967 Garnet Ave. San Diego (858) 483-4624
I am big fan of Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwiches, so when I discovered that a new purveyor, Olde City Grill, had opened on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach, no arm twisting or cajoling was required to ensure my prompt visitation. The restaurant is co-owned by three enterprising east coast transplants, Kenny Casciato, Zach Cotler, and Chris Kelly. This group has assembled a menu that offers a variety of items, including specialty cheesesteaks, hot and cold sandwiches, New York style pizzas, giant wings, meal size salads, and platters of french fries covered with all manner of ingredients, referred to as "dumpster plates." I had high hopes for the cheesesteaks and pizzas, due in part to the owners combined east coast acumen, two hailing from Philly, and one from Brooklyn.
Olde City Grill is located on the southern side of the busy block, between Bayard and Cass streets. There is plenty of indoor seating,
and the restaurant's spacious outdoor patio provides the perfect spot to enjoy Pacific Beach's ever entertaining brand of people watching.
Eager to try Olde City's cheesesteaks and pizzas, I made time for two evening visits this past week. First, we will turn our attention to the cheesesteaks. The menu contains a handy flow chart to help guide patrons through the quirky etiquette of the cheesesteak ordering process.
The American (Wagyu) top round Kobe Style beef, of course, immediately caught my attention. I had not seen this type of beef used in Philly cheesesteaks before, so I ordered it, using the chart: 1. American Kobe beef, 2. 12 inch, 3. American cheese, 4. "Wit" grilled onions, 5. None ($8.75).
The first thing I notice in a sandwich is the bread, as anything short of great, fresh baked, goods is a deal-breaker for me. At Olde City Grill, the owners' decision to fly in Amoroso rolls from Philadelphia has paid off, due to their signature moist, soft, springy, texture. Most hard core Philly steak aficionados opine that a cheesesteak should leave your forearms drenched in juices and grease down to the elbows. They have even coined the term, "the Philly lean," referring to a technique wherein one leans towards the sandwich, to avoid ruining a long sleeve shirt. I have always subscribed to this ideology. When I hefted Olde City's version with two hands, I was immediately concerned, since it failed to emit any juices or grease. I worried that this cheesesteak would prove to be dry and unpleasant, as is often the case under these circumstances. Surprisingly, my trepidation proved unfounded. The Kobe beef was moist and juicy, not greasy or wet. Flavor-wise, the Kobe was robustly beefy, luxuriously rich, and addictive. Generally, the beef for cheesesteaks is prepped by slicing the meat very thin before grilling. This Kobe Beef is so tender that they just throw a slab on the griddle, and cut it up into a fine grain as it is being cooked with nothing more than a spatula. The American cheese had been melted into the meat on the griddle, binding it together with the sweet, grilled onions. I must say, if you had told me I would really like a Philly cheesesteak that did not emit juice and grease upon handling, I would have laughed. My opinion has been changed. The Kobe beef really makes a difference. Old City Grill makes a great cheesesteak, admittedly while doing something different, but excellent none the less.
For my other sandwich, from the specialty steaks section of the menu, I ordered a 12 inch Cowboy Cheesesteak with American Kobe Beef, American Cheese, RedStar Barbecue Sauce, and Grilled Onions ($9.25).
Below is the cross section for your viewing pleasure.
The unique aspect of this sandwich is the addition of barbecue sauce. Olde City uses RedStar BBQ sauce made right here in San Diego. The Menu reads "local guys making great sauce," and the restaurant even sells bottles to go ($4.99).
The sauce's sweet, yet noticeably spicy profile enhanced the Kobe beef's flavor without overpowering it. Grilled onions and cheese, as before, added good dimension, making for another delicious cheesesteak.
Sometimes there are menu items that you just have to order, even though you know you shouldn't. This was the case with the 12 inch Triple Bypass with American Kobe Beef, Pepperoni, Italian Sausage, Meatballs, American Cheese, Cheese Wiz, and Grilled Onions ($12.00).
Another cross section.
The menu proudly boasts "Go ahead, call your doctor. You can use our phone." As amusing as I found all this, I was not sure how these ingredients would interact together, especially since I am not particularly fond of pepperoni (I know, sacrilege). I was pleasantly surprised. I won't sugar coat anything here, seriously rich doesn't begin to cover this offering. That being said, the Triple Bypass tasted really good. The preparation begins with the griddle master breaking up the meats and onions while grilling, after which he melts in the cheeses, and mixes everything together.
The result is a unique blend of flavors, enhanced further by the pepperoni, an ingredient I rarely enjoy. I usually eat two 12 inch sandwiches for dinner, but thoughts of that flew out the window about halfway through the Bypass. I finished it, but that bad boy was filling.
Olde City offers east coast style thin crust pizza as whole pies, or by the slice.
Intent on sampling several of the specialty slices, I started with the Aloha PB with Ham, Bacon, and Pineapple ($2.75).
New York style pizza is all about the crust. Olde City's has a nice chew, good flavor, and does not exhibit soggy tendencies towards the center of the pie. The Aloha had a generous amount of mozzarella, and the pineapple, ham, bacon combination made for an enjoyable, sweet and savory experience.
Next I opted for a slice of Barbecue Chicken with Red Onions, and RedStar BBQ Sauce ($2.75).
RedStar BBQ sauce is the real star here. Olde City applies its sauces in a circular pattern on their pies, giving the slices their signature "tiger stripe" appearance.
I then selected the Buffalo Chicken with Blue Cheese Crumbles, and Buffalo Sauce ($2.75).
This pizza reminded me of eating Buffalo wings dipped in Blue cheese dressing. If you like Buffalo wings you will like this pie's unique flavor.
Finally, I chose a slice of Pesto's Revenge with Artichoke Hearts, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Garlic, and topped with Pesto ($2.75).
Full flavor is the calling card for this pizza. There is a pervasive tangy component derived from the sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. The pesto stripes add a fresh, herbal note. This interesting pie is loaded with bright flavors that truly pop on the palate.
The owners also operate Sunset Italian Ice across from the roller coaster in Mission Beach. They offer their homemade ices at Olde City as well.
My choice for dessert was a Large Watermelon Italian Ice ($4.00).
This ice was infused with an intense watermelon essence, tempered by an equally intense sweetness, which I liked. One quart of watermelon puree is used to make one gallon of ice, resulting in a strong ice. Be forewarned, the empty cup may not look that big, but after my server was done over-stuffing mine, it made for a sizable serving.
The Question remains, how did these transplanted entrepreneurs fair, producing two of my favorite east coast staples. Their pizza has a quality crust, fresh toppings and cheeses, and a good selection of sauces, all offered in unique combinations with artistic presentations. I still prefer pizza cooked in a wood fired oven, but that being said, Olde City creates a solid, thoroughly enjoyable product. As far as their Philly cheesesteaks are concerned, it all comes down to the basic ingredients. The American Kobe style beef is cut fresh daily, and cooked to order in individual portions on the griddle. This second point is important because it allows the meat to caramelize. When high volume operations cook giant piles at once, the meat steams instead of being grilled, causing the outcome to be dubious at best (two famous South Philadelphia institutions come to mind, but I won't name names). When describing their preparation of the top round Kobe beef, Kenny stated that they don't even need to season it. That is a testament to how much flavor is inherent in this meat. When you take fresh Amoroso bread, tender, flavorful beef grilled to order, and a good selection of cheeses and toppings, you clearly have the formula for a great cheesesteak. If you are passionate about Philadelphia cheesesteaks, like me, do yourself a favor and give Olde City Grill a try.
San Diego Restaurant Reviews