, if you want a little starch with your beef, you have the option of ordering an appetizer-sized plate of Southpaw Fries ($7), thin cut fries topped with Reggiano cheese, fried onions, jalapeño slices and aioli, or Wedgies, massive thick-cut potato wedges tossed in seasoning and served with chimichurri ranch and aioli. At $8, the buy-in cost is a bit steep, but these starchy planks are a fun dish if you're splitting them amongst a group of four. In a pair, or solo, I'd stick with the burger by itself. Whether you go for beef or veggie, it's plenty big enough on its own.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax