1202 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Serendipity? This is how it happens: “No, no! Not one step further! You want 40 bucks down the drain?”
Carla has planted her feet on the sidewalk. The palm trees are whipping around her. It’s one of those buffeting days. Her hairdresser Diane has just finished with her. Here in Coronado, natch. But the whole hairdo’s threatening to unwind in the wind.
“Here. We’re going in here.” Carla heads straight into an eatery beside the 901 bus stop at Orange and Loma Avenues. Italian. Looks classy but not frou-frou classy. Guess we’re gonna wait out the wind and do lunch.
Actually, you get a good feeling as soon as you step inside. It’s L-shaped, with the bar running up on the right and two rows of tables spread along on the left, parallel to the street. Pale green walls, smoky blue Formica tables with round, blond-wood edges. Cozy. A sign above the bar area says, “Imagine the Pastabilities.” You can see the building’s from the, what, 1920s? An inside window’s all leaded, with colored glass, and the narrow, wood floor has taken a pounding. Two men and a woman are eating some kind of spaghetti at the bar, but we settle in at a table looking out over Orange Avenue. Anna, the waitress, brings the menus. “Something to drink?” Carla asks for iced tea ($2.50). I go for water.
Carla takes a sip and lets out a long sigh. “Ah, yes! Unsweetened. Not perfumed. Love this place already,” she says. “Love Italian, anyway.”
Blues is on the sound system as we search the menu. The Island salad (romaine, tomatoes, onion, olives, cheese, and vinaigrette) is $5.95. It goes up to $11.95 if you add chicken or shrimp. A roasted-eggplant sandwich with melted mozzarella (plus pasta salad on the side, like all the sandwiches) is $8.95, and the “torpedo” with “fresh deli meats” is $8.25. They have a whole thing going with “house pasta plates.” You choose your pasta, you choose what sauce to add, and what size plate. Which means you can combine spaghetti, fettuccine, rigatoni, spaghettini, or shells with meat sauce, marinara, Alfredo, olio, or pesto for $8.25 (medium plate) or $9.25 (large plate). Add a meatball or sausage for $2.50 extra. “We make our pasta daily,” says the menu, “with 100% semolina.” Then they have a bunch of 12-inch pizzas ranging from $10–$14 and “specialty pasta plates” such as garlic chicken and fettuccine ($10.95) or chicken marsala with spaghetti ($12.95). The most expensive dishes are shrimp scampi and jumbo scallops (both $17.95).
“The pizzas have semolina in the crust,” says Anna. “It makes them beautifully crunchy.”
But Carla’s not into sharing a pizza. She got a health check the other day and is feeling expansive. “Let’s start with the cheesy garlic bread,” she says to Anna. It’s $3.95, a buck more than straight garlic bread. So, hey, that makes me feel expansive. “And a glass of, say, Cab Sauv?” I say, just like I’ve heard the hotshots in wine bars say it.
Carla’s not impressed. “Bedford, you’re my guest, but take it easy.”
So, okay, I have Anna bring me the cheapest house red, a mix of Cab Sauv and Merlot, $6. If we’d waited till 3:00, happy hour, it’d be half that. “Okay,” Carla says, “you’re getting wine, so let’s see… I’ll have the house pasta plate, the fettuccine with Alfredo sauce, medium. And the sausage.”
Hmm…she’s spending $10.75 here. That liberates me to go for the dish I saw the couple at the next table digging away at, the rigatoni bake. Looks luscious. It’s $11.50.
’Course, when it comes and I dig in, it’s mostly rigatoni, those hollow tubes of pasta. The taste is in the thick, honest meat sauce. I mean, it’s not totally electrifying to the taste buds, but with the tang of the wine, it goes down nicely. Anna brings a little side of the pesto they make right here, and, damn, it’s good. Carla and I try it as a dip with the bread they supply. Now I sorta wish I’d had the spaghetti-and-pesto pasta plate. Also, Carla’s Alfredo fettuccine is really good. Creamy and tart. The sausage is a subtle, herby affair. “You can pick ’em,” I say.
“Grass is always greener on the other side,” Carla says.
Not for Brant, the owner here. Turns out he’s Coronadan, born and bred. “I was a surfer kid,” he says. “When I was 14, I started out dishwashing at the Chart House. I got hooked on the idea of having my own restaurant.” Then he ate at a Pacific Beach place that let you choose your own pasta-and-sauce combination. “And I thought, That’s what we need in Coronado. An Italian eatery, but with a laid-back California vibe. All-you-can-eat pasta. That kind of thing. My wife Carol and I worked 24/7 for two years, getting this place ready, then took shifts, busing, serving when we opened. We needed the tips! But it took off. The idea kinda clicked.”
He still has an All-U-Can-Eat pasta deal on Wednesday nights ($9.95). That draws the Navy SEALs in droves. “Of course, my dad was a SEAL officer. He tells them: ‘You go down there or I’ll bust your heads.’ ”
We head out. The wind has dropped. “How’s my hair?” Carla asks.
I start singing, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…” ■
Island Pasta, 1202 Orange Avenue, Coronado, 619-435-4545
Type of Food: Italian
Prices: Cheesy garlic bread, $3.95; Island salad (romaine, tomatoes, onion, olives, cheese, and vinaigrette), $5.95 ($11.95 with chicken or shrimp); roasted-eggplant sandwich (includes pasta side-salad), $8.95; house pasta plates (you choose pasta, sauce), $8.25 (medium plate), $9.25 (large plate); add meatball or sausage, $2.50 extra; 12-inch pizzas, $10–$14; garlic chicken and fettuccine, $10.95; chicken marsala with spaghetti, $12.95; shrimp scampi, $17.95; jumbo scallops, $17.95; Wednesday: All-U-Can-Eat pasta, $9.25
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday; till 9:30 p.m., Friday–Sunday
Buses: 901, 904
Nearest Bus Stop: Outside restaurant at Orange and Loma (southbound); at BofA, Orange and B (northbound)