I’m the first to call bullshit on the worthiness of an expensive sandwich, so when I didn’t hesitate before ordering an $11 Croque-Madame from a new tavern on El Cajon Boulevard, of all places, something was up. The poor judgment of a hangover wasn’t at play, nor were the munchies; quite simply, I was drinking the Blind Lady Ale House Kool-Aid—and I’m not talking about the pub’s latest nano-brew by co-owner and beer sage Lee Chase.
Even with my grubby lunch budget out the window, I didn’t believe for a sec that Tiger!Tiger! (3025 El Cajon Blvd.) would disappoint; the group of friends-turned-restaurateurs made Draft magazine’s “America’s 100 Best Beer Bars” list for big-sister brewpub Blind Lady each of the two years it’s been open, and in-house, Automatic Brewing Co.’s mad-scientist Chase even buddied up with Will Ferrell for a charity ale appropriately named Sex Panther in the midst of it all.
As much as I love my craft brewskis, the 30 taps at Tiger!Tiger! didn’t distract from my lust after chef Aaron LaMonica’s farm-fresh bar food. The house-made Berkshire ham panini comes with gruyere cheese, grilled onions and whole-grain mustard ($9), but for an additional buck, you can top it with silky bechamella sauce, and for another, a basted egg. Take it from this cheap bitch—it’s worth it to go full-Monty.
LaMonica’s brilliant ham recipe starts with hog legs that are brined in a sweet, herby liquid for five days before a “light-smoking” and wood-burning-oven finish. The rich, juicy ham peeks out from between two slices of white bread that LaMonica bakes daily, glistening as if to say, “Eat me! Eat me right effing now!”
This twist on France’s traditional comfort sammy that’s served day or night elicited moans as crunchy bread, nutty cheese and savory meat richened with each bite from the creamy, nutmeg-spiced sauce and perfectly runny, broken egg yolk.
The North Park tavern’s in soft-opening mode, so expect a fluxing menu as recipes are perfected, but, rest assured, the ham sandwich is here to stay. Get yours nightly (save for Mondays) or Friday through Sunday when Tiger!Tiger! opens at noon for lunch.