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The Taste Buds let their hair down at Werewolf American Pub

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News has a regular dining-out column written by The Taste Buds, SDGLN's resident foodies. Today's review is by Sweet and Umami, whose identities are the best-kept secrets in San Diego.

Werewolf American Pub, 627 Fourth Ave., San Diego, California 92101. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night snacking.

Call: 619- 234-0094

Visit the Werewolf website HERE, where you can check out the menu and find out more information.

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Werewolf American Pub is as fun as its name suggests. The pub, approaching its first year off the beaten path in the historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego, can aptly be described as eclectic and welcoming to anyone who walks through the doors.

Seven TV monitors behind the long and curving bar show various sporting events below “canopies” provided by flags of California and the United States. About a dozen stools provide seating at the bar, while comfortable booths on the opposite wall cater to diners and munchers. You can also snatch a few seats and tables set up just outside the front door.

Owner Chad Cline comes from a family of pub owners in San Diego. He also is involved with the Harbor Town Pub on Rosecrans Street in Point Loma with his grandmother Nancy Nichols, who is said to pop into Werewolf from time to time to work her magic behind the bar. The family also owns The Waterfront on Kettner Boulevard, called San Diego’s oldest tavern.

Werewolf reveals right off the bat that this is a place to have fun. A large poster of Vigo the Carpathian, the main antagonist in the “Ghostbusters II” movie, lords over the pub. But there’s something weird and unusual about this Vigo … the face of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has replaced that of actor Wilhelm von Homburg.

Nicholas “Nick” Coker, who introduced himself as the “lead waitress,” shared that the staff likes to change out images in the Vigo the Carpathian poster to keep patrons talking. Between the “haunted” Carpathian and the “lead waitress” announcement, you just know that this is a place where you can leave behind the worries of the world.

Nick explained why he calls himself the “lead waitress.” After someone on Yelp commented about the openly gay waiter at Werewolf, Nick said management started noticing an uptick in gay customers coming into the pub. “We’re seeing gay tourists who are reading on Yelp that we’re a gay-friendly place,” he said. One day, he introduced himself to a group of guys that he was the “lead waitress,” and he noticed eyebrows lifting but a curious attitude. “It allows me to be open about being gay and also allows me to create a dialogue with people about gay issues in a friendly, non-threatening way,” he said.

Previously, Nick worked at Baja Betty’s in Hillcrest in the heart of San Diego’s gayborhood. The friendly fellow fits in nicely at Werewolf, where management explains on the pub’s website how the name came about:

Welcome to Werewolf, a place we built to make you happy. Why “Werewolf”? Not really sure… Maybe cause werewolves are awesome and we want to be awesome too. Maybe cause ownership is hairier than the average person. Maybe cause werewolves generally like to be even keel during the day and rage at night; we like that too. All we’re sure about is we would like to give our guests consistently good food with fair prices, solid service, and a fun place to enjoy both.

An “otter” in bear terminology, Nick also fits the “werewolf” theme and he clearly is having the time of his life at Werewolf. On this night, besides providing expert advice on the menu, the Texas native also showed that he can carry a tune as he sang an Ike and Tina Turner classic during karaoke. Ask for him when you dine here.

Don’t come to Werewolf if you are expecting fine dining. This is a pub, and patrons expect good food at reasonable prices. And Werewolf delivers. The menu is as eclectic as the décor, and the selections are perfect pairings for people who are out drinking. Nick told us that the place is packed with late-night revelers seeking comfort food, since the kitchen stays open late. The Taste Buds understand why.

APPS



The Taste Buds tried three of the five “apps,” or appetizers.

Nick described Ahi Poke Tostada ($12.95) as “sushi nachos,” and he has captured the essence of the dish. Ahi poke is piled atop house-made wonton chips and pickled carrot, with sliced cucumber and an avocado-wasabi cream sauce with black sesame seeds and cilantro. The appetizer is packed with layers of flavor, and the wasabi is not overpowering but leaves just the right amount of heat in the cream sauce. The only quibble that the Taste Buds had with this dish is that there were stringy pieces attached to some of the diced tuna, which detracted from the overall success of this recipe.



We also tried “Papas Balls” ($5.95), aka Werewolf Hushpuppies. The eight balls consist of “mashed tater,” bacon, cilantro and cotija cheese, deep-fried and served with a house sauce. The balls are cheesy and tasty, but needed more bacon bits to please the Taste Buds. Sweet suggested a smear of the house sauce underneath the eight balls in addition to the splat on top of each one. The menu also said the balls had scallions, but the Taste Buds asked where they were and found out from Nick that the chef had dropped the scallions from the recipe. This is the perfect late-night appetizer for drinkers who need something hearty to sop up the alcohol or beer!



The Grilled Garlic Ginger Wings ($10.95) contained 10 pieces, including wings and legs. The chicken is marinated for 48 hours, according to Nick, which imparts a deep flavor of ginger, garlic, soy and teriyaki. It comes with dojo sauce, a mix of hoisin sauce, mayo and other secret ingredients. The chicken is then perfectly grilled with a little char on the outside and cooked all the way to the bone. With a generous heaping of cilantro, Nick playfully describes the wings as “Asian-Mexican fusion.” We really, really liked them!

BURGERS


Nick wanted us to try the Triple Threat burger ($12.95), one-third pound of burger topped with maple-glazed pork belly and a fried egg. A sprinkling of greens and a blue cheese aioli provide additional flavors. Sweet thought the hamburger meat could have stood additional seasoning and wished the pork belly was sliced thinner and fried more like bacon. But the Taste Buds liked the concept and aren’t surprised to learn that this is a top-seller.

Three side dishes were served with the burger including Garlic Fries ($4.95), Side Brussels ($4.95) and the Loaded Fries ($4.95). The garlic was overpowering in the Garlic Fries, so avoid these if you are out on a date night! The Side Brussels boasted charred brussel sprouts, and Sweet wished that not every sprout was charred. The Loaded Fries were a big hit. Think of this dish as an deconstructed baked potato.

WEREWOLF CRAFT COCKTAILS



“We like to party,” Nick promised as he vowed to get us drunk. It didn’t happen. Sweet got a nice buzz, and Umami is a light drinker and our designated driver.

We sipped on four specialty cocktails.

Down-South Kiss ($10) is made with Bulleit rye, lemon juice, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters, strawberry puree and topped with ginger beer. The cocktail is smooth and the mix works in nice harmony with the ginger beer.

California Love ($10) is made with Shellback silver rum, lime juice, simple syrup, milk, salted caramel candy and muddled avocado. OK, this is the first time either one of us has had avocado in a cocktail. Guess what? It works! You can barely taste the avocado, although you can see the tiny chucks in the drink that absorb much of the flavors around it. The cocktail is refreshing and pleasant to the tastebuds.

The Blacker the Berry ($10) is made with Espolon tequila blanco, lime juice, agave nectar and blackberry puree. Umami, who normally doesn’t like tequila, endorsed this cocktail that was tangy and on the sour side. It grew on both of us.

Storm Trooper ($10) was the least successful of the quartet. It is made with Black Magic black spiced rum, lime juice, angostura bitters and ginger beer. The ginger flavor was overpowering, and Sweet thought the cocktail tasted more like medicine. It’s an acquired taste, we agreed.



Other notes

Werewolf is constantly finding new ways to party. Holiday themes are big. Bachelor and bachelorette parties are big here. Drawing “contests” feature nude male models. Gasp! OK, they must wear a fig leaf, according to Nick. There are “industry nights” for people who work in the food industry, and don’t forget the karaoke, where you are encouraged to challenge Nick to a duet.