Hey! What’s up? Wass goin’ on? Was it something I said?
A moment ago, I was sitting in the middle of a sidewalk café, surrounded by tables, chairs, a canopied counter. Now, the whole thing has rolled away from me. Up the sidewalk, ’round the corner. Disappeared. Only things left here are me, the table, my coffee, and my sandwich. Amazing.
Across the road, the Somali taxi drivers look at me. Are they laughing? A moment ago I was just a customer at a café. Now I’m sitting in the middle of a public sidewalk like a polar bear on a shrinking ’berg.
Which means one thing. Gotta get here earlier next time. I see it’s three already.
Actually, I’ve been sitting here outside the Holy Faith Railroad Depot for over an hour. Holy Faith? Just translating “Santa Fe.” Heh heh. Any rate, back when the day was young, I was crossing Kettner on my way to the trolley at the Santa Fe when I noticed this bright orange-canopied café cart and a bunch of green tables and one green umbrella set out in the sunshine on the sidewalk. It looked so great and inviting beneath the arches and heavy redwood timbers of the old 1915 train station.
Yes, it’s a glorified coffee cart. But they have prepared lunches that go beyond plastic-suffocated sandwiches. I get a cup of cawfee ($1.50) from Elizabeth and go take a seat at the table under the green umbrella. Three, no, four nice things happen. Okay, these are piddling points, but hey, when you’re a café, man, they count. One: the green metal table doesn’t wobble, even though we’re on uneven Santa Fe maroon bricks. Two: the chairs are proper café seats, not the woven ones that throw you back, but wooden-slat chairs that have a gap for your butt so you can lean forward to the table. Three: even though there’s plenty of traffic, you can hear birds in the depot’s rafters and the Eritrean taxi drivers shouting and fooling about and laughing across Kettner. Four: you get this incredible view of the city. The great glass labyrinth. The W Hotel, the Wyndham Emerald Plaza Hotel, the one that looks as if some giant pterodactyl had pooped on its roofs from a great height. Gloops of dark color reach halfway down each of the towers. Love it! Plus, of course, tourists, rushing by to catch trains. It feels so strange sitting kinda exposed, right on the street, watching it all.
So this menu they have is modest but interesting. Somebody’s making an effort. I’m seeing some decent salads. The antipasti ($8) has a “spring mix” of lettuce, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, salami, provolone cheese, and dressing. The Caesar ($7) has the romaine, Parmesan, garlic croutons, and dressing (add chicken for $2 more). The Chinese chicken salad ($9) looks like a pretty original mix of napa cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, bell peppers, green onions, wontons, marinated chicken, and, I’m told, oriental sesame dressing. Then they have a marinated tomato and artichoke salad, which includes heart of palm and feta.
But absent any health-hectoring by Hank, I’m thinking of nuttin’ but sandwiches, ’cause I’ve already spotted huge cow-pat-sized ciabatta Italian sandwiches in the display case. They’re stuffed with salami, provolone, olives, aioli, basil, and other greens. They cost $8. Hmm. Seems a little steep. Are these art-gallery prices? I notice that the nobbly white cardboard heat sleeve on my coffee has a big fat orange “X” on it. And the cart’s canopy is orange. So these guys must be part of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which has its downtown HQ right here in the back end of the Santa Fe. But then I notice that others, like the roasted-veggie wrap (in a spinach tortilla with yellow squash, red onions, zucchini, red peppers, aioli, and greens) only cost $7. The turkey wrap (with cranberry aioli) and the roast beef sandwich (with grilled onions and horseradish), too.
“Oh, I’ll go ahead and give that to you for $6,” says Elizabeth, when I ask her about the Italian. I hadn’t moaned, honest. Wow. Is it because of the time? Whatever, now I’m happier, and when you look at the big fat oval chunk of bread and bite into the lush mix of oily spinach and olives and provolone and salami staining up the inside, you feel you’ve done right by your taste buds. As Grandma always used to say, “I go barmy if I can’t have salami.”
So I dilly, chew, Elizabeth gives me a free coffee refill, and the sun keeps on sliding down behind the Santa Fe. A freight train’s air horn blows on Broadway. Time moves slowly. End result is, suddenly it’s heading for four, closing time. Elizabeth has to go apartment-hunting. She and Carlos quietly wheel away everything into the museum’s storeroom — except me and my table.
And it turns out that’s not all. Soon after all this — whack! The en-tire café gets up and leaves, permanently. They’ve relocated inside the Children’s Museum on West Island Avenue. It’s okay. The public can get to them. But, sigh, I’ll miss the arches, the toots of the trains. And, hey, that beautiful view of the pterodactyl poop.
Now, lessee, where was I? Oh yes. Catching a trolley.
The Place: X-Spot Coffee Cart, inside the Children’s Museum, 200 West Island Avenue (no phone, but Children’s Museum number is 619-233-8792)
Type of Food: Sandwich, salad
Prices: (Note: some item changes at new location.) Antipasti salad (with kalamata olives, salami, provolone), $8; the Caesar (romaine, Parmesan, garlic croutons), $7 (add chicken, $2 more); Chinese chicken salad (with napa cabbage, wontons, marinated chicken, oriental sesame dressing), $9; marinated tomato and artichoke salad, with palm heart, feta, $7.50; Italian sandwich (with salami, provolone, olives, aioli, basil, greens), $8; roasted veggie wrap (spinach tortilla with greens, yellow squash, red onions, zucchini, red peppers, aioli), $7; turkey wrap (with cranberry aioli), $7; roast beef sandwich (with grilled onions, horseradish), $7
Hours: 7:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Monday–Friday
Buses: all downtown
Nearest Bus Stop: Kettner and Broadway
Trolley: Blue, green, and orange lines
Nearest trolley stops: America Plaza (blue and orange lines); Santa Fe (blue and green lines)