By Frank Sabatini Jr.
In keeping with the sleek, industrial elan of East Village, the latest eating and drinking establishment arrives with something others don’t have — a self-serve tap system rigged with craft beer, hard cider and kombucha.
Unless you’re hankering for a craft cocktail, like a cardamom-kissed “Cali Love” made with whiskey that’s been aged in IPA-beer barrels, or a “Yeezus Candle” combining cognac with brown ale reduction, you take the upper hand with your suds at what is aptly named Whiphand.
Customers distribute their beers by activating the taps with plastic cards that servers link to their credit cards. Prices range on average from 34 to 66 cents per ounce, with blood orange-mint kombucha by JuneShine ringing in at the top price on this particular day. For that, you get your probiotics along with 6 percent alcohol, which is noticeably higher than the fermented drinks sold in stores.
Imaginative libations are made by mixologists from a full bar, which sits on one side of the industrial-chic interior. On the other side is an open kitchen specializing in “American brasserie” food, as it is described by Whiphand’s San Diego-based operator, Grind & Prosper Hospitality. (The restaurant group also runs Miss B’s Coconut Club in Mission Beach and Park 101 in Carlsbad — and it will soon open Louisiana Purchase in North Park.)
Visiting as a trio for lunch, we helped ourselves to a variety of beer glasses arranged neatly on a tall shelving unit, and then hit the taps before diving into a menu of what I’d sum up as familiar fare with hearty, spicy twists. Jalapenos enter into a fair number of dishes. And we gladly embraced their harmless heat.
From several versions of “super fries” loaded with meats and/or cheeses, we opted for the vegan “impossible” concoction crowned with crumbled, trendy Impossible Burgers. More convincing than any vegan patty out there, the crispy, medium-cut fries were strewn also with wilted spinach, halved cherry tomatoes and thin, baby carrots. A couple slices of melty cashew cheese clenched the deal, and the dish became one of our favorites.
A busy but pretty plate of roasted cauliflower was elevated by red pepper puree, basil pesto, snipped herbs and squiggles of balsamic reduction. Had there been one more ingredient in the scheme, the cauliflower would have been upstaged.
Two sandwiches and a dry-aged burger followed. Forks and knives were mandatory for eating them, as nobody has a mouth big enough to take proper bites into these over-stacked giants.
The blackened chicken BLT offered a startling abundance of thick-cut bacon, which the recipient of the sandwich (my dad visiting from back East) termed as some of the best bacon he ever encountered. There was plenty of it to go around the table, and I’m guessing it was treated with brown sugar and something along the lines of Worcestershire sauce.
The sandwich’s clever accent was jalapeno-strawberry aioli. It paired superbly to the seasoned chicken breast and “candied” bacon, yet without pushing the construct into a sweet, fruity zone.
His girlfriend’s smoked-cheddar burger was a monstrous stacking of a jumbo beef patty, Cajun-seasoned onions, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. Jalapenos evaded this scheme, but the classic, funky flavor of dry-aged beef didn’t. Make sure that’s your thing before ordering it. Otherwise, the house “Whiphand” burger blending regular ground beef with short rib meat is the way to go.
Juicy pulled pork in a mushroom demi sauce tasted right at home under a sheath of melted Swiss cheese and tucked within a jalapeno kolache bun, which is a sweetish Czech-style bread with a nice yeast flavor. It responded well to our full-bodied Brooklyn Lager. Chalk it up to one of those sandwiches you can’t cast aside too easily even on a full stomach.
Word on the street is that Whiphand’s house-roasted pastrami sandwich with creole mayo, and the lobster roll with garlic butter and jalapeno coleslaw, are commendably zesty choices as well.
Other options include oysters Rockefeller, short-rib fondue, Reuben french fries, a vegan cheeseburger wrap and more.
Located a stone’s throw from Petco Park, baseball fans this season will surely embrace the concept of yanking on the beer taps with festive impunity while chomping into some wildly substantial dishes that escape stadium prices. And, I’m willing to bet we’ll see more places like Whiphand start popping up in the coming year.
— 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.