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Honest Cocktails and Meats

February 4, 2012

My best description of this restaurant can be contained in one word: masculine. Tractor Room, located on 5th Avenue and Pennsylvania in Hillcrest, has long been one of my very favorite San Diego restaurants. Driving past it, you can’t help but notice the actual tractor sitting out front, and the byline ‘Honest Cocktails and Meats.’ If that doesn’t immediately sell you, you probably shouldn’t eat here.

The décor is like that of an old hunting lodge, with animal antler chandeliers and cowhide covered bar chairs. Most meals arrive in heavy black skillets, taking one back to the days of log cabins and self sustaining lifestyles.

The initial purview of the menu reveals what the byline promises: almost every kind of meat you can think of. From crispy elk sausage ravioli to braised buffalo over waffles fries (with a thick layer of smoked Wisconsin cheddar cheese adorning the top, of course), to sage duck breast skewer or boar stew, there is something for every meat eating enthusiast. Prefer fish or vegetables? Worry not; they have a few of those options too.

The appetizer list is extensive, but my favorite choices are the braised buffalo fries mentioned above, and the black skillet cornbread. The braised buffalo is tender and pulled, and for those inexperienced with ‘other’ meats, in my opinion, it tastes very similar to a brisket. The buffalo is strewn over crispy waffle cut fries, and a thick layer of smoked cheddar cheese is draped over the top. Served in a black skillet, of course, it looks like a beast to tackle. But just grab a fork, pierce through the cheese and enjoy one of the most amazing appetizers I’ve ever dreamed of. The cornbread, served in a skillet as well, is always done right. A bit of a crispy layer on top, buttery and sprinkled with kernels of corn throughout, you can’t help but sneak bites of it throughout your meal.

The entrees continue the theme of ‘meat based amazing.’ There are four different burger options: beef, lamb, braised buffalo and free range buffalo. I’ve always opted for the traditional beef burger, but there is nothing boring about this meal. With a thick layer of smoked mozzarella cheese and crispy smoked bacon atop, and more waffles fries than you can usually get through, it is everything you want and more. Other succulent menu options include spicy chipotle chicken breasts, and chipotle charred tomato pork ribs. A lot of the entrees do include the ‘Tractor Room Style’ demi-glace and charred tomato accompaniment, and it is heavenly.

But there is always room for more food, especially if it involves cheese or potatoes! Last but certainly not least, are the entrée accompanying sides. The entrees are a generous serving size in themselves, but I’ll warn against skipping the decadent sides! If you love the theme of smoked cheddar cheese, order the smoked Wisconsin cheddar mac and cheese or the au gratin potatoes; both are made in the same manner (one with macaroni and one with potatoes) and both are packed full of flavor. My second favorite would be the heavy cream mashed potatoes with batch gravy. They’re creamy, full of butter and the gravy is just right—not too heavy, not too thin.

I know you’re probably full just thinking about what a satisfying meal is to be had at Tractor Room, but don’t neglect the cocktails! The cocktail menu includes a sampling of specialty cocktails along one side, with the rest of the cocktails divided by your liquor of choice. Is rum your preferred libation? Try the Prohibition Punch, a tropical tasting cocktail with a floater of Sailor Jerry. Gin more your style? Try the Punch in the Eye, a light and refreshing option with a dash of Cointreau, grapefruit and lime juice. Looking for something even more indulgent? Try the chocolate themed cocktail pictured for dessert. Believe me, there’s something for everyone- including beer and wine options as well.

If you are hungry and dying for a drink just reading this, you’ve got to try this restaurant immediately. While not expensive, Tractor Room isn’t a super cheap eat either. Entrees range around $15 and $35, and appetizers between $5 and $15. It is a busy joint on the weekends, so I suggest making reservations a few days ahead of time. But if you dine early (at 5 or 6pm) and on a weeknight, you may just be in luck to grab a table. Enjoy!