It was an unusually wet and overcast Sunday morning in downtown San Diego’s East Village. The slow drizzle may have been a welcome change of script for local TV weather readers. For us, the uncommon climate condition called for…grilled cheese sandwiches.
When the light rainfall began to abate at noon, we suited up in appropriate, severe weather apparel for coastal Southern California: sneakers, jeans and a hoodie.
Now, it wouldn’t have been much trouble to avoid the relatively-frigid, 60-degree temps and make grilled cheese sandwiches in the kitchen of our own homey, East Village digs. But when the drizzle blew over, we knew it was time to Shift.
Shift Apartments is a disjointed-looking apartment structure jabbing the gentrification needle deeper into downtown’s East Village. The building appears to take its name from an exterior décor anomaly. Painted fire red, one side of the high-rise looks like it has collectively taken a step away from the initial architectural plans.
Our south-facing, base-of-Cortez Hill unit at Vantage Point offers a panoramic view of the city. The Convention Center sails. The swooping Coronado Bridge. The red dome of Hotel del Coronado. A swatch of Petco Park. The Hodads burger joint awning. The red trolleys, wrapped in corporate advertising, as they glide along C Street tracks.
Invariably, visiting friends standing on our patio become curious about the one unfamiliar building to the east. The misshapen, red-hued structure that looks like it could be a Transformer caught in mid-transformation.
It was time to explore.
Tales of the Ale
We’re ready to get Shifty.
Hoofing over to 1520 J Street, my wife and I find street-level retail offerings at Shift that include massive, sleek and edgy THE BXNG CLUB, the storefront, pickup-oriented eatery Spoiled Vegan Café and the spacious Ale Tales Taproom.
The taproom is meticulously clean, colorful and easy on the eyes. Ale Tales has more than 40 draft beers on tap. There’s also a cold storage wall filled with bottles and cans of all manner of stouts, IPAs and brews with ABVs that run into double digits.
Ale Tales is about six blocks from Petco Park. There’s indoor and outdoor seating and it’s a great, off-the-beaten-trail spot to pre-game for a Padres game.
The pièce de resistance in the taproom is a separately managed, offbeat kitchen component called Bread and Cheese.
Gourmet Grilled Cheese in East Village
A grilled-cheese sandwich is Comfort Food 101. The simple idea of slipping a piece of cheese between two pieces of bread and heating it up is centuries old. It became a staple of the American diet during the Great Depression.
The gourmet-style offerings at Bread and Cheese are the opposite of depressing.
What fun it is to dig into a childhood culinary memory. Better yet, to pair that memory with a coffee-infused Black House Stout from Modern Times, on draft at Ale Tales.
There are half a dozen grilled-cheese sandwich offerings, most in the $10 price range. I ordered the Burn-A-Nator. It’s palate-pleasing mix of pepper jack cheese with salami on enchilada grilled jalapeno cheddar sourdough bread.
All the grilled-cheese sandwiches come on some variation of sourdough. You can get one with pastrami, sauerkraut with Thousand Island Dressing. The Turkey Delight comes with Swiss and provolone cheeses, turkey and a sun-dried tomato spread.
My wife was pleased to see two vegan options. The Classic is cheddar and provolone on garlic-grilled sourdough. The Cali Gold comes with cheddar and pepper jack with roasted bell peppers and arugula.
Jules sagely picked the soup/sandwich combo. Her Cali Gold comes with a cup of perfectly blended coconut curry tomato soup—ideal for dipping.
We were fascinated by the availability of a pineapple crush on the menu. This frozen fruit smoothie includes pineapple, mango, banana, yogurt, vanilla, coconut cream. Honey and orange juice.
You can order it in a cup. Or, you can order it in a hollowed-out pineapple. We did neither, but looked on with drooling envy when a diner at another table started in on his hollowed-out presentation.
Making the Shift
Deliciously filled with gourmet grilled-cheese goodness, we glanced at one of the Ale Tales’ TVs as we got up to go. The Padres home game versus the San Francisco Giants had just started.
Major league baseball teams are regularly invoking a radical defensive strategy this year. When a power hitter steps into the batter’s box, more and more infields flood the batter’s “pull” side.
In baseball terms, placing three infielders on one side is called putting on the shift.
In East Village, part of the Shift’s strategy entails the crafty use of beer, Hawaiian fruit shells as drinking vessels and a twist on a beloved comfort food.
Neither strategy is necessarily new, but modern innovation allows both to produce satisfying results. J&J