Top Chef Cooking Up Success

| April 3, 2012 | 0 Comments

Brian Malarkey is no malarkey. He is totally serious and focused about growing his restaurant concepts of social dining into a large and important chain of restaurants. He and his partner Jim Brennan, who was involved for a long time with nightspots in San Diego, including the popular Stingaree, have stated a goal of 15 restaurants in five years. They are well under way to achieving it.

Malarkey is a highly regarded chef who has won wide local and even national attention.  He was the executive chef locally at The Oceanaire where he had a strong following. He won over 50 industry awards, including “chef of the year.” He also was finalist in the TOP CHEF network reality show competition and has also hosted television culinary shows.

He teamed up with Jim Brennan, whom he met as a customer at The Oceanaire, to open Searsucker Restaurant in the Gaslamp. This was his first “fabric themed” operation. It was wildly successful, both as a place to dine as well as a place to socialize, meet people, just spend time.

Gingham, in La Mesa, has a “meat – cowboy” concept. The community just celebrated its 100th anniversary of incorporating as a city, reflecting its established solidity as a good place to live and work. There is a lot of civic pride in La Mesa, which is shown by its enthusiastic annual events like Oktoberfest Festival and “Back To The 50’s Car Show,” Another reason – “Jim Brennan went out to see the place, which was available, and fell in love with the building,” Malarkey added.

The building is long, narrow and has a large outdoor fenced-in seating area that will undoubtedly be full of diners during warm summer evenings.  The dining room is on one side of the entrance and a large bar/dining area is to the other side. I was told that the upstairs holds a large meeting/private dining area. The décor is woodsy, with lots of wood tables and high-tops, reinforcing the “cowboy” theme. The lighting at the bar resembles the kind depicted in those famous Edward Hopper paintings.

Malarkey and Studebaker

The chef, Ryan Studebaker, is a graduate of the “school of hard knocks.”  He learned to cook by doing it, starting with working for his father in the family’s restaurant. Prior to joining Gingham, he worked for Prep Kitchen in La Jolla.

Malarkey describes Gingham as the “urban cowboy diner offering meat market cuisine” with slow roast meats. The bar features “whiskey,” local craft beers and “snake oil” cocktails which can probably cure anything if you drink enough. The wine list has a nice selection of “whites” and “reds” such as a tasty Anglim Viognier and Moshin Pinot Noir. Many wines are available by the glass and are fairly priced.

The short menu has a number of appetizers (“Bites”) that strong appealed to me. Turkey wings are a great way to begin. Baked brie is another great starter. But my favorite “Bite” was the Kobe marrow bones. The bones were opened – cut in half – full of delicious marrow, which could be spread on the accompanying toast corners.

There is a selection of salads as well. Smoked salmon salad includes avocado and grapefruit. Romaine comes with bacon, turkey, egg and avocado with blue cheese.

Meats, though, dominate the menu. The Pork phop “Porterhouse” was a nice portion of the meat, well grilled, served with “potato hash.” Baby back ribs and delicious Kobe beef ribs are smoked. Sides include butter potatoes, baked beans and cold slawz.

For desserts, don’t pass up the candy bar cake, with its peanut butter center or the lemon meringue cake, with its berry jam center. Both are delicious, sweet ways to end.

Gingham is open for lunch and dinner as well as for Sunday brunch, with a special menu. The ambiance is casual and comfortable. Service is excellent, efficient and very friendly. Price points are moderate. It is a good place to relax, meet friends and dine — “social dining,” as Malarkey terms it. And, in the summertime, the outdoor fenced-in seating area will definitely be the place to enjoy.

Gingham is located at 8384 La Mesa Boulevard. The best freeway exit off Highway 8 is Spring Street.  Reservations are suggested. Call  619- 797-1922 for information or directions.

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