By David Nelson
Photos by Sara Norris
It was a Monday morning around 10 o'clock, and Mina Desiderio, a principal partner in downtown's doggedly determined The Local Eatery & Drinking Hole, was warning arriving staffers, "We're going to be jammed for lunch; we're going to be jumping."
Every restaurateur would love to be able tell her team to man- or woman-up because a rush is coming, but at most eateries, there's no guaranteeing a crowd will show. It's different at The Local, a local favorite since 2003.
On the mid-May Monday in question, Desiderio and her crew faced a countdown to the first lunch service since the place shut down some months earlier for a complete remodel and a major expansion. The upsizing took the restaurant into adjacent premises on Fourth Avenue and on C Street. Now substantially larger, The Local is even local-er.
And it's got beer.
What Desiderio calls "an incredible lineup of beers" is highlighted by a list of draft lagers, Pilsners, wheats, blondes, ambers and reds (there's also a quartet of quality wines on tap). The Local now has a brewery on the premises, a separate company that is a partner in hospitality but operates on its own liquor license.
"The brewery will be called Resident Brewing Company," says Desiderio. "We're two companies. I teamed up with a buddy who was about to open a brewery and said, 'Why don't you open in the back of The Local?' I was kind of kidding, but here we are today."
The brewery's five partners include brewmaster Robert Masterson, who created the popular Coconut IPA for Stone Brewing.
Resident Brewing will open late summer in the former Octopus clothing store on C St. and in The Local's spacious basement. A glass wall reveals the brewery's works to sippers in the Resident tasting room, essentially a back bar next to The Local's shiny new kitchen at the back of the restaurant.
"We'll be using our license to pour Resident's products," says Desiderio. "This is a shared space between The Local and the brewery, and I don't know if there's another like it."
The craft draft that will foam from the taps inspired yet another idea.
"We have an entertainment license and we'll have DJs," says Desiderio, but there won't be a dance floor. Instead, she says, The Local will present what she calls Craft Beats, a combination of craft beer and craft music.
The menu, titled "Grub," takes downtown nutrition cross-border. The "street fries," for example, head south with garnishes of carnitas, cheese, a cilantro cream, salsa and fresh jalapeños. From over the country's northern border, the brisket poutine pours beer-enriched gravy over slow-cooked beef, cheese curds and a pile of fries. Plenty of dishes are spicy and tropical, but for pure local comfort, there's nothing like the bacon-and-egg salad with blue cheese crumbles.
The remodel and expansion were so extensive that, says Desiderio with triumphant emphasis, "everything is new."
The former wooden ceiling was disassembled to expose the far-off roof and skylights. The resulting reclaimed wood was built into new tops for rows of tables stretching down the room. Soon, a patio will front the floor-to-ceiling garage doors that flood The Local with light and air. Desiderio's becoming a pro at creating new destinations, having opened Wonderland Ocean Pub in Ocean Beach in 2013 and The Local Pacific Beach last year.
Up front, The Local shows off with LED-powered "Light Boxes" displaying clips from San Diego-set movies - with local beers Photoshopped into the hands of Marilyn Monroe as she poses in front of Hotel Del Coronado, Ron Burgundy and his Anchorman buds, and Top Gun's Tom Cruise gripping a bottle (Desiderio and her buds obviously had fun) of Stone Brewing Co.'s Arrogant Bastard ale.
What could be more local than that?
The Local Eatery & Drinking Hole
1065 Fourth Ave., Downtown