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The Linkery (SD) - another frustrating experience

I am trying to like this place, I really am, but I'm about to give up. In addition to the hit-and-miss food, I've had several very frustrating experiences. The most annoying was showing up to find it closed on a Wednesday. They have since decided to join the rest of the restaurant world and open their doors on Tuesdays/Wednesdays. They also refused a coupon once.

So last night my girlfriend and I decided to give it another shot. We called just to make sure they were open, but the phone was busy, so we sat around for the next 10-15 minutes trying to get through. No luck. Finally, we reasoned that if the phone was busy chances were that it was open, so we jumped in the car and drove over. We arrived to find the restaurant half empty. Odd. Every other time I've been there it's been busy. No names on the waiting list. It was Tuesday, so it must just be a slow night, we thought.

Wrong. A waittress walks up and informs us that the last Tuesday of each month is a "special night." For $45 we can get their prix fixe with wine pairings from...South Carolina??? No thanks, we'll just go with the normal menu. Oh sorry, only the prix fixe tonight. Are you kidding me?!! I mean, just how many quirks does one have to memorize in order to show up to at this place and get a meal?! (Note to the management: if the prix fixe somehow makes it impossible to offer other selections, just let people order a la carte so you don't have to turn them away!)

Exasperated, we sat down at the bar and ordered a beer while we decided what to do. The tab: $16.50! I understand that their no-tip policy means that the tip is built into the price, but $16.50?!! A pint of beer at a pricey establishment should never be more than $5, and that's pushing it. Let's say we give them a 20% tip. That's $12. And our tab was $16.50. Unbelievable.

The Linkery has a nice atmosphere, great beers, and a friendly staff. And while I've had several dishes that I felt were a bit ill-conceived, I've been very impressed with others. But between the odd hours, the exorbitant beer prices, and this absurd prix-fixe-only night, this is getting ridiculous. I mean really, is there any reason to go back?

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  1. The Linkery is a quirky joint, no doubt. They're often jam packed, they run out of specials early on a busy evening, and the pricing structure can appear eccentric. Oh, and did I mention that it can be noisy as the drop-hammer line at Goodrich Aerostructures? Even so, yeah, there's plenty of reason to go back. A creative chef can make dining an adventure (a pessimist would say "hit or miss"), but the hits can be very impressive.

    If you sign up for their email newsletter (when you get your check) you'll get advance notice (or warning) of the "special nights" and the week's specials. Oh, and that South Carolina dinner? I didn't make it, but it sounded delicious and fun. The Linkery isn't someplace I'd want to go on a weekly basis, but for now at least, I'll keep coming back.
    . . . jim strain

    1. http://www.thelinkery.com

      If you check the website, you can find out everything about what's going on there. The South Carolina dinner has been discussed on the restaurant's blog for well over a month.

      Also, if you ordered the cask beer, then the price is $6.50/pint. Their draft beer is more in line with your price expectations. I do think their cask beer is kind of pricey, but I order it nevertheless. I'm just thrilled there's a good restaurant I can go to that serves it. Normally if you're drinking cask beer your food options are limited to burgers and/or nachos.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Josh

        Josh, I realize the restaurant has a blog, but we didn't have access to a computer. I don't think one should have to follow a blog in order to get a meal. There should be other options for people who don't happen to follow the blog.

        Also, it was the cask beer, and it was $8.25/pint, not $6.50. This isn't eccentric, it's overpriced.

        1. re: mangiatore

          $6.50 x 2 = $13
          $13 x .0775 = $1.01
          $1.01 + $13 = $14.01
          $14.01 x .18 = $2.51
          $2.51 + $14.01 = $16.52

          I agree that Linkery isn't cheap. Food and drinks there results in a fairly sizeable tab. However, good food and beer cost money. You can get cheaper cask beer in town, but your choice of food to go with it will be standard pub grub.

          Once you factor that in, then saying Linkery is overpriced stops making sense. There isn't any point of comparison.

          1. re: Josh

            The linkery's service charge is calculated on the "after the tax" price? That is seriously lame. I don't really like the service charge (and have strong issues with their logic as to why they use it and mind you I was a server for a long time) but am willing to deal with it. But to add the service charge to the after the tax price is pushing it a little too far.

            1. re: jturtle

              It may well be before the tax. With that amount of money, it worked out to be the same price either way.

              1. re: jturtle

                It may be that they have to charge tax after the addition since they have to call the addition a 'service charge' rather than a tip (according to the blog, if I recall).

                In any case, before or after, the difference is about 1.4%, so just think of it as a 19.3% service charge, pre-tax.

                Also, $6.50 for a quality cask beer that is rare or unique in SD is not overpriced at all in my opinion. To go off on a tangent, I recall being dragged to TGIF over a decade ago and the beer 'special' was $6.50 for a 20oz draft San Adams. Or, to put it another way, check out a wine menu at the vast majority of places. For $6.50 you can usually get a nice glass of tap water (i.e. no glasses under $7) or a glass of wine from a bottle you could find at Ralph's for $9. And I don't want to get in to why this is so, just simply pointing out that in terms of eating out, beer has a much better experience/value ratio since very few of us ever have uncommon cask beers at home but we all can shop at Ralph's. For $6.50 in beer you are almost assured of a high-quality drink (at least at a place like the Linkery) for $6.50 in wine you are almost assured of a low-quality drink (with some exceptions). Actually, I think I just convinced myself to drink more $6.50 pints and less $7.5 glasses....

              2. re: Josh

                Even if I buy into this logic, what you're saying is that their superior food (superior to pub grub, that is) gives them license to charge that much for the beer. I completely disagree, but I can see how someone who is as into beer as you are might think otherwise.

                1. re: mangiatore

                  You don't have to order cask beer. They have plenty of other options that are reasonably priced. They have other options that are very expensive, such as their large format and limited release bottles.

                  I mean, you're starting to get into the realm of basic capitalism here. The guy can charge what the market will bear. He's not aiming for the kind of crowd that a place like O'Brien's is catering to. Obviously he has a customer base that is willing to pay the higher prices he charges, for the ability to enjoy a fine cask beer with a really high-quality meal.

                  Linkery's pricing is expensive enough that I don't go often, but when I do go I always feel I get value for my money.

                  1. re: mangiatore

                    I would say that their food much more than just "pub grub" or even close to it. What other restaurant would you suggest at this price level in SD with an ever changing menue (food and drinks) which has the same quality of food ? I don't know any in SD.

                    1. re: mangiatore

                      yes it most definately does, having a full kitchen should affect your beer prices.

                2. re: Josh

                  I dont believe that $6.50/pint is too expensive in today's market. With the devaluation of the dollar on a record pace, and the increased cost of each keg, I'm scared of the $10.00 pint being not to far away. I run a San Diego Brewers Guild "Allied Pub Member" restaurant, and we have 2 kegs on right now that are $190-$200. So in order to keep our food costs down, and to make a small profit we must charge $6.50/pint for those two (although that does include tax). You should be happy that fresh local beer is still available in the variety that it is today, it has to be rough for the brewers as well. For the people that are feeling the pinch, we always have two handles of craft beer that are $3.25/pint. But if you are picky, and you must have your favorite style of beer, be prepared to pay for it in today's market. **I left out the name of my place, or the name of the beers that we charge $6.50 for because I'm not here to pimp my place, just trying to explain the financial problems in the food service industry.

                  1. re: tonloco

                    If you check the date of the post you're replying to, it's approximately one year old. At that time, they were charging $6.50 for a glass of cask ale (not always a pint) when local pubs were charging around $3.50-4.00. It's no secret that in the year since I wrote that post hops and grains have gotten significantly more expensive.

                3. I can understand a little bit your frustration but I think there are many reasons to go back to the linkery. I think it is one of the best restaurant in SD for this price level with very good food and an excellent beer list (your pint was $6.50 + tip which is ok for me for this unusual selection of beers). I also like it that they have special evenings with prix fix menues and don't see why they have to also offer the regular menue because this common pratice at other restaurants on special nights.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: honkman

                    I might be ok with the $6.50 if the service charge or tip or whatever they want to call it wasn't 27%, and I might be ok with that if I didn't think the food was hit-and-miss.

                    I guess you have a point about special nights, although I still don't understand why they can't let you order a la carte if you don't want to go all out. It's just that when you add this to all the other things that drive me crazy about The Linkery, I don't think it's worth it.

                    1. re: mangiatore

                      I think it is easier for the kitchen on those "special" nights. And so far I didn't have a miss at the Linkery after 4 visits.

                      1. re: mangiatore

                        27%?

                        Their service charge is 18%.

                        As for why you can't order a la carte on a special prix-fixe night, think about the operation of a restaurant. Especially a place with such a focused menu. If you're doing a special menu, then you're not doing your regular prep work, and you need to have the kitchen set up to put out plates at the right time with the right items.

                        I find nothing strange about it, you simply had the bad luck to go on that night.

                        1. re: Josh

                          My bad, I forgot about the tax.

                    2. I thought we were the only so-called 'foodies' in town that have had disappointing visits to The Linkery! We've been 3 times and can't figure out what this place is supposed to be - but whatever it is, we'll not be back. Everything we've tried there has been 'just okay'. Frankly, for the price, the hassle of parking in the area, and the ringing in my ears that lasted long after we left the place, well, just okay is not enough.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mimosa

                        I didn't have that experience at all. I thought the food was well worth the price, the available drinks were priced fairly, and, personally, I don't like hassling with a tip (taking a visit to Australia will do that to you) if I don't have to. The service I've received was well worth what they added on. I took their cue - I believe from the website - and went on a Monday night (Monday and Tuesday are their least busy nights, which is probably why they held their special dinner on a Tuesday). I managed a parking place right in front. Sometimes knowing your location is the key, which is why I get on the mailing lists for places like this. They've been advertising their Carolina dinner now for over a month. And I would never go to someplace on 30th Street at 7pm and expect to find parking in front or a quiet dining experience. Kind of like why I don't go to Yogurt World at lunch (too many kids) or at night (fighting the parking with O'Brien's & other merchants).

                      2. You are aware that The Linkery is a restaurant devoted to sustainable agriculture, products and as many locally grown and produced items as possible. This changes significantly the dynamics of their business as well as their business model. This is one place where I think it's safe to say that the Sysco truck isn't going to be pulling up to the back door. This also means that they're not using routine supply lines as well. This changes what they can and can not offer. The commitment to run this type of operation is enormous and adds an entire level of complexity to running and managing it. I know of no other restaurant in San Diego that has made this level of commitment to sustainable products, particular one doing this volume of business. The only other restaurant that even came close was Region and they were more Slow Food with sustainable overtones than whole heartedly sustainable. And, let's see, Region is no longer open. Hmmm......must be an easy business to run.

                        That said, I did happen to have dinner at The Linkery last night and for $45 it was a whale of good bargain. 4 courses, 3 wines and a stout. Where in this city can you get 4 courses WITH alcohol for that price. I do happen to agree that it can be a little hit and miss, but working with heritage, heirloom or sustainable products is not always the same as similar products commerically produced coming out of the agribusiness machinery. So here's my take on last night, the good and the not so good.

                        We started with a plate of pork, country cured, house (or city) cured and a pork foot terrine. It was served with a rose wine. Both hams were delicious and showed off the sweetness of the meat in different ways. I loved the haunting smoke of the house cured ham and when paired with the wine, it produced hints of leather and tabacco. The terrine was served with grain mustard and appropriately chunky and chewy befitting it's lowly orgin. My dining companion LOVED the terrine, I merely liked it. There really wasn't a clunker on the plate.

                        The second course was pork belly confit served wtih heritage grits and collard greens. I'll state right up front I am not a fan of bitter greens so I wasn't so enthralled with the collards. First they suffered from culinary school over-thinking. They were beautifully bright green and too tough. They needed longer cooking - preferably with pot liquor - to make them more palatable. Most greens come out of the southern slavery cooking tradition; I for one would have perfered to have had the collards cooked in a more traditional way, but then they would have been olive drab on the plate. The flavorof the grits was actually very good, but they were too dense. A little more liquid, milk or cream would have helped. Actually, I think some maple syrup would have worked as well. The pork conft, however, rescued the entire dish. It was fabulously lush and velvety in the mouth and a bite that contained all 3 components was quite tasty. To my taste, this was the least successful dish of the night because even though all 3 components worked well together, 2 of them really didn't work that well individually. But that pork confit, oh boy, rich, succulent, totally satisfying, I'd go back for that in a heart beat. This was accompanied by a nice white from the Alsace which was light enough to counter act the heavy notes of the food.

                        The 3 course was grass fed beef that had been braised. It was served with yam mashers and fava beans. Grass fed beef is much leaner than beef finished on a feed lot, which means that it won't have much fat or marbling, meaning that it won't have much internal lubrication. The braised beef had good flavor but it suffered from that lack of marbling in that it was very, very dry. Braising should have been a fairly good cooking method for the beef, so short of overcooking, I'm not sure why it was as dry as it was. Serving it with more of the braising liquid would have helped as well. I prefer my favas with olive oil, sea salt, fresh cracked pepper and shaved pecorino cheese, but these were pretty good, tho' slightly undercooked. The yam mash I could take or leave. I didn't think the flavor combinations came together all that well, I really felt that the beef, yams and favas were all competing with each other for attention and/or top billing. The Sangiovase that was served with the meat was deep, fruity and peppery.

                        The final course was, of course, dessert which was a deep dish sweet potato and pecan pie about the size of a small muffin and it was terrific. It was more like a tart than a pie. A high alcohol stout was served with it instead of wine and I have to say it was an inspired choice and pairing. The bite and bitterness of the stout really worked well against the sweetness of the dessert. And thankfully, the stout was served in a very small portion, I'm not sure how anyone could drink too much of it.

                        No not everything worked, but at no point did I feel ripped off and at no point did I feel that the meal was not a good value for either what I got or the portion sizes. In fact, I thought the entire dinner was a steal. My biggest comment about The Linkery is that I think they need to amp up their seasonings some. I know the trend in the sustainable food/slow food movements are to prepare the ingredients as simply as possible in order to let the natural goodness of the ingredient shine and be center stage; kind of in the Chez Panisse mold. However, a little seasoning here or there not only acts to prevent blandness it can actually highlight or play up the ingredient or dish. In this regard I think The Linkery is leaving their cards and money on the table.

                        My opinion and point of view may be the minority one, but I have to say I have enormous respect for what The Linkery, it's staff, mangement and ownership are trying to do. It requires a huge commitment of time, energy and resources and is not easy, especially in a town like San Diego that does not place tremendous value on food.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: DiningDiva

                          It's posts like this that made us go back after not one, but two mediocre experiences! Would that we could have as inspired an experience there but it's not happened - not even close - in 3 tries.

                          As beautifully written as your post was DD, I have to pull out just one line for another good chuckle "...suffered from culinary school over-thinking" LOL

                          1. re: DiningDiva

                            Thank you for bringing up the issue of using sustainable agriculture, products and as many locally grown and produced items as possible by the Linkery. I just started a longer post about that but you summarized it perfect.

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              Well said. I like the Linkery. I like that most of the choices of beverages are well priced, unusual and generally quite tasty. Although, now we are addicted to the super special glass bottle dr. pepper but that is another story. I like that they are committed to slow food & the environment and are trying to be a responsible small business.
                              I don't like the service charge but will deal.
                              I have had an uneven dish or two. By uneven I mean I can make a better pulled pork sandwich then they are serving (and if they are reading I will totally come in and share!) I also understand that it is different when you are running a kitchen then your home and am willing to forgive and order other dishes, especially the sausage tacos.

                              All in all we will continue to patronize The Linkery due to the fact that I would rather have my food dollars go to them then a place that is buying meat/vegetables produced in a manner I don't personally agree with just because it might be a bit tastier or cheaper.