You didn’t get any fries with that. In fact, sometimes you were lucky if the line had money for the bread.
But in less than a century, tradition won out. The hamburger is now a poor man’s piece de resistance, chopped, channeled, dressed and re-dressed beyond recognition. Even so, the taste is indelibly imprinted on the American palate. A San Diego restaurant understands what that means — add a little time, hard work and an exceedingly jovial thirtysomething crowd, and the place has become a tradition in and of itself.
Totally give it up for Rocky’s Crown Pub. Now in its 40th year as a Pacific Beach institution, at once a bar and neighborhood clubhouse to the locals who heaved a sigh of relief from its freshly minted doors when the 1977 San Diego Chargers broke a string of seven consecutive losing seasons (they finished 7-7). The Harry’s Coffee Shop of burger joints, its icon status sealed eons before those of the city’s Petco Parks, Potiker Theatres and Horton Plazas.
Four decades is a long time not to perfect your specialty — ownership took it from there, refining its fare into one of the finest such entrees San Diego has ever come to know.
One glance at the menu shows these folks’ singleminded faith in the product on which they’ve built a livelihood. No soup, no salad, not even a crepe Suzette in sight. You get only hamburgers, cheeseburgers (one-third and one-half pound) and fries for your trouble, with the appropriate lunch special and an extensive list of ales and pilsners to wash it all down.
I got the half-pound cheese, owing to the fact that hunger pangs were tearing me apart. Out of question, this thing is a virtual filet mignon under wraps, with a freshness and edibility rivaling those at Rocky’s’ fine-dining cousins. I found myself pretending accordingly — instead of beer, I decided to pair my delicacy with a cute house Pinot (red meat with red wine, like at the fancy places).
I’m also a well-done sorta guy, but I resist special ordering for reviews like these so I can see how the eatery fares by default. This burger looked to be medium rare, and it held up beautifully, just as in those grand and glorious days almost beyond recall.
Conversely, Tim Tusa is one who remembers. He’s lived in PB for 25 years, frequenting Rocky’s alongside stints as an area Realtor and Little League baseball coach. A quarter-century is a pretty good chunk of time compared with 40 years — surely, Rocky’s has succumbed to the rigors of progress in some respects, especially in a postmodern environment like San Diego’s.
Not a chance, at least not beyond the eight TVs that scream Sunday’s clarion call to football.
« Delightfully, » Tusa said, « very little has changed. About the only things they’ve done is move the pool table out (to make way for eating space) and change the way they refill the ketchup bottles. They have a tried-and-true method of basically . . . making the best hamburger and cheeseburger in town, and they know it. It’s nice when something hasn’t changed.
« They’re famous for a reason. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. »
For better or worse, we don’t have the Chargers to kick around anymore, and a spit-shined urban parklet has breathed a certain new life into Horton Plaza, itself a spry 32 years old. Indeed, institutions come and institutions go — but amid it all, you still have to eat.
Rocky’s, God bless it, has become at once a restaurant and a state of mind, its terrific food and ambience reflecting its colossal neighborhood appeal.
You really must go, whatever the year.
Rocky’s Crown Pub
Where: 3786 Ingraham St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight daily, except Christmas and the Fourth of July; kitchen closes at 10 p.m.
Info: rockyburgers.com, 858-273-9140