Any self-respecting San Diegan foodie knows the name Brian Malarkey. The Top Chef Season 3 finalist made his debut in the San Diego dining industry in 2010 with the opening of his first restaurant, Searsucker. The tremendous success of Malarkey’s Gaslamp Quarter eatery was followed by the opening of its sister restaurant, Burlap, in Del Mar. His newest addition to the county’s fine dining scene is fittingly located in none other than La Mesa.
The recently opened Gingham is Malarkey’s “urban cowboy diner,” a theme brilliantly executed in every aspect of the restaurant.
Located in downtown La Mesa, street parking gives Gingham a true urban vibe, as does the street-facing exterior wall, which is made almost entirely of glass garage doors. This unexpected and fascinating feature of the cowboy-themed restaurant not only adds a cool urban vibe and makes the dining area feel much more spacious, but also has significance in the building’s history.
According to Gingham’s “head cheese,” general manager Mike Mitchell, in the late 1920s a man named Elmer Drew owned a popular La Mesa mechanic garage and dealership. After the Great Depression hit, the once-flourishing Ford dealership nearby was forced to close. When the dealership’s lead mechanic offered the Ford business to Drew, it was turned down because he wanted to remain a local dealer. Drew eventually moved his business nearby when he established Drew Ford in 1969.
The former garage now houses Gingham, while the former showroom floor is now occupied by the restaurant’s lively main dining area.
A painting of the building’s original garage doors proudly displays the historical roots of Gingham’s rich architecture.
The restaurant’s log cabin structure, complete with multiple wildlife mounts, including a massive 13-point buck, provides an authentically rustic atmosphere, while the sleek leather-upholstered couches with cowskin throw pillows and rugs give the waiting area a luxurious yet homey feel.
Industrial-modern design of the steel bar stools, an upper-level seating area, patio seating availability, two full-service bars and country-inspired music also enhance the rural-meets-refined ambiance of Gingham.
Gingham’s bars feature a wide selection of red and white wines, snake oil cocktails and local craft beers, as well as Tennessee, Scotch and Irish whiskeys. All beer served at Gingham is from San Diego breweries, which helps stimulate the local economy and further enhances the restaurant’s sense of cowboy hospitality.
One thing that sets Gingham apart from Malarkey’s other restaurants, other than its affordable prices, is the style used to braise its meat. According to head chef Ryan Studebaker, also known as “Big Smoke,” Searsucker meats are braised in wine, Burlap uses sake and Gingham braises with beer and whiskey combinations for perfect-tasting meat entrées. The beers used in the braising process are the same beers offered at Gingham’s bars, which ensures a perfect food and drink combination for beer connoisseurs.
The dinner menu boasts a variety of selections and can be appreciated by those with sophisticated palates. The taste is not just typical cowboy cuisine, because it is prepared with exquisite combinations of fine herbs and spices, which means big flavor.
The “B.L.T.” fries are a delicious appetizer of bacon-fat-fried fries with a garlic punch, served with smoked ketchup for dipping. Other scrumptious appetizers include baked Brie, fried oysters and Studebaker’s recommendation: shrimp ‘n’ grits.
Seven fresh salads and two hearty soups are also available for those looking for a complete four-course meal. Gingham’s meatless hot chili is topped with melting cheddar cheese, making it a warm and rich dish complete with chives and sour cream, which add a nice contrast to the semi-spicy chili taste.
The presentation of Gingham’s entrées rivals that of high-end establishments. Served in perfect portions and creatively displayed on pristine white dishes, the main course is full of taste and visual appeal.
The short rib is bourbon-braised with pickled onion and herb crumbs. Its juicy tenderness is served with a touch of garlic salt that provides the perfect contrast to the caramelized onions.
Those looking for an alternative to red meat may want to try the “Airline Chicken Breast,” which is perfectly seared, complete with butter mashed potatoes and smoked corn gravy for a satisfying yet not overly filling meal.
Perhaps the most delectable of dishes served at Gingham are its to-die-for desserts. The lemon meringue cake is a tart and delicious poppy seed cake with lemon mousse, berry jam and toasted meringue. Its sweet and fruity combination is a great light-tasting dessert.
The “Candy Bar Cake,” on the other hand, is pure indulgence. With rich devil’s food cake, thick creamy peanut butter mousse and salted caramel frosting, it is any sweet lover’s dream. The peanut butter and salted caramel perfectly contrast the moist chocolate for the ideal mix of sweet and savory. The dessert is fittingly named, as each layer can be individually tasted and the overall effect is truly reminiscent of a candy bar.
Gingham is the prime destination for moderately priced, delicious dining and an urban cowboy experience.
For a complete listing of Gingham’s mouthwatering selections, visit ginghameats.com and experience Malarkey’s latest wonder firsthand.