By Merilee Kern, ‘The Luxe List’ Executive Editor
There’s nothing I love more than finding tasty neighborhood nooks—eateries that, although ensconced in community digs somewhat off the beaten path, are making a notable impact on the local culinary scene nonetheless. One such San Diego locale is BANKERS HILL BAR + Restaurant. While near the city’s famed Gaslamp District, this restaurant sits on the corner of 4th and Ivy duly detached from deep downtown commotion.
While this lively eatery is decidedly unpretentious and unfussy, also giving patrons much bang for the buck, make no mistake that the chef-driven cuisine here is “craft America cooking” at its finest. Classic favorites are gratifyingly reimagined with a gourmet spin courtesy of Executive Chef Carl Schroeder—a three-time James Beard Award semi-finalist. His ever-changing menu focuses on dishes showcasing locally-sourced products, “inspired” vegetables and fresh seafood. Inventive craft cocktails, carefully curated wines and local craft beers aptly round out the epicurean experience. The indoor/outdoor layout and industrial-chic vibe are draws all their own.
Interestingly, BANKERS HILL is the casual neighborhood counterpart to MARKET Restaurant + Bar in Del Mar, California just a short drive northward. With MARKET having consistently been ranked among the top restaurants in San Diego, earning numerous awards and honors in the process, it’s no surprise this derivative dining spot is on point. Success is also anticipated given Chef Schroeder, the pro responsible for executing the eatery’s culinary vision for each seating, has worked with legendary chefs like Michael Mina at Aqua in San Francisco, among other notables.
Here, every menu item is made in-house, including many cocktail ingredients. This dedication to quality scratch cooking is apparent. Sure, their BH burger, BBQ Braised Pork Tacos and Parmesan Truffle Fries—which are all indubitably amazing—put them on the map, but there’s so much more to their menu that’s resonating with even the most hardened gastro-snobs (guilty, party of one).
The appetizer selections are a feast unto themselves and one can readily make a fine meal out of these selections alone. Never relegating myself to just one, my recent visit had me indulging in three of their sumptuous starters. First, I was certainly beguiled by the Deviled Eggs served atop a bed of vinaigrette-tossed arugula, all topped with pecorino cheese shavings. Lemon potato crisps were also served alongside. For me, the viscosity of the yolk mixture was spot-on, giving it an appealing mouth feel. The brightness and crispness of the greens was a fitting foil to the flavorful-rich but more mild-toned egg, and the more substantial crunch of the accompanying crisp made this trio truly sing.
The Fried Green Tomatoes and Burrata was also executed spectacularly. The thick-cut tomato itself maintained a perfect crispness as did the well-seasoned breading that surrounded it. The tartness of the thick tomato jam was an impeccable complement to the spray of fresh arugula and the generous dollop of aromatic basil oil perched atop the moist and creamy cheese.
Finally, perhaps my favorite starter was the Rockfish and Citrus Ceviche. The fish, cubed larger than is typical for ceviche thus allowing more of its own fleshy flavor to shine through, is served swimming in a robust pico de gallo with lime-marinated cucumbers and Serrano chili. Also, much to my delight, this dish was more savory and less citrusy than the typical ceviche preparation. Avocado and to-die-for spiced large-scale, super-crisp corn chips complete this masterful appetizer.
Given my starter spree, I decided to lighten things up with my entrée. I opted for the mild mannered Pan Roasted Petrale Sole that was served with an ample portion of basil-pearl pasta (some call Israeli couscous), adding delightfully rich flavor, texture and visual appeal. The vegetable accoutrement was a lovely autumnal ratatouille and sweet corn sauté. All of these elements were plated amid a fresh heirloom tomato broth assuring moisture and upping the flavor ante with every bite.
To complete what was pretty much an impeccable meal, I reveled in the thick, decadent and ever-satisfying Butterscotch Pudding. It was topped with a layer of pecan toffee crumbles and a heaping spoonful of créme fraiche that added a welcome tangy note to offset the profuse sweetness. Three light and crumbly shortbread cookies were served alongside.
Already with a strong foodie following among locals and tourists, alike, BANKERS HILL strives to continue elevating its image and presence in the community. When asked how it will achieve this, the restaurant’s co-proprietor, Terryl Gavre, underscored the importance of reliably great food and service. “There are no short cuts in the restaurant business,” she noted. “It’s all about hard work, consistency and caring about your guests, the dishes and cocktails you’re serving and the complete dining experience.”
In the tumultuous restaurant business where “hotspots” seemingly come and go with the blink of an eye, I appreciate BANKERS HILL slow, steady and mindful hospitality approach—one where attention to detail and stable quality service standards are aptly upheld.