1730 Garnet Ave. San Diego (858) 483-2600
(Next to VONS in Pacific Plaza)
Many of my longtime readers know that I harbor a deep and abiding affinity for the working class hero of the sandwich world, the cheese steak. I was therefore thrilled when I spotted Pop's Jersey Style Cheese Steaks during a recent shopping junket at Pacific Plaza in Pacific Beach. Having already eaten, I secured a menu to peruse at home, intent on returning first thing the next morning for the true breakfast of champions, a cheese steak.
Upon arriving, I entered a bright and cozy dining space, and was warmly greeted by half of the family ownership team, Pop and his son Junior. It turns out that this operation is run by the Guadagni family, which also includes Nunzio and Mama, both of whom have menu items named after them. My first line of inquiry was, "What do you feel constitutes a Jersey-style cheese steak?"
Pop explained that it all starts with thinly sliced marinated beef rib eye, shipped in from New Jersey.
Junior added that in comparison with a South Philadelphia cheese steak, the bread (brought in daily from Little Italy's Solunto's Bakery) is grilled longer in order to provide a crispier surface. In addition, a Jersey cheese steak includes grilled peppers, onions, and mushrooms; none of which are standard equipment on a Philly style. The discussion of all this food had me raring to go, so I placed my order, causing Pop and Junior to spring into action.
Here you can see Pop tending to the innards of my sammy on the griddle.
Stage one of the morning's feast was the restaurant's eponymous Jersey Style Cheese Steak ($7.49).
On the first bite, I was immediately taken by the flavor of the steak. It was perfectly seasoned, and possessed a rich beefy flavor that worked nicely with the melted mozzarella. The inclusion of the grilled peppers, onions, and mushrooms made for quite a flavor explosion. No sandwich can make it without good bread, and the fresh baked Solunto's roll filled the bill perfectly. Pop's is a serious contender in the cheese steak arena, and if you are an aficionado, you owe it to yourself to give them a try.
The next stage in the festivities was the Pork Roll sandwich ($7.49).
For those of you that are not familiar with the near-mythical New Jersey specialty called "pork roll," it's a ground pork shoulder fermented sausage product that is flavored with bacon fat, salt, pepper, port wine, and maple powder. The finished sausage is often smoked, and is not readily available in other parts of the country. Pop proudly imports original Taylor brand pork roll from Trenton, New Jersey. For this sammy, Pop sautes thin slices of pork roll on the griddle, stacks them on a grilled Solunto's roll spread with deli mustard and mayonnaise, and finishes it all off with sliced tomatoes and shredded lettuce. The end result is far more than the sum of its parts. The flavor of this sausage is unique and addictive. There is a hint of smoke, a tangy sour component from lactic fermentation, and a subtle sweetness derived from the port wine and maple powder. These three elements all pair well with the deli mustard's vinegar aspect, and the acidity of the tomatoes. Talk about a complex flavor profile! This decadent treat is a treasured find in San Diego, and should be indulged in often.
Lastly, I rounded out my breakfast with a made to order Homemade Cannoli ($3.50).
Made to order is critical in the world of the cannoli, as they quickly become soggy when left sitting. This specimen had a nice crispy shell, and for a truly indulgent twist, the rich ricotta-based cream filling is infused with Amaretto. Don't tell Pop though, Nunzio and Junior tell him it's almond extract.
While I was eating, two other customers ordered more traditional breakfasts, and they both looked great. One order consisted of Two Eggs Any Style, Grilled Ham, East Coast Style Breakfast Potatoes, and Choice of Toast ($5.99).
The other order was the Italian Special Omelet filled with Sauteed Capocollo, Provolone Cheese, Bell Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms, and served with Potatoes and Toast ($7.49).
Pop's Jersey Style Cheese Steaks is a welcome new arrival on San Diego's casual dining scene. They make an excellent cheese steak, a delicious cannoli, and their pork roll is my new favorite sandwich obsession. The breakfast items looked great, and the menu offers a plethora of hot and cold sandwiches, salads, and Italian favorites, including chicken, eggplant, and sausage&peppers parmigiana. I also like the fact that this establishment is a family-run operation. Pop and the gang are all extremely friendly, welcoming, and helpful. Many may consider my menu selections to be odd choices for consumption at nine in the morning. I would urge them to keep an open mind. This food tastes fantastic at any time. My Breakfast at Pop's proved to be the real Breakfast of Champions.
Monday through Friday 9:00am - 8:00pm
Saturday 9:00am - 7:00pm