By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Never underestimate the power of genuine friendliness and all-around efficiency uniting under one roof. Add to the formula consistency in food quality, and you’ve struck gold.
A supreme case in point can be found at the 25-year-old Classics Malt Shop, which was ranked nationally by Yelp as one of the “top 100 places to eat” in 2016 and 2017. The honors are based each year on solid averages of five-star user reviews.
Also notable is that the diner was the sole survivor from a group of eight eateries in the Point Loma Plaza food court when the economy nosedived in 2012-2013. It soon moved into larger digs within the same shopping center, where it continues sizzling in pure retro-American style.
Owner Jeff Attiq and his cousin, Faris Yacoub, are the unmistakable front-line guys who treat their customers as if each is a longtime friend. Cordial and inherently people-oriented, they’ve procured a diverse patronage from neighboring health and exercise establishments (the closet consumers of cheeseburgers, hot dogs and fries) plus families, out of towners and members of the LGBT community.
In fact, it was a married gay couple from my inner circle who initially recommended the place to me years ago. They quickly became esteemed customers, so I ended up bringing one of them along on this visit. We were greeted with open arms.
The menu isn’t too lengthy, but it’s loaded with high points.
The shakes, floats, freezes and sundaes, for instance, are made with Thrifty’s Ice Cream, which is famous for its depth of flavor ever since it was introduced in 1940. (Request malt in your milkshake, and you end up with a richer, slightly sweeter result.)
If you come knocking for hot dogs—classic, chili-cheese or Chicago-style—expect an all-beef Hebrew National frank nestled in a poppy seed roll, exactly what you’d encounter in the Windy City.
Kudos to the cheesesteaks. They’re served appropriately in 8-inch Amoroso rolls imported from Philadelphia. Think smooth, firm crusts with feathery innards. They’re stuffed with thin and exceptionally tender sirloin “minute steak” that’s properly chipped on the grill as it quickly cooks.
I ordered the spicy version strewn with jalapenos and requisite grilled onions. Pepper jack cheese imparted the all-important goo in what turned out to be a beautiful cure for a wine hangover from the previous night. Mozzarella is the other cheese option, although sticklers won’t blink twice over the unavailability of traditional Cheez Whiz and white American once they discover that the primary virtues of the iconic sandwich are successfully captured here.
The standard beef burgers are formed onsite into third-pound patties comprising an 81/19 meat-to-fat ratio. My friend opted for the leaner buffalo bison burger, which rings in at only 13 grams of fat opposed to 29 grams in the regular patty. The meat and veggie garnishments were fresh. Ditto for the brioche bun, which added to an all-around tasty construct comparable to today’s trendiest burgers.
Attiq uses canola oil for deep-frying, which might explain the clean flavors of the fresh-cut french fries and the beer-battered onion rings. The O-rings stayed remarkably intact after biting into them, thanks to the welcome absence of oily batter and wormy onions.
Lovable marble rye bread is used for the Reuben sandwiches. Like everything else on our table, it was substantial yet tidy—not the bulging monsters you see spilling their guts in New York delis.
Hence the attractively low prices.
Attiq, whose father founded the eatery and is now retired, hasn’t raised prices “in a while,” adding that when he does, “it won’t be significant.”
As it stands, almost everything on the menu is under $10, with the exceptions of the bison burger ($11.99) and the 1-pound “hungryman burger ($13.99). Couple either of those with a small-size shake or a 24-ounce root beer float, each for $4.99, and you’ve come away with a full stomach and an undamaged wallet, not to mention an upbeat customer service experience.
—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.