It's old Ed (from Yuma) drinking some old wine and standing in a long SD line. Cathy and Kirk will be posting here again soon.
My old buddy Steve had a couple of days free in San Diego recently, so I drove over for some conversation and food . . . and wine. Steve had brought a bottle of 1992 Caparone Cabernet Sauvignon, Bien Nacido Vineyard. "It's 21 years old," I said, "old enough to drink.":
We had been out walking around Mission Beach and Mission Bay earlier on Sunday, but we wanted to watch the last half of the Chargers/Cowboys back at the motel. That way, we could relax and sample that well aged California Cabernet.
As it turned out, the wine was smooth and still flavorful, and the Chargers game was way better than expected, San Diego scoring 17 points in the 2nd half and winning 30-21. When the game was over, Steve and I were very hungry, but neither of us felt like driving around looking for dinner. Since we each had a room at what I call "The Exploding Motel", the 2 main restaurants within easy walking distance were a Red Lobster and Phil's BBQ, so we arrived at Phil’s around 5:30:
I assumed there would be no line – after all, we were dining early on a Sunday, but half of Qualcomm Stadium must have descended on Phil that late afternoon. Many in the line that extended from the entrance over to and around the corner and then along the side were wearing Cowboys or Chargers gear. Steve and I waited for almost 30 min. before we came up to the sign telling us we had only around 21 more minutes to wait. And all of that waiting only led to placing an order at the counter; at that point, we were given a plate with silverware, cleanup wipes, and a pager so that we could grab our food when it's ready:
After this nearly hour-long process, I hoped the food would be worth it.
I am not a barbecue purist or fanatic. I grew up in southern Oregon, not southern Tennessee, and I was an adult before I ever experienced slow cooked fully smoked pit barbecue. I’d heard enough about Phil’s to know that it’s ‘cue for the masses, not connoisseurs. I was okay with that, really.
The first taste I got was a slice of tri-tip from an El Toro sandwich ($6.95). The very tender chargrilled meat had a nice smoky flavor, there was a lot of it, and it was covered in Phil's sauce. In fact it's hard to see that this picture is a photo of a sandwich at all.:
Steve tells me that the onion rings in the photo were really tasty, and if the speed by which they disappeared is any indication, he was right. They were part of a "baby back rib tickler" – 3 ribs, two onion rings, coleslaw, and fresh cut fries ($6.95). Here is the rest of a tickler:
The sides I tried at Phil's BBQ were good. While the french fries were not especially crisp, they had a good clean fresh potato flavor. With a little malt vinegar and some ketchup – a bottle of each is on every table – they were quite tasty. The coleslaw was even better. It was not gooey, runny, sugary, or overdressed in any way. The cabbage and vegetables were crisp and the tangy dressing was a perfect match. Steve tells me that the corn on the cob was also good even though late September is not its prime season.
I had no complaints about the chicken. It tasted as if it had been roasted over mesquite, and it had not been overcooked. The breast, while not the most flavorful meat, still was moist and slightly smoky. The skin on the chicken quarter was consistently flavorful.
Phil sez "The Sauce is the Boss," as the menu explains, so it covered both and chicken and the ribs. And it is excellent and spicy barbecue sauce. Its vinegar tang balances the sweet notes on the plate and cuts through the richness of the meat.
The ribs themselves, on the other hand, were disappointing. Certainly tender enough, the ribs were also moist with a slight smoky flavor. However, they exhibited the effects of parboiling – the background taste of boiled pork and a soft gray color lightly tanned and dotted with specks and splotches of black:
They looked nothing like the well browned and charred barbecued ribs on the flat screens in the restaurant or the pictures at Phil’s website.
I'm not saying that these ribs were terrible or inedible, but they were mass produced and not individually crafted. They needed the complex sauce to cover over their shortcomings.
Going to Phil's BBQ has become an authentic San Diego experience. The chicken and the side dishes are generally good. The prices are truly excellent. I still marvel at 4 ribs, a quarter of a chicken, and two generous side dishes altogether for $12.95. Phil’s is fine, but seek out real ‘Que elsewhere.
Phil’s BBQ, 3750 Sports Arena Blvd., San Diego, CA 92110, 619-226-6333. Closed on Mondays. Locations also in San Marcos and Santee.