By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Whether it’s fish tacos, fried chicken or some special sauce that becomes the signature item in certain restaurants, I always try cracking into their guarded recipe secrets through various means. Sometimes I luck out. But more often I hit a wall, especially in franchises protected by scripted personnel.
At Mr. Peabody’s Burgers & Ale, I more or less discovered the elusive ingredient that goes into their top-selling burgers.
The cheerful Mission Valley establishment has been around for more than 20 years and strikes a refreshing mismatch to the valley’s corporate landscape. It also attracts a remarkably diverse patronage — from nearby condo dwellers and sports fans, to University of San Diego students and familiar faces from the LGBT community.
Tucked into the quaint Las Cumbres Square plaza on the west end of Friars Road, the cozy interior features an open flat grill fronted by a full bar, plus a limited number of booths and tables in eyeshot of flat-screen televisions. There’s also a dog-friendly patio to the left of the main doors.
Beer, well drinks and reasonably priced bar grub rule the day in this Cheers-like atmosphere staffed by fast-moving waitresses, one of whom candidly revealed the twist given to the burgers after I asked how they’re seasoned. (In past visits, I never got a straight answer.)
“A little burgundy is poured onto the patties as they cook,” she said. “It gives them more flavor and makes them juicy. I think they do it for our turkey burgers too,” she added.
Surprised, I looked for a wine bottle near the grill, crowded mostly with sizzling beef patties, and didn’t see one.
In spite of detecting a tinge of wine-like acidity when taking an investigative bite into hubby’s burger, which he requested with jack cheese, I was skeptical. The burgers are only $7.50 and they’re of decent size. Splashing them with burgundy of any quality seems like a costly additive, I thought.
So I called the next day to further inquire and was told with less conviction by a different waitress that the cooks squirt the burgers with red wine vinegar.
Whatever the case, they’re moist and tasty.
The menu also extends to prime rib sandwiches, turkey tacos, loaded nachos and fish and chips. In some past visits we’ve gravitated to the Buffalo-style chicken wings, priced at only $5 per order on Tuesdays. They’re fried to a satisfying crisp but served with either ranch or mediocre blue cheese dip mixed with Caesar dressing. Both are no-no’s to this Buffalo-born wing lover, hence the reason for smuggling in my own blue cheese dressing a couple of times.
The turkey tacos are excellent. Well-seasoned ground meat is tucked into large flour tortillas with veggies, cilantro and fresh guacamole. Flavor and texture-wise, they’re similar to lean-beef tacos.
Corned beef is roasted in-house and it makes for a sumptuous Reuben using “basil sauce” instead of Thousand Island dressing inside the sandwich. Though the meat is sliced thicker than what you’d find in a Jewish deli, I found it exceptionally tender.
We augmented our burger and Reuben with a sizable house salad, taking advantage of the $5 special on Thursdays. Priced normally at $7.50, it’s loaded with fresh romaine, sliced avocado, mushrooms and other produce – heartier than what you’d expect from a mom-and-pop drinking establishment.
As an additional sidekick, we ordered the sautéed mushrooms speckled tastefully with green onions.
Served in a large boat-shaped dish, I suspect they too receive a dose of the burgundy or red wine vinegar in the cooking process.
Better than some of the mushrooms I’ve had at leading steakhouses, they go down easily whether eaten plain or lopped onto your burger or prime rib sandwich.
Other daily specials include $2 off all pitchers of beer and $3.50 turkey tacos on Mondays; $3.50 shrimp tacos and $4 micro beers on Tuesdays; $5.25 loaded potatoes and $4.50 imported beers on Fridays; and $6 carne asada fries and $3.50 well drinks on Saturdays.
In addition, breakfast is served daily should you crave a grilled rib eye with eggs or house-made corned beef hash before boozing it up in the company of friendly, chatty customers usually occupying the place.
—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.