Family Tides

By David Nelson / Photos by Kate and Michael Auda

Whiskeys of Western Civilization - Irish, Canadian, Scotch, Bourbon and so forth - have family trees. Who knew?

Whoever created the amusing and enlightening chalkboard sketch in an alcove at Backyard Kitchen & Tap, that's who. So, yes, you can have your whiskey and learn about it, too, perhaps in the proprietary Backyard Smash, a personable drink that stirs Dickel rye with mint syrup, sarsaparilla bitters and mint leaves.

A new destination from busy restaurateur Eric Leitstein of OMG Hospitality (owner of Pacific Beach AleHouse and the Union Kitchen & Tap locations in Encinitas and the Gaslamp, among other popular venues), the sprawling Backyard replaces the former Moondoggies, a long-lived landmark that helped PB achieve its rep as being the West Coast's party central.

"It's a slam-dunk location," says Leitstein, who named his company after his children, Olivia, Mason and Gavin. "We have good food, cold beer, great service - it all works."

The already-hot spot, which opened during the last week of February, ups the neighborhood's ante with cabanas, living walls, fire pits, an indoor/outdoor bar and an immense patio. Also making the place rock are live music and late-night DJs. The concept, which the name just might give away, is that being at Backyard is like being in your own backyard... and if you don't happen to have one, all the better to enjoy this one.

"The general idea is to make people feel warm and welcome," says general manager Chris Cox. "What's more welcoming than a backyard barbecue or party? We do food that people know, not necessarily comfort food, but something people would enjoy if they went to a party in someone's backyard."

Backyard was carefully planned to deliver what its name promises.

"There's a lot of reclaimed wood around Backyard, with a trellis over the deck so that you can enjoy an outdoor experience without having the sun beat down on you," he says. "Inside, there is a lot of community seating, and leather chairs and barstools."

Backyard serves plenty of inventive craft cocktails, which continue to be the trend of the decade, at least so far. But it's a specific refreshment, the kind you might find for sale on a neighborhood front yard (sort of ), that promises to be the buzz here.

"Our homemade lemonades set us apart, especially the adult lemonades," Cox says. Options include a strawberry-ade made with fresh fruit puree.

"It's all done in-house; nothing is pre-made." The same goes for the food.

"San Diego is pretty health-conscious, so we aim at lighter fare," Cox says. "We have some Pacific Rim cuisine, Mediterranean, Baja-style cuisine and our own style."

Making these styles compatible is the responsibility of chef James Nunn, who devoted four months to conceiving the menu.

"Every single thing I make, I make it with love, like I do for my own family," he says. "This is what I preach to everybody in the kitchen; each ingredient is love."

And some of it is lobster, and crab, and local mussels and Baja-style shrimp ceviche... all of which is very easy to love.

Backyard Kitchen & Tap
832 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach
858.859.2593, backyardpb.com

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