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“Big John” Haedrich at Tip Top Meats is the most well-known butcher in Carlsbad with his German-inspired deli, restaurant, beer and wine shop and grocery store. Courtesy photo
Columns Food & Wine Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: ‘Big John’ Haedrich — a giant in prime dining

Tip Top Meats opened for business in Carlsbad in 1967 and quickly became a favorite place to meet, greet and dine on prime meat.

Over time, owner “Big John” Haedrich enriched his restaurant with his German background and love for prime meats, sausages such as Bratwurst and Knackwurst and side dishes like sauerkraut and red cabbage. Authentic German beer and wine were readily available to wash them down.

He was many years before his time the way he presented his menu in a fast-casual, easy-order way. Customers order and pay at the counter, a number is given to post at the diner’s table and within a few minutes, they are ready to eat. That format still serves Tip Top today and could be the origin of many a fast-casual chain’s operations today.

But none of these impersonal in-and-out places can match the personal approach of Haedrich. For many years, his workday began at 5:30 a.m., when the apron went on. The prime and choice beef then got professionally butchered into the highest quality cuts for the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus for the day, as only a certified butcher can do.

Authentic German Riesling wines, like these Krover Nacktarsch Mosel wines, dominate the shelves at Tip Top Meats. Photo by Frank Mangio

After the prep for the day is finished, “Big John” then heads for his dining room where he greets his morning customers with a hearty welcome.

He knows many of the guests and visits with them, especially his German friends, who often meet over “Big John” breakfast plates of eggs, toast, potatoes and all the sausages and ham they can eat at the low price of $7.98.

Haedrich keeps his restaurant prices very low. How about a “select your own steak” dinner. Select your own steak from the meat department and have a complete meal prepared for the price of the steak plus $5.98.

With Oktoberfest around the corner, the most popular dish will be the Oktoberfest Platter. The main entrée is three European sausages (bratwurst, Polish and knackwurst), served with German potato salad, sauerkraut and red cabbage for just $9.98. Tip Top also offers catering to large and small groups, plus takeout, which is booming these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many community groups have benefited from Haedrich’s many donations to youth organizations. My first meeting with him was when I was on the Executive Board of the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce. We were organizing a street Oktoberfest in the mid-90s and needed an authentic German food operation.

“Big John” to the rescue! He set up a bratwurst sandwich and sides picnic-style lunch with a generous amount of the proceeds going to the chamber.

Crowds of some 50,000 came to this Oktoberfest for many years after.

Oh, if you are wondering what made “Big John” stop coming in to work at 5:30 a.m. after so many years, he will be 93 years old in January. Now he’s at work at 8 a.m. For more, visit tiptopmeats.com. Or call 760-438-2620.

Big John’s German wines

Until the 20th century, there were only two outstanding wine-producing countries … France and Germany. As a matter of fact, in the high-end wine auctions in 19th century London, German Rieslings sold for more than First Growth Bordeauxs and Grand Cru Burgundies. Rieslings have a shimmering quality about them, attributed to their far Northern vineyards.

Inexpensive and sweet, German wines get caught up in a sweet flavor box. In fact, most wines that retain a pedigree from the excellence of the past are more precisely sited than any in the world. The best are always planted up high on the banks of rivers, facing south, west or east along the slopes of the Rhine or Mosel Rivers.

In her latest edition of “The Wine Bible,” respected author Karen MacNeil says of German Riesling, “Germany is considered one of the world’s top producers of elegant white wines. The country’s best Rieslings have ravishing purity and concentration.”

Fortunately, the best are on display and ready for your palate at “Big John’s” Tip Top Meats in Carlsbad. Additional details at tiptopmeats.com.

Wine bytes

  • They’re dining in at Seasalt in Del Mar. Join the fun for lunch, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner, 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sal Ercolano has brought back $10 Tacos & Tequila on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Take your pick of steak or fish tacos. The $10 craft cocktails or premium tequilas are available when you dine inside. Reserve your spot by calling 858-755-7100.
  • The Chart House, on the rocks in Cardiff, has a ”We Mix, You Pour” promotion. Here are four steps to a good time with this one. 1) Pick up one of the world’s premier ready-to-serve bottled cocktails to go. 2) Take it home. 3) Grab your glass and pour it on ice. 4) Enjoy! Find out more at 760-436-4044.

Reach Frank Mangio at [email protected]

4 comments

Elaine Lyttleton September 9, 2020 at 7:00 am

Hi Big John. Come taste at our Winery here in San Diego! Hatfield Creek Winery. Bring the steaks! Elaine Lyttleton

Herman September 8, 2020 at 8:24 pm

Is this news or just a very long( (and free) ad?

chriskydd September 9, 2020 at 11:05 am

It’s Frank Mangio’s column for the week. Frank chooses who he features, so it’s technically neither news nor an ad. John deserves the feature as he is a true patron in the community and a very interesting character. Why do you ask, Herman?

Annette September 8, 2020 at 4:22 pm

Loved hearing about Big John at Tip Top, any nostalgia or details about the Glendale CA location. I grew up by there and was thrilled when I moved to San Diego, that Tip Top was here, close by xoxo

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