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WHAT'S NEW: R Gang Eatery

Shrimp n grits at R Gang Eatery.
Photo by Wendy Lemlin

There’s been quite a bit of "gang" activity on Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest lately and, actually, that’s a good thing. The “gang” in question is R Gang Eatery, a new addition to the San Diego culinary scene from Chef Rich Sweeney, former contestant onBravo Network’s Top Chef, as well as past executive chef at downtown’s Confidential Restaurant + Loft.

Occupying the space held by Busalacchi’s for 24 years, R Gang opened in June, presenting “retro Americana” food in a décor of warm condiment colors---mustard yellow, paprika burnt orange, ketchup red, and guacamole green. On one wall, big red letters spell out “FUN” and indeed, Sweeney seems to be having just that, cooking his favorite foods in the easy ambience of the neighborhood he loves.

He describes his menu as “gourmet, minus the attitude,” a reflection of his own personality. “I want this to be a fun spot for locals to enjoy, a balance between comfort and cool,” he says. “It’s all about community and contributing to the flavor of the neighborhood. This area of Fifth Avenue is becoming our own version of ‘Restaurant Row’, and I’m excited to be part of it.”

It seems everybody is doing comfort food all gussied up these days, but not every kitchen pulls it off. R Gang does, and in Sweeney’s vision of “food & fun, refueled”, plain-Jane sounding dishes such as Salisbury Steak become something else altogether when they take off their glasses and let down their hair (not literally)--with ingredients like ground lamb, figs, fresh mint and a cabernet/wild mushroom pan gravy. Shrimp and grits, a Gulf Coast bayou favorite, go all “California-Here-I-Come” with the shrimp sautéed in rich garlic butter and the grits thick and full bodied with cheddar and feta cheeses, garnished with crispy asparagus and a flavorful tomato confit. Vegan and vegetarian items are currently under development and will be offered very soon, according to the chef.

Open for dinner nightly except Sunday and Monday, R Gang is now serving bRunch Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and it is especially pleasant to drink bottomless mimosas on the glass sheltered patio (okay, it’s pleasant to drink bottomless mimosas almost anywhere) while pondering such breakfast-type offerings as homemade cinnamon rolls, eggs Benedict and build your own scrambles. New takes on old favorites include eggs in a basket (brioche filled with eggs, and toasted), biscuits & R gravy (Italian sausage in a tomato-roasted pepper milk sauce over house made biscuits), and chicken & waffle (well-seasoned fried chicken atop a house made French waffle served with vanilla-jalapeno infused maple syrup). Hint: don’t even think of dieting when you eat here.

Chef Rich Sweeney
Photo by Wendy Lemlin

In keeping with his commitment to community contribution, Rich Sweeney recently partnered with Kiehl’s USA’s Fashion Valley store for a “Nosh at Noon” event to kick off the skin care company’s “Rev Up for Red Liferide”, a six-day Los Angeles to San Francisco motorcycle fundraiser benefiting amfAR, the Foundation for Aids Research. Chef Sweeney created a red-themed menu of hosted SIPS, (strawberry-basil sipper), BITES (cool and spicy watermelon gazpacho, sesame-crusted ahi on crisp arugula with a raspberry sauce, cherry-chicken salad “red rider” sliders) & SWEETS (red-velvet cookies with cream cheese mousse and fresh strawberries), which a constant stream of guests couldn’t get enough of. Sweeney then joined Kiehl’s USA’s President Chris Salgado in presenting Kevin Frost, the CEO of amfAR, with a check for $10,000.

Additionally, Chef Rich announced that R Gang is the first restaurant to sign up for San Diego’s 2011 “Dining Out for Life” event on April 28, and will donate 100 percent of sales that day to fighting HIV/AIDS.

Although his time as a Top Chef contestant on TV was short lived (ironically he was sent home after his S’mores dessert---now a top favorite on the R Gang menu---went horribly wrong), Sweeney’s tenure as a top chef on Fifth Avenue seems assured.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: (619) 677-2845
  • Name: R Gang Eatery
  • Address: 3683 Fifth Avenue