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DINING REVIEW: The Taste Buds sample upgraded menu at Redwing Bar & Grill

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, one of our staffers who plan to keep his/her identity the best-kept secret in San Diego, and guest foodie Umami.

* 4012 30th St., North Park, San Diego, CA 92104
* (619) 281-18700
* Open 11 am to 1 am Sunday through Thursday; 10 am to 2 am Friday and Saturday. Happy Hour ends at 6 pm daily with $3 well drinks and $3 domestic bottles, plus a Happy Hour is menu available from 4 to 7 pm Monday through Friday. Check out Redwing’s website for other drink and food specials.
* Website: redwingbar.com and check event listings at SDPIX.

The Taste Buds have a confession to make: We have been known to grab a juicy burger and a pint of cold beer at Redwing Bar & Grill in trendy North Park on occasion, while watching a ballgame on one of the many TVs scattered around the bar.

That familiarity comes in handy, since the neighborhood bar has upgraded its menu for 2012. This is pub food, hearty and dripping with all things bad for your diet, but a perfect match for a cold brew.

Redwing’s owner, Sarah Critchlow, recently brought in her daughter, Lindsey Hernandez, as manager to oversee the grill operation and beef up the menu. Hernandez, who was our host during a recent visit, said she has been in food service for a number of years, most recently in Portland, Ore.

The menu is evolving, Hernandez said, to reflect popular trends in North Park’s pubs along 30th Street. Redwing is just a few steps south of Toronado, a popular pub with an astonishing selection of beer, and a couple of blocks north of True North Tavern, a busy sports bar.

Folks unfamiliar with North Park should know that both gay and straight folks here frequent each other’s bars without hesitation.

Redwing is gay owned and operated, but on some nights, particularly when karaoke is featured, straights will mingle with gays for an evening of singing, drinking and dining. "We still draw 75% to 80% gays and lesbians," Hernandez said.

Redwing is a sports bar, too, with plenty of high-definition televisions scattered around the "L" shaped bar. Professional and college games are shown on the screens, and Chargers and Padres fans really whoop it up at Redwing.

Critchlow and her friendly staff welcome numerous community groups to Redwing for fundraisers. For example, Mr. Bear San Diego 2011 and Bears San Diego will present a Chili Cook-off from 2 to 6 pm Sunday, Jan. 22, on the back patio in a benefit for their charities, The Trevor Project and Special Delivery.

But we digress. What is new on the menu?

Hernandez said Redwing has switched to a house-made burger mix of sirloin and chuck to create fresh patties daily. Each burger is six ounces and seasoned with a secret house recipe, then cooked on the grill. Single-patty burgers, which come with a generous portion of fries, cost from $8.50 to $9.50. The Bear Burger, a monster sandwich with three patties and three cheese slices, costs $11.

Another noticeable improvement is the switch to tastier buns from Sadie Rose Baking Co., a San Diego business the specializes in artisan breads. Sadie Rose products are found in local farmers markets and at some of San Diego’s finest restaurants and hotels.

"The volume of business on the grill has grown 110% in the past month," Hernandez said. "We’re starting to generate some buzz in the community." It helps that Redwing is finally participating in the popular end-of-the-month pub crawl in North Park and South Park known as "30 on 30th," held on the 30th day of the month, except in February.

Umami said the names of the dishes on the menu have become campy, as Redwing embraces its "dive bar" reputation and adds a "trailer trash" theme. One example is the "Double Wide" special that includes two burgers and fries, and two 24-ounce PBR's for $20. "To be extra trashy," she said, laughing, "we can add fried Spam."

The appetizer

"The Big Bitch" ($12.50) is one of the new items on the menu. It includes four Buffalo wings, four batter-fried zucchini, cheese curds and fried green beans, which we sampled, plus battered jalapeno caps, chicken fingers and fries.

The cheese curds were lightly battered and deep fried to a golden brown. They were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, and came with a tasty marinara sauce. Sweet really liked the bite-size morsels when dipped in the red sauce.

The fried green beans were unusual, using a French-onion style batter. Sweet dipped the beans in both the red sauce and the ranch-style sauce … and liked both outcomes. Umami thought the beans were a great addition to the menu, they were lightly coated with batter and the bean was warm on the inside.

The fried zucchini was nothing to brag about, Sweet said, and was the weakest appetizer in "The Big Bitch" (seen in the top left photo). Umami agreed and confessed that zucchini was not a favorite vegetable.

We saved the Buffalo wings for last, knowing that the spicy sauce would overpower the more delicate flavors of the other appetizers. The wings were meaty and the sauce had a nice kick. Sweet gave a messy thumbs-up to the wings. Umami reminded Sweet that wings are suppose to be messy and offered another napkin.

"The Wing Man"

Another new dish is “The Wing Man” ($8.50), an unusual sandwich (seen in the middle left photo). Hernandez says the dish starts with a deep-fried whole chicken that is pulled apart, crispy skin and all, white and dark meat. It is lathered with Buffalo wing sauce and topped with a bleu-cheese and celery cole slaw. The dish is accompanied by deep-fried tater tots.

Sweet really wanted to like this sandwich, because the deep-fried chicken should have been the star of the show. But Sweet noted that the spicy Buffalo sauce drowned out the delicate flavors of the deep-fried chicken, and that the sauce’s heat and spices even overwhelmed the blue cheese in the cole slaw. Umami agreed, adding that the flavor of the sauce remained on the taste buds long after tasting the sandwich. Dialing down on the sauce would greatly improve the sandwich.

"The Okie Burger"

"The Okie Burger" ($8.5) is a homemade patty dressed up with beer-battered onion rings, a sweet barbecue sauce and cole slaw. Fries accompanied the sandwich. Sweet was pleased that the sauce complimented the flavorful burger, rather than competed with it. The patty was not too pressed, so the density was just about perfect. Umami tried a sample of just the meat and thought that the new flavor was an improvement over the old burger recipe.

The artisan buns are worth mentioning: tasty and light. Hernandez briefly toasts the buns on the grill, providing extra texture for your taste buds.

Umami loves a batter-dipped and fried onion ring, even though they are not for those on a diet. The ones at Redwing are the typical frozen ones you find at other restaurants. Umami then got into a discussion with Hernandez about the rings. She said they are using a new brand, based on sampling several varieties. She also said that they made fresh onion rings at the last restaurant that she worked at, and she has several recipes, but feels constrained by the limited space of the grill. Umami suggested using fresh onion rings as another opportunity to distinguish Redwing from other establishments in North Park.

The Taste Buds applaud the improvements that Red Wing has made on the menu, and hope they continue to further enhance the dining experience.