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Burgers Will Save Us All

Why SD's most progressive restaurateur just opened a [expletive] burger joint

By Troy Johnson

“It’s a good ****ing product.”

Jay Porter is a tad defensive, albeit chuckling. I’ve asked the renown San Diego food progressive why he did it. His restaurant The Linkery was among the first independent spots to go obsessively local, seasonal, hormone-free, sustainable, all that stuff. Then he opened the Mex-gringo hybrid El Take It Easy, three years before “Baja Med” became the buzz term it is now.

In my mental map of the city’s food scene, I count on him to add a street here, create a funky new island there. Even if he’s only living here half-time (San Francisco the rest).

ETIE was struggling; a change had to be made. But ditching it to open… a burger joint? It’s like Captain Beefheart doing an earnest album of Christmas chestnuts.

“This type of restaurant is where I think San Diego is headed… casual, traditional food with beer and cocktails,” says Porter about the new concept, called Hubcap. “People love burgers. Our sense was that there was an opening to do a real quality burger and bar experience.”

Opening? That’s like saying you found a large patch of open grass at Altamont to watch the Stones. From Burger Lounge to Hodad’s to BGR to Slater’s 50//50 to Elevation… it seems any hole in San Diego’s food scene has been filled by a burger.

“Yeah, but how many of those are doing cocktails, and grass-fed beef?” he asks.

OK, not many.

“And how many are doing a ****ing rock-your-world burger?” he proposes.

A couple.

The bottom line is this: Making progressive food with high-quality ingredients ain’t cheap. El Take It Easy tried.

“In order to execute out in front in a market, to go super deep farm-to-table, to incorporating innovative cuisines—you have to have a certain amount of revenue because those things are really expensive,” Porter says. “People complained that El Take It Easy could be inconsistent—and there’s truth to that. Because the consistency requires a revenue level that hasn’t been there.”

Porter is the first to admit: That El Take It Easy wasn’t successful doesn’t mean another restaurant of similar quality and ethics won’t be. Regardless, I ask if it speaks to a larger problem with San Diego’s food culture. He obliges an answer.

“There are people who are really interested in food and have the money to take risks,” he says. “But there aren’t that many people with that much cash in San Diego. The economy is still awful. It comes down to, ‘How many experimental restaurants can San Diego support? It obviously couldn’t, or chose not to, support El Take It Easy. When [Solana Beach restaurant] Blanca was under chef Gavin Schmidt, that was in my opinion the best restaurant in San Diego. That the city wouldn’t support that said a lot.”

So why burgers?

“Because everyone loves burgers—there’s a huge, proven market for them,” he says. “The only thing non-negotiable with me is serving high-quality ingredients. And burgers are the only market we see that could sustain the type of quality we want to do. Hell, If we have to serve high-quality cocktails by the pitcher, then I’ll be grateful for the opportunity.”

El Take It Easy wasn’t perfect. But it did a lot right. And it strongly helped popularize the collaboration between the chefs in Baja and San Diego. Along with The Linkery, ETIE’s progressive concepts and obsessive sourcing of highest-quality foodstuff have inspired a slew of other nearby restaurants to improve their own quality, to support local food ways, to give a damn.

That it is now a burger joint irks me a little, but I understand it. I want progress almost too relentlessly. I’m sure Hubcap’s is a hell of a burger, made from the most well-respected and tasty cows on earth, with all sorts of housemade trinkets. There’s certainly no shame in it, of course. With El Take It Easy they reached for the stars until their arms fell off. Forced to be financially responsible—and keep their employees employed—they pulled back to focus on a proven market demand (fancypants burgers) and make it “really ****ing good.”

I like a good burger like the rest of ’em.

To that end, here’s Hubcap’s blueprint for the perfect one:

Burgers Will Save Us All

Burgers Will Save Us All

This Friday, May 17, Hubcap will tap the first cask of highly anticipated new brewer in town, St. Archer. It’s an IPA pin dry-hopped with Galaxy hops (for non-beer nerds, those are Australian hops with a potent aroma, described as a combo of citrus and passionfruit). They’ll tap at 7:30 and go until its gone.

Burgers Will Save Us All

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