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Homeruns on Fifth Avenue

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

A sentence on 1919’s website compares the recently launched establishment to “what neighborhood sports bars used to be,” referring to the year of the infamous Chicago White Sox scandal, when players were accused of taking money in exchange for deliberately losing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

Indeed, the era is captured through towering brick walls, classic cocktails, and metal stools upholstered in baseball-stitched leather. But the 25-plus flat screens rigged variously to five separate sound zones throughout the enormous two-level operation puts you squarely in the 21st century.

1919 recently replaced Nicky Rottens in the Gaslamp Quarter (Photos by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

1919 recently replaced Nicky Rottens in the Gaslamp Quarter (Photos by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

So does the menu when you look beyond the BLT sandwich and grilled beef hot dog. The rest of it bats a higher average in terms of selection and creativity than what you’ll find in everyday sports bars.

Visiting on a late Saturday afternoon with a friend, we wandered beyond the main dining room to explore a quaint lounge in the back, and another hanging above it.

Different sports games were playing in each area, yet their sound systems didn’t conflict in the least with one another. Had they done so, we would have never survived the racket beyond our starter of disco fries, a ’70s concoction similar to poutine but made here excellently with short rib gravy, Provolone cheese and snipped herbs.

The suicide burger

The suicide burger

Opposite the main-level bar is yet another area named Last Call, part of which overlooks bustling Fifth Avenue. Loungy and also acoustically insulated, it’s open to the public on weekends and used for private parties. Below it all is Prohibition, a subterranean parlor-like bar lounge accessed at night through a speakeasy door to the left of 1919’s entrance.

The ownership behind this drinking and eating megaplex is Treehouse Hospitality, which also operates The Music Box (formerly Anthology) in Little Italy.

We proceeded to a recently introduced menu item, quinoa salad, devised by the kitchen’s chef duo, Josh Miller and Sloane Strader — previously with Searsucker and Union Kitchen & Tap, respectively.

Salmon with pea puree

Salmon with pea puree

Strewn with juicy beets and expertly roasted carrots, the highpoint was the blackberry dressing that was equally fruity and tangy. Other salad choices include a usual iceberg wedge with bacon and blue cheese, and a kale-romaine Caesar swooped up with anchovies and a soft-cooked egg.

In an age when every restaurant in the nation vies for recognition of its burgers, 1919 should have no problem in getting its suicide burger onto the honor roll. Charry and tender, the patty receives a crisscross of dark, candied bacon on top (likely dusted in cayenne pepper), plus pepper jack cheese and bold drizzles of chipotle mayo.

Spicy? You bet’cha — but not the three-alarmer we expected; while agreeing it will be one of the main reasons we come back here to eat.

The mouth burn we encountered from a seemingly innocent meatball sub, however, was pungent rather than pleasant. Everything about it appeared traditional except for the pretzel bun, which is partly what lured us into ordering it.

Disco fries

Disco fries

The meatballs were tender and seasoned properly with Italian spices. The Provolone on top was evenly melted. But the marinara sauce was harshly salted and thrown off by some type of spicy ingredient resembling Tabasco. Whatever the twist, it dominated the entire sandwich.

Salmon filet bedded on a smear of thick pea puree, however, was a stellar dish about to join several other new entrées by mid July. In this sneak preview, the ultra-flaky salmon was contrasted by crispy skin on one side, and enlivened by roasted carrots, carpaccio-thin beets, and citrus vinaigrette.

A baseball meal it isn’t, given its finesse selection of ingredients. But it is the ownership’s intent to shake things up for daytime jocks while also catering to bar hoppers dropping in past 9 p.m., when DJs and music videos replace the day’s sporting broadcasts.

The bar menu already broadly accommodates both sets of patrons with domestic and craft beers leading into a wine list of familiar varietals and a sturdy lineup of both modern and classic cocktails that include a few daiquiri renditions.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 9.57.39 AMDesserts are limited to assorted house-made cookies containing kid cereals such as Fruity Pebbles and Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs. There’s also a seasonal grilled cake and a deconstructed apple pie, featuring flutes of puffy pie pastry dusted in sugar and cinnamon protruding from a bowl of vanilla ice cream and hot, baked apples.

We ordered the pie along with a to-go box, assuming we’d pack it up after one forkful each. Somehow the dessert disappeared and the container remained on the table untouched.

—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at fsabatini@san.rr.com.

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