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Events: Fireworks, R Gang Eatery, And Pizza

Events: Fireworks, R Gang Eatery, And Pizza
If you want to see some fireworks this Fourth of July, then we've got you covered. We'll also get the skinny on the new restaurants in town.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): Today we're talking about comfort food, pizza and fireworks. It's a 4th of July weekend preview. There will be a lot of barbecues, we know, planned this holiday weekend, but if you'd like to let someone else do the cooking, we have some great restaurant suggestions. And of course, a guide to the big fireworks displays on the 4th. I’d like to welcome my guest Erin Chambers Smith. She is the senior editor at San Diego Magazine. Erin, good morning. Welcome back.

ERIN CHAMBERS SMITH (Senior Editor, San Diego Magazine): Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s talk fireworks.



CAVANAUGH: Give us a rundown, if you would, on some of the classic places to catch San Diego fireworks.

SMITH: Well, man, doing research for this segment, I gotta say, there is seems like fireworks in every single neighborhood this year. It seems like we keep adding more and more despite the controversy. I know you guys had talked earlier in the week about the La Jolla Cove fireworks, there was some controversy there with the sort of environmentalists.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. And those fireworks are going to go on as planned.

SMITH: Umm-hmm.


CAVANAUGH: So that’s one place that’s going to maintain the tradition.

SMITH: Exactly, at La Jolla Cove, there on that big expansive lawn. They have live music and the fireworks out over the cove there. It’s kind of a controversial little pool over there between the seals and the fireworks and…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, indeed.

SMITH: …it’s not exactly a light summer in La Jolla. But, yeah, all the regulars are happening. The Big Bay fireworks, of course, in San Diego Bay, probably one of the bigger shows. I think they have four different barges set up out there to do fireworks. You just had Marvin Hamlisch in here talking about the Summer Pops so from the – on 4th of July, you’ll be able to see the fireworks from the Summer Pops, from the San Diego Symphony. And then also out on the bay, the Midway, that’s a great really family, sort of friendly option for fireworks. And, really, it’s kind of like a festival on the Midway all day on July 4th. They have a fun apple pie theme this year so they’re going to have, you know, apple pie contests and, you know, all kinds of different apple things and then they’ll have chairs and viewing decks available out on the top of the Midway.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s great.

SMITH: Yeah, it’s not too expensive to get on. I think it’s ten dollars or a little bit more than ten dollars, and it’s – kids are welcome and everything on there. It always makes me nervous to think about little kids running around on the deck of the USS Midway but it is…

CAVANAUGH: There are little fences now.


CAVANAUGH: I’ve been there. So they can’t fall off.

SMITH: They can’t fall off but, ooh, still, that’s a big boat. But, yes, so that one also in the bay. And then – I mean, what I did when I was a kid and they still do every year, you know, you bring your lawn chairs out to the rocks along Shelter Island there or even along Harbor Island and you definitely have to get there early because it always gets really crowded but you just, you know, if you really want to go budget friendly, bring out the lawn chairs, bring out your own barbecue, no booze…


SMITH: …along there after eight o’clock, but, yeah, you can see all the fireworks in the bay there. Coronado, they are doing their fireworks display. And I actually really like what they do in Coronado because, again, it’s like a whole day planned out. You don’t have to drive in there at six o’clock at night just to catch the fireworks. They have a 5K and I think a 15K run-walk during the day along Orange Avenue there in the village. They’ve got the little, you know, all-American parade happening. You can take the ferry over and at the ferry landing there, there’s like a little, you know, festival. And then the Coronado fireworks, they set off their own fireworks over there in Coronado.

CAVANAUGH: How about inland, away from the coast? Any fireworks going on there?

SMITH: Tons of fireworks.

CAVANAUGH: Tons and tons.

SMITH: Tons and tons of fireworks inland. Scripps Ranch has a really fun festival every year. They’ve got a biking component to theirs. During the day, they have a really cute neighborhood parade. I know 4-S Ranch up in Rancho Bernardo, that’s one of those sort of planned communities that’s really designed for these kinds of days because all the houses are sort of clustered around the parks and they’re all built for community gatherings. So 4-S Ranch, they’re bringing in rides and, you know, festival booths and food, so if you live in sort of the Rancho Bernardo area that one’s going on. Escondido and Poway both do big parades. And Escondido and Poway kind of go old school a little bit. They kind of, you know, a nod back into history and they’re kind of, you know, old Americana sort of themes in both of those two locations. So, man, everywhere.

CAVANAUGH: And I don’t want us to miss out on Legoland. Is that a good option for families?

SMITH: Yeah. I think Legoland does a really good job, if you can afford it. I mean, it’s not cheap to go to Legoland.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

SMITH: You know, if you have a family of four, it’ll be a couple hundred bucks to get everyone just through the door there.


SMITH: But they really – again, they make a whole day of it and it’s really oriented towards families so they have potato sack races and, you know, all kinds of fun food and drinks throughout the park there. And I know that parents always – I get lots of e-mails at from parents saying, you know, we need – the fireworks have to be early. We can’t stay until 9:30 at night to watch the fireworks. Sea World does a great fireworks show but it’s not until 9:30 at night. Legoland, theirs are earlier in the day, so you get the kids home early, the parents get to go to bed early, and you beat the traffic.

CAVANAUGH: And all of the fireworks shows are like between 8:30 and 9:30, aren’t they?

SMITH: Yep, they’re all between 8:30 and 9:30 and most of them are linked up with a radio station that is doing music.

CAVANAUGH: Patriotic music.

SMITH: Patriotic music. And some of them are timed and some of them aren’t timed but, you know, you just sort of tune in so you can hear a little bit of that music in the background.

CAVANAUGH: Any tips about parking or public transportation for the largest of these fireworks events?

SMITH: Yeah, I would say don’t park. That’s my…

CAVANAUGH: That’s the bright mom.

SMITH: I mean, that’s my best tip is try to avoid having to park, especially if you’re heading towards downtown San Diego or – I mean, Sea World and Legoland, they have tons of parking and you’ll pay to park at those places but they have tons of options. But MTS, they are so technologically savvy, the folks at the trolley, you can get the iPhone up there, you can go online and see their special holiday schedules. If you ride the trolley regularly, make sure you do check, though, before 4th of July because they are running a special holiday schedule. The buses do the same thing. But anywhere in and around downtown San Diego, the trolley will get you pretty close. The buses are all running. I know in certain neighborhoods they’re really sort of promoting the idea of not driving on 4th of July. In the Uptown neighborhoods, they have a new Park-to-Park shuttle that sort of shuttles you around between Normal Heights, University Heights, North Park, South Park and Golden Hill areas.

CAVANAUGH: I didn’t know about that.

SMITH: Yeah, I think it’s five dollars and you can ride all night. You get a wristband for five dollars and if, you know, you want to, you know, have a beer at Blind Lady Ale House and then head down to, you know, South Park or near Balboa Park, you can hop on and off. I think they have about ten different stops through that neighborhood, so that’s sort of a shuttle idea. I know a restaurant in South Park is also doing a Decorate Your Bike contest, trying to encourage people to come. It’s called Alchemy in South Park, it’s at the corner of 30th and Beech, a really great local neighborhood restaurant. And on 4th of July, they’re going to be barbecuing and having a fun festival before the fireworks and a Decorate Your Bike contest. So ride your bike down there and decorate it all up with streamers and red, white and blue, and they’re going to pick a winner and get a prize and that kind of thing.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Erin Chambers Smith, senior editor of San Diego magazine. We’re talking about, well, a Weekend Preview for the 4th of July. Now before we go on to the restaurants, Erin, there is a thing from the State of California Department of Fish and Game and it’s like a 4th of July gift…

SMITH: I know.

CAVANAUGH: … for people who like to fish. Tell us about that.

SMITH: Well, this is such a fun thing that we discovered this. I actually had an intern bring this up to me at the magazine and they said, hey, have you heard about this fishing thing? And I said I haven’t – I had no idea. But, yeah, if you go into the California Fish & Game website, you’ll notice that a couple different days throughout the year, I think they do it two or three times a year, they declare a free fishing day. So as long as you have your license, which does cost money, as long as you have a legal fishing license, you get to fish for free at a bunch of different state parks throughout California. And San Diego, there’s several on the list there in San Diego so, yeah, kind of a fun day, like Lake Murray, places like that if you want to go out and sort of go fishing for free. It’s not that much to fish but I just thought that was kind of a neat thing to do on the 4th of July, very all- American thing.

CAVANAUGH: Very all-American thing. Moving on to the restaurants. There’s a new restaurant called Our Gang Eatery. It just opened up in Hillcrest. Erin, what can you tell us about it?

SMITH: Okay, this is the most fun place because, you know, I have a very fun job at San Diego magazine, it’s a big – I cover all the – I do all the food and dining coverage, and I assign most of it out but every once in awhile I get to go try a place, too, and I just recently ate here and it’s really good. It’s a very fun sort of kind of homestyle, throwback, almost like soul food but a little bit more modern place in Hillcrest. And it’s actually replaced the old Busalacchi’s. Where Busalacchi’s was for over 20 years in Hillcrest there’s a new place now. It’s called Our Gang Eatery.

CAVANAUGH: And the chef could be familiar to “Top Chef” viewers.

SMITH: Yes, so he was on “Top Chef” a couple seasons ago. His name is Rich Sweeney, really, really neat, fun guy. A lot of people know Brian Malarkey was on the “Top Chef” and he’s, you know, in the media a lot in San Diego, people see him. But this guy’s sort of the other “Top Chef” chef that we have locally that’s doing some really, really fun things. It’s just a really fun, neat eatery. He completely redid the Busalacchi’s interior, used a lot of reclaimed woods and, you know, sort of recovered a lot of the furniture there, so not in a wasteful sort of extravagant way but it’s just a really comfortable, homey place. When I was eating there for dinner, his mom was there working and she came out to say hi to our table and just a really, really neat spot in Hillcrest.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what are some of the standout items on this menu?

SMITH: Okay, so I hate to go to dessert first but S’Mores casserole. They have like a bunch of different kinds of S’Mores casseroles on their dessert menu and I guess what they’re going to do is rotate through them, so there’ll be one available with peanut butter in it and maybe the classic one with graham crackers one day and then one with strawberries another day. But Rich Sweeney, he’s a great chef and, you know, very well loved, and a lot of people know him. He was on “Top Chef” so he’s sort of recognizable but his secret weapon, he has a pastry chef in the kitchen named Rachel, and I got to meet her and she makes the S’Mores casserole and it is really, really, really good. So, I like that.

CAVANAUGH: Sounds great.

SMITH: He also does a lot of updated sort of, you know, comfort food items. So he does over 20 different recipes of macaroni and cheese and he’s going to rotate those through the menu.

CAVANAUGH: 20 different recipes of mac and cheese?

SMITH: Yeah. I had one with like a smoked cheddar and it was really good when I was there. He does a chicken pot pie but it’s curried, so he adds a little bit of sort of spice to the chicken pot pie with curry seasoning. He has a really good burger that I liked when I was there. They have tempuraed jalapenos on the burger, so that’s a little bit of sort of spice and heat, and then it also has really thick pieces of bacon so you get a little bit of smokiness from the bacon on the burger and then some bleu cheese that’s really tangy and strong. So the burger was good as well.

CAVANAUGH: Well, what kind of price range are we talking about at Our Gang Eatery?

SMITH: You know, this is one of those trends in food that I’m seeing a lot right now. It’s that $20 and under price range. So it’s not sort of cheap. It’s not an inexpensive, you know, just a burger place where you’d go and everything’s six or seven bucks, but there’s nothing on the menu really that’s over $20 so it’s a really – it’s definitely that sort of trendy sort of price point right now. Everyone’s trying to hover right around that, you know, between $15 and $20 for an entrée, and I gotta say his portions are pretty good sized. I had a shrimp and grits thing when I was there and it was a big portion of grits and, you know, a really big skewer of pretty big meaty prawns. So, yeah, it’s a nice price point. I mean, I love that trend in food. You can get really good food for less than $20, it’s great.

CAVANAUGH: And lots of it.

SMITH: Yeah, definitely.

CAVANAUGH: Our Gang Eatery is on 5th Avenue in Hillcrest. Now there are two new pizza restaurants in town with very different flavors. First, tell me about Wag – I’m sorry, Wade Hageman’s, is that correct?

SMITH: Hageman or Hageman, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Hageman – Wade Hageman’s new spot in Encinitas.

SMITH: Yeah, so he opened a place very recently called Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizza.


SMITH: Now this is a chef who came to San Diego originally to work at Blanca, which is a very fancy pants restaurant in Solana Beach, and he came with quite a pedigree. He’s worked for Michael Mina in Las Vegas, and worked at Spago in Las Vegas, and was really doing some pretty cutting edge things and helped to open this restaurant Blanca, which is still open today. But sort of said that he got a little bit tired of the confines of fine dining, really wanted to, you know, he’s a very well trained chef, like I said, with a great pedigree and wanted to provide people with this really top notch, high quality dining experience. And yet the fine dining thing in San Diego, ehh, you know, just doesn’t always quite take off. Blanca’s still around. They have a new chef and they’ve done some different things with their menu but I think he just really wanted to break out and do really, really good food but a little bit more approachable, so he opened a pizza place in Encinitas.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, a pizza place.

SMITH: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: So, but it isn’t just regular…


CAVANAUGH: …pizza.

SMITH: Like I said, this is a Michael Mina-trained chef.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, right.

SMITH: This is not just like, you know, your corner pizza joint. No delivery here. It’s not that kind of place. He – This is a farm-to-table…


SMITH: …pizza place. So, and like I said, artisan is in the name of the restaurant for a reason, and he makes everything in house. I mean, the pizza crust is my – it’s so, so, so good. A little bit – It’s a thinner pizza crust. He makes it with organic flour locally sourced here in California, and between the yeast and the whole process of making the dough, it takes three days to make his pizza dough. So it’s really, really good pizza dough. He makes all his own mozzarella cheese in house, he makes all his own sausage in house that’s on the pizza. So, I mean, this really is really high quality, locally sourced food. But it’s a comfortable restaurant. I mean, there’s a big, wide bar in there with bar stools. He pours – he has a couple local beers on tap, so it doesn’t feel fancy. It’s really approachable. But, I mean, you’re getting a really, really high quality food.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder what that says about San Diego, though, that our high quality food has to be masked as pizza?

SMITH: Yeah, I know, it’s funny, though. I think it’s just sort of a lifestyle thing in San Diego that it’s really hard to just pull us out of our sort of casual lifestyle here and, slowly but surely, it happens every once in awhile at a place but, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Blue Ribbon Pizza is the name of this artisan pizza.

SMITH: Umm-hmm.


SMITH: It’s in the Lumberyard Shopping Center in Encintas.

CAVANAUGH: And there is also a different pizza place that’s just opened in Ocean Beach. A lot of people might be familiar with it. And it is Pizza Port.

SMITH: Pizza Port, yep, they’ve opened another location in Solana Beach. This is a very, very popular spot up in North County, Carlsbad, Solana Beach. And I love Pizza Port. Pizza Port is sort of a beer place that also serves pizza.


SMITH: The pizza’s really good but they’re definitely known for their beer. But it’s a perfect fit for Ocean Beach because, I mean, this is super casual, you know, super beachy and fun, and what I like about it, it’s off Newport so it’s not crammed into one of those…


SMITH: …spots on Newport Avenue. It’s actually one block over on Bacon at Santa Monica. So…

CAVANAUGH: How is it different from the other locations? This particular Pizza Port?

SMITH: This one sort of – it has a big patio area, it has some palapas so it feels real beachy outside on the patio. They have big long communal tables as well, kind of picnic table style. And then each Pizza Port does their own sort of weekly specials. Thursdays is a good day to go to the one in Ocean Beach because they do a $3.00 they call it Thirsty Thursdays at Pizza Port and they have certain taps that are featured that are only $3.00 for a pint of local beer. So that’s good.

CAVANAUGH: Well, and for those – what kind of pizza are we talking about?

SMITH: Okay, so this is very different than the Blue Ribbon Pizza. This pizza is about an inch and a half or two inches thick, depending on what you order on it, and they pile on the toppings. And it’s really good but, I mean, you got to be hungry to eat the pizza here. It’s really meaty. A couple of my favorites, I like the Laguna one because there’s tons of artichoke hearts on it, really big chunky artichoke hearts. They do a really neat San Clemente pizza where instead of tomato sauce they do a black bean sauce so it feels sort of almost Baja inspired. And then they also do a Solana Beach pizza with shrimp and clams on it, if you like seafood on your pizza.

CAVANAUGH: Even at the new Ocean Beach location.

SMITH: Yes, of course. That’s their classic.

CAVANAUGH: So Blue Ribbon Pizza, that we were talking about before, is in Encinitas on Highway 101, and Pizza Port is on Bacon Street in OB.

SMITH: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: Hey, Erin, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

SMITH: Sure.

CAVANAUGH: Got any idea what you’re going to be doing for the 4th of July?

SMITH: Yes, I will be in Point Loma for the 4th of July. The Bali Hai there, they just redid the Bali Hai and I’m planning on having a mai tai and looking out at the bay and the fireworks.

CAVANAUGH: Fabulous. Thanks so much.

SMITH: Thanks, happy 4th.

CAVANAUGH: Happy 4th of July. And I want everyone to know that These Days is produced by Angela Carone, Hank Crook, Megan Burke, Pat Finn, Julien Pearce, and senior producer Natalie Walsh. Production Manager, Kurt Kohnen, with technical assistance from Tim Felten. Our production assistant is Hilary Andrews. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, have a great holiday weekend. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.