by Vince Meehan
It’s always a good idea to buy local but this year that credo holds true more than ever. With our current supply chain fiasco, holiday shopping will not be as easy as years past. But if the products are made here in San Diego, you will not need to be concerned about the armada of container ships anchored off San Pedro ruining your shopping experience. Besides, our local businesses are still catching up from the Covid shutdowns, so the extra business will help them out immensely. Here is a list of thoughtful gifts that are easy to obtain at local spots.
Embrace the Holiday Spirit!
A bottle of wine or spirits has always been a go-to gift that brings a smile to your family or friends.
Nick Apostolopoulos is the founder of 619 Spirits North Park, a star player in a new wave of local distillers that have taken root in San Diego due to new state laws that made the craft viable in 2017.
619 Spirits North Park is in the heart of North Park at 30th and Lincoln (3015 Lincoln Ave.). Flavored vodka is his spirit specialty. The line includes 619’s Original Vodka, as well as five infusions ―Scorpion Pepper, Coffee, Rose Petal, Cucumber and Pickle. The Scorpion Pepper Vodka is spicy and perfect for mixing Bloody Marys or any other cocktail with a kick. The Pickle Vodka is briny and makes a perfect addition to a hip pickle-whiskey cocktail or a Pickle-tini. Apostolopoulos uses locally sourced ingredients for his vodkas and distills them entirely from cane sugar, resulting in a uniquely clean and smooth taste, texture, and natural absence of gluten.
The vodkas can be bought for $29 each or in a three-pack for $70. That’s the best deal because you can either split it and give three friends a bottle apiece, or give your primo three craft vodkas and look like a king!
Celebrity chef Brian Malarkey became a fixture in San Diego with his fabric named restaurants including Searsucker, Gingham, Gabardine and Burlap. Now, he has joined in with the trendy ampersand-themed restaurant clique with his new eateries Herb & Wood and Herb & Sea. But during the Covid shutdown, a series of events unfolded resulting in Malarkey launching his own brand of cooking oils called Chefs Life.
“During Covid, we were doing a lot of online cooking classes and stuff for our employee relief fund – Zoom classes where people would pay and get recipes and stuff,” Malarkey said. “And then we eventually turned it into a whole operation – and actually into another business called ‘Chef in a Box’… I was getting to go out and visit everybody in their own kitchen! And I never had the opportunity to do that before!”
During this program, Malarkey realized that many home cooks were not fully informed on how to use basic ingredients in their recipes. This revelation inspired Malarkey to create his line of cooking oils where he could transfer his vast culinary knowledge to the home cooks around the nation. Each bottle is clearly labeled with the phrase “Use this oil for…” with a list of how to use the oil, making it a no-brainer for the home chefs. The three categories are: for cooking, for blending (as in sauces) and for finishing. “I wanted it to be chef’s knowledge passed on to the consumer and that’s where we got the name from,” added Malarkey
Cooking with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) was the first concern that jumped out at Malarkey while Zooming with the home cookers.
“I realized that everybody was cooking with EVOO — most of the people I talked to — and it was just mind boggling to me that nobody knew that you’re not supposed to cook with EVOO, you’re not even supposed to heat up EVOO. And EVOO as much as I love it, is just a flavor enhancer. It’s got so much flavor, its big and bold. I’ve recently been describing it as a big buttery Chardonnay.”
Malarkey says the best cooking oils are grape seed, sunflower, avocado and second press olive oil, so he created a blend of those for his cooking oil. His mixing oil is used for sauces and marinades, and the EVOO is for flavoring your food. Malarkey also added that proceeds of the sales goes to Golden Rule Charity based in Southern California, which provides grants for people in the hospitality industry. Malarkey was able to secure a deal with Kroger, so now you can find it at Ralph’s for under $9 a bottle.
Rose’s Tasting Room is tucked away in a corner of Fiesta De Reyes in Old Town, and they feature a wide selection of local wines from Ramona. Ramona has the largest concentration of wineries in San Diego County and these make great gifts for any wine lovers on your list. You can choose from wineries such as Ramona Ranch Winery that produces Italian wines such as Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Super Tuscan Blends. Woof and Rose Winery produces Rhone and Bordeaux style varietals, and the property is surrounded by rose bushes and the owners operate a large dog rescue service. Old Julian Winery features traditional French varietals, while Hatfield Creek Winery does an organic port style Zinfandel and a Petite Sirah with a big front, big finish and big nose! Rose’s Tasting Room is at 2754 Calhoun St. in Old Town.
The right book as a gift will show exactly how much thought you put into it and also let your loved ones know exactly how much you understand their passions.
Verbatim Books in North Park (3793 30th St.) will be hosting an outdoor book fair on Saturday, Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at North Park Way and 30th Street. This bookworm festival is made possible by the support of North Park Main Street, (NPMS) the Business Improvement District that services the North Park Business Community.
“North Park hosted its first book fair in July and were delighted by the feedback,” said Angela Landsberg, Executive Director of NPMS. “San Diego is a city that loves to read and understands the importance of supporting local businesses. We are so grateful that our community asked us to host another book fair for the holidays.”
More than 100 vendors will be on hand offering books, original art, specialty gifts and more. This fun and free, family-friendly event will include tasty offerings from local restaurants, music from local bands, and live poetry and spoken word performed by San Diego artists. And kids will enjoy crafts, story time – and a visit with Santa!
Gift cards have taken off in the past 10 years as a great gift that gives the recipient the freedom to pick whatever they want. It’s hard to screw that one up and picking up a gift card is an easy in and out affair with no fuss attached. Here’s a list of great local places to grab some cards to give as a gift or a stocking stuffer.
Mike Hess Brewing is an OG in the local craft-brewing scene, which has become a huge part of our economy. Mike Hess offers gift cards, which are a great idea because locally brewed beer is fresh, delicious and always available. Located in the heart of North Park, (3812 Grim Ave.) Mike Hess is a great place to hang out and enjoy some of the best beer in San Diego.
Speaking of OGs, Filippis Pizza Grotto (1747 India St.) has been a landmark in Little Italy since way before it became the hip restaurant zone it is today. Filippis has been a favorite magnet for San Diego pizza lovers because of its great food as well as beyond reasonable prices. My dad always gets me a $50 card every year and it is one of my favorite gifts because of its versatility. I can use it to take somebody out for a full dinner. At Filippis, $50 will get you two pasta entrees, antipasto salad and a carafe of wine! That’s more than enough for a fun night out. But you can also hold onto it and save it for a low time when you are broke and would love a piping hot pizza to go instead of more ramen.
Bakeries that create artisan craft pies are rare here in Southern California and also in the rest of the nation to be honest. But University Heights is home to one of the few true craft pie outlets around and that saves you from trekking up to Julian for a delicious holiday gift! Pop Pie Co. is located at Park Ave. and Meade (4404 Park Blvd) and is run by partners Steven Torres and his husband Gan Suebsarakham. They specialize in hand-made craft pies including savory meat pies. A gift card from Pop Pie Co. is the perfect way to give someone a unique and yummy present.
The Little Italy Mercato is the farmers market that is held in Little Italy every Wednesday and Saturday along West Date Street. You can find just about anything from fresh honey to original art, all from local vendors. The Mercato offers gift cards, so you can send one to any of your friends who live Downtown. Then they can use it to get whatever catches their eye.
Finally, you can donate to the San Diego Food Bank as a progressive holiday gift to one of your civically minded friends or family members. Both the donor and the honoree will receive a letter of thanks from the San Diego Food Bank. This is not only a thoughtful gift, but helps those in need as well – a win-win for everybody. Go to SanDiegoFoodBank.org to donate.
Nick Apostolopoulos of 619 Spirits North Park