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Spot Check: Masters Kitchen and Cocktail

Locals open up ambitious project in Oceanside

By Troy Johnson

I won’t say all people in Oceanside just stole something. But they sure drive like it. Every time I’m in this beach town, the northernmost coastal port in San Diego, I’m nearly Froggered by someone driving 185 in a 25 zone. It’s pedestrian friendly only if you’re a very nimble pedestrian.

Oside is one of the last beach burghs where gentrification hasn’t washed out the funk. It’s almost affordable here. There are great signs of progress and abandoned signs of regress. Part creative entrepreneurship, part high-noon whistling and tumbleweeds.

There’s the Wyndham Hotel with the nice, upscale date restaurant, 333 Pacific. There’s a handful of “hotels” that look like Charles Bukowski poems—places where nerves are recreationally frayed and peril is the normative state. “You can tell when the good drugs are making the rounds,” a local tells me. “People on the streets get really animated. Cops will be going in and out of the hotels.”

Oceanside is home to surf pros, skaters, punks, military, and people with many, many tattoos. I’m sure teachers, bankers and conservatives live here, too. But they’re much less noticeable. Oceanside is rough around the edges, and the near-middle, and the middle.

In other words, it’s easy to love and fear.

The food scene has been on the rise ever since a vet of Market in Del Mar brought four-star skills and Austin-style funk to the neighborhood with The Flying Pig. Now OSide has Harney Sushi, 333 Pacific, Bagby Beer Co., Wrench & Rodent (the artfully, disgustingly named sushi restaurant that is loved with a vengeance), and a handful of newer places.

Masters Kitchen and Cocktail is one of those. Owner Ryan Jubela has lived here for nearly 20 years. His folks own the building. They had a huge, empty space—a former auto shop shaped like an airplane hangar. Jubela had gone to culinary school, spent time as the assistant baker at The Cravory, the local cookie company success story. They decided to build Oceanside a big restaurant with the help of Jubela’s brother, an architect who also helped design San Diego’s new container park, The Quartyard.

It’s a pretty great space. Beautiful reclaimed wood. Huge ceilings. Nice ironwork. Skylights. A plant wall and a huge patio. Massive. Ambitious.

The chef is Christopher Gallo. Gallo spent three and a half years under Jeff Jackson at A.R. Valentien, then three and a half at Mister A’s. He handles good ingredients simply, and well. His duck confit mac ‘n’ cheese is based on a classic mirepoix (carrots-onions-celery). The duck is beautifully cooked and the brioche breadcrumbs crispy, buttery, libidinous. His housemade pierogi, too, with a potato filling and paprika sour cream. Over-worked peirogis become bricks of starch. His is perfect, the dough browned to the nice, brown-orange hue of Richard Hamilton’s skin.

Masters is priced on the higher end ($21-$29 for entrees), which is a stretch for Oceanside. But the last thing Oceanside needs is another dive bar. Jubela and Gallo are trying to give their neighborhood something it doesn’t already have (which is why they’re focusing on craft cocktails, not craft beer).

It works on weekends, when the bar is packed for cocktails like the Hot Brazilian Monk, with green tea-infused Cachaca, green chartreuse, Benedictine, lemongrass syrup, jalapeño and lime juice. But lunch doesn’t work yet. Come summer and tourist party season, it will work. People will jam this patio. Hopefully locals will warm to Masters, since Gallo can cook, this place looks great, and locals with ambition for their own neighborhood are easy to root for.

I’m parked on the street. I’m nearly killed.

Peirogis at Masters Kitchen & Cocktails.

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