Brian’s 24 Restaurant Bar & Grill +
828 Sixth Ave, San Diego, 92101
Hours: Open 24 hours, seven days a week
Budget impact: Low to moderate
Brian’s 24 has two things working in its favor: The pancakes and a kitchen that never closes. But since re-branding earlier this year, there isn’t much else to rave about.
Owned previously by the two Brians who run the namesake “American Eatery” in Hillcrest (Brian Stout and Brian Savage), they sold the downtown venture in January to a new proprietor because of weak profits. The rambling menu has since been tweaked slightly, and the eatery’s name was changed from Brian’s Drinkery and Eatery to Brian’s 24, thus reflecting its around-the-clock hours of operation.
This attempt of feeding night crawlers chicken and waffles at 4 a.m., or anytime for that matter, appears more of a calamity than an amenity. In two visits (the last only poking in my head and leaving), the dining room was appallingly crammed with chairs and wobbly tables angled in all directions. There is no place to stand when waiting to be seated, nor are any wait staffers inclined to greet you.
Arriving midday as a foursome in my original visit, two of us waited endlessly against the inside doorjamb for a table while the others found parking. We were eventually seated alongside a wall, the tabletop sticky, and trapped in by other parties amid the most confining seating arrangement we’d ever witnessed. Heaven help us if the ghost of Joan Crawford started flying angrily through the room. Unless you’re seated at the bar, where an ornate mantelpiece once owned by Crawford sits behind, you’d have to crawl over crotches and corned beef hash to safely get out.
So we relocated to the bar -- a messy, un-bussed expanse of polished wood that placed us in clear view of the chef-owner barking at his staff from a rear open kitchen. Disorganization was rampant as we sat staring endlessly at cluttered bar shelves before a waiter appeared.
An order of “giant nachos” with shredded beef marked the start of our despair. Those took 20 minutes to arrive after placing the order.
“We waited this long for cheese that’s not even melted?” a friend in our group blurted as we gnawed through thick, stale tortilla chips adorned scantily with cooled shredded cheddar. Canned jalapenos and negligible plops of pale meat made matters worse. “Theater nachos are better than these,” another friend commented.
When we expressed criticism about the barely edible chips to our waiter, he joked with little concern: “The owner doesn’t like to throw anything away.”
Think of any dish that’s ever slid off a diner grill and you’ll find it buried somewhere within the breakfast, lunch or dinner categories – not necessarily a bad thing after crawling the downtown bars.
Chicken and waffles are a big deal here. They were introduced previously by the two Brians, who for reasons of credibility should shout to the world through a bullhorn that they are no longer associated with this operation. Not everyone seems aware of that, including the friends who were in my group.
The meal comes with a few pieces of fried, bone-in chicken that I highly suspect were reheated rather than cooked to order. The batter cementing them was boring; the meat inside dry and stringy. Alongside was an airy and satisfying Belgian waffle. And for an extra $4, I skimmed over a scoop of fake mashed potatoes entombed in a crusty exterior produced by a long, tortuous stint under heat lamps.
Our picks also included a bacon cheeseburger, which my friend ordered medium. To his dismay, it arrived well done and the meat revealed an ashen tint and funky texture that were downright unnatural. When he sent it back, the waiter returned within 30 seconds with a replacement. Viola -- a warm, precooked patty that was shoved haphazardly into the same roll (now soggy) with its original condiments. My friend quickly rejected it, and had it taken off the bill.
Another in our party ordered pepita salad made with chopped romaine, red onions, cherry tomatoes, pepitas and cotija cheese. Sounded good on paper, but in the mouth it was lifeless. Ditto for the jalapeno dressing, which was vapid and non-descript.
The winning dish of our visit was the pancakes, which were fluffy, buttermilk-y and superior to all other breakfast competitors. In recent ads I’ve seen, the restaurant claims that if you don’t like them, they will refund your money. It’s a confident offer that I wish extended to everything else we ate.