By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Brunch is everything it’s supposed to be at Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant.
There are inventive cocktails — not just bloody marys and Champagne mimosas. The food is deluxe without being pretentious. And the industrial-chic atmosphere, distinguished by stunning carpentry and uncommon brick flooring, encapsulates an upbeat mood in the refreshing absence of loud music and stampedes of famished customers.
The restaurant opened in this relatively quiet locale eight years ago by industry veterans Terryl Gavre of downtown’s Cafe 222, and chef Carl Schroeder, who co-owns the acclaimed Market Restaurant + Bar in Del Mar.
Since then, I’ve savored a few dinners here and dropped in for happy hour. Never disappointed, my maiden visit for Sunday brunch (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) was predictably above board, starting with a couple of $8 cocktails hubby and I ordered that are exclusive to the weekly brunch service.
His “beermosa” brought together pilsner, orange juice, angostura bitters and Ancho Reyes, a chili-infused Mexican liqueur that contributed a teasing bite to the defiant cocktail. Unlike traditional mimosas that often obscure the Champagne, the ratio of beer to orange juice was harmonious, with neither overtaking the other.
If getting sauced is part of your brunch ritual, a few “spritzfaced” cocktails should do the trick. Made with sparkling rosé, vermouth and a touch of absinthe, I was immediately taken by the palate-awakening grapefruit juice in the recipe, not to mention the limberness I felt after stopping at just one.
The menus at Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant are a collaboration by Gavre, Schroeder and their chef de cuisine, Tyler Nollenberger, who previously worked at Market Restaurant + Bar and adopted Schroeder’s penchant for creating respectable meals from seasonal ingredients.
The fresh Fuji apples he uses in memorable cinnamon French toast, for example, obviously meet Gavre’s standards as well. As someone who marched annually in the Apple Blossom Parade in her native Washington State, you can bet she’d never allow syrupy prepackaged apples to ever touch this almond-studded and intensely cinnamon-dusted toast. The tartness and juiciness of the cubed fruit gives the dish unrivaled flavor.
Trendy avocado toast shows up on the brunch menu with a little more oomph than most. Crisp, buttered levain bread sets the stage for mashed avocado spiked with sherry vinegar, thinly sliced radishes and bits of serrano chilies. Each bite was concurrently tangy, spicy and creamy.
Hubby’s fetish for eggs Benedict in any form was appeased by a mushroom-spinach version set atop some of the tastiest house-made English muffins you’ll ever encounter, thanks to yeast-rich dough that Nollenberger allows to ferment overnight. The poached eggs in the scheme were big and oozy, and the truffle Hollandaise sauce brought added sexiness to the plate.
Lime-spiked cream is the imaginative spin for carnitas chilaquiles, adding an unctuous tang that would stand out more prominently without interference from equally tangy tomatillo salsa. I vote for red sauce only in the dish, which also featured superb pulled pork, generous crumbles of cotija cheese, black beans and a poached egg draping the classic pile of wet tortilla chips.
Since brunch was introduced here two years ago, the menu has changed 129 times. As with the cocktail and dinner menus, it is numbered, although the numeral confounded us until we asked our waiter for an explanation.
While a majority of dishes come and go based on seasonal bounties, there are a few steadfast options available for brunch and dinner. They include comforting deviled eggs festooned in arugula and pecorino cheese; barbecue pork tacos; and the hot-selling house burger crowned in white cheddar and pickled onions.
I’ve had them all, and without fail, the dishes at Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant reveal a rare consistency in quality, which explains the establishment’s ability for drawing a diverse lot of loyal customers since the day it opened its gargantuan medieval-like front doors.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.