The Linkery | Taking a Different Road in North Park

May 20, 2011

The Linkery is a farm-to-table gastro-pub whose motto simply states, "Our friends grow food for you and we cook it." Situated in an airy setting on a lively North Park corner, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in San Diego, this eatery has annoyed some clients with a policy that replaces voluntary tips with a service charge (see the no-tipping policy), and has earned national acclaim for its farm-driven cuisine.

The Linkery exudes urban charm and specializes in locally grown produce, natural meats, fine wines, craft beers, and cask ales and wines, making for a one-of-a-kind dining experience that likely will be filled with firsts for first-timers, whether it's tasting cask beer or lardo ice cream. (If you've never heard of Italy's popular lardo, just think bacon.)

While dining at The Linkery, the words 'thoughtful' and 'interesting' frequently come to mind. At the outset, patrons are served a large bottle of water infused with white sage, a Southern California native plant known for its therapeutic effects. It's a flavorful and earthy refreshment. On a back wall, large-lettered signs advise guests to "Gather,", "Grow," "Cook," "Craft" and, finally, "Savor," representing the mindset, oriented to eco-friendly sustainability, that permeates every aspect of owner Jay Porter's restaurant.

Recently remodeled with a contemporary-industrial design, the interior features a pentagonal bar of several heights, tall stools, dark chalkboard walls, garage door windows and modern art, which together create a trendy vibe. On jaunts to the restroom, peer through small rectangular windows to watch the goings-on in the busy kitchen. The personable servers make a group effort to accommodate guests, and the pleasure they take in serving is evident. The Linkery asks guests not to leave gratuities, since an 18% service charge, which has generated some controversy, is automatically added to every bill, and is said to be divided among the staff quarterly when profits are counted. Because the restaurant does not accept tips, any cash customers leave is donated to a charity of the month.

The ever-changing menu presents unusual and eclectic compilations of farm-to-table produce and meats. With a strong preference for organic and local ingredients, The Linkery prepares everything from scratch, from bread and mustard to sauerkraut and sausage, cured meats and hand-churned ice cream. Organic coffee beans from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters are ground to order and served in a French press, with a small hourglass on the side to indicate when it has finished brewing.

The unique wine and beer selections are meant to intrigue and please an array of palates. Since The Linkery serves more than 40 wines by the glass, 30-plus bottled beers and numerous craft drafts, you quickly appreciate the assistance of servers who recommend drinks that best accompany your meal. Also on tap are several cask wines and at least one cask-conditioned beer, such as Rock Bottom Longboard Brown Ale ($8). If you want a beverage sans alcohol, choose from an assortment of teas or try the house-brewed kombucha.

The charcuterie selection recently offered a fresh sausage link of the day, on this occasion a Cincinnati sausage ($6.50) that tasted somewhat like kielbasa. Another house-cured meat was the Berkshire pork capicola ($5.50), which we paired with Pt. Reyes Blue cheese ($5) made from raw cow's milk, and Spring Hill peppercorn Jack ($5) made with goat's milk. The cheeses were served on a platter with cherries, sliced regular and blood oranges and house-baked semolina crostini. Initially, I thought that $6.50 was a bit pricey for a single sausage link, but I've been craving it ever since my visit, and realize that the quality made it a great value, especially garnished with The Linkery's own pickles.

Our server was eager for us to try the green salad ($7.50), a simple and lightly dressed mix of ingredients that had been picked at Suzie's Farm that morning. Beautifully designed watermelon radishes and a simple, refreshing Meyer lemon vinaigrette effortlessly showcased the salad.

Mexican octopus, wrapped in house-cured bacon ($8) was beautifully plated with a decoration of delicate, purple pickled onions. While novices might regard this dish as a frightening offering that could appear on an amateurs' episode of "Bizarre Foods," others will enjoy the interesting combination of textures and flavors.

Berkshire pork belly empanadas, served atop a dribble of ginger-trotter mayo and a little arugula ($7.50) was a creamy, savory pillow of potatoes and pork wrapped in soft yet crispy dough. What is ginger-trotter mayo? Well, its pickled pig's feet, ground up, and mixed with ginger and mayo. We were not aware of this fact during our visit, and we sopped up the mayo and enjoyed it immensely.

From a choice of three handmade pastas, we chose the gnocchi ($16), large, doughy dumplings more reminiscent of midsize pierogi than potato pasta. These were topped with a sunny side-up duck egg, radish sprouts, The Linkery's own spicy kimchee (the flavors really enhanced the dish), spring onion and yellowtail that the restaurant cured in the style of gravlax. I went with the urge to break the yolk and mix the highly individual ingredients into a well-balanced but adventurous flavor combination.

Among the five main courses, the summer stew ($16.50) caught our eye. Made with thin slices of pastured pork, firm red turnip, Romanesco and pungently sweet beet greens, it swam in a mild lemongrass broth. Each ingredient maintained its own flavor and texture in a much lighter, less jumbled dish than traditional, hearty, winter-type stews.

If you have room, try dessert. The cherry-loquat cobbler, made with Smit Orchards cherries and local loquats (small stone fruits) is topped with homemade whipped cream ($8), and is sure to satisfy cravings for sweetness even as it remains refreshing. Every ingredient of the famous lardo ice cream sandwich ($7.50), an adventure all on its own, is made in-house: the ice cream, cookies made with organic Taza chocolate chips, and the topping of candied bacon. To complement the sweet smokiness of the ice cream, the sandwich arrives in a pool of smoked-bacon caramel.

Don't think its all meat and cheese at The Linkery, since the restaurant also offers several vegan and vegetarian options. The place even proves family-friendly by offering a children's menu for less-adventurous little ones. And for those who can't get enough of the house-cured bacon, it's for sale at $6 per half-pound.

The Linkery definitely makes for a distinctive dining experience that likely will include something you've never experienced before, so stop by to see what all the fuss is about.

3794 30th Street, North Park
(619) 255-8778


Mon-Wed 5pm-11pm
Thursday 5pm-11:30pm
Friday noon to midnight
Saturday 11am to midnight
Sunday 11am to 10pm
Sat. and Sun. Brunch 11am to 4pm