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Influx Café

1948 Broadway, Golden Hill




Is there life on Broadway, east of the I–5? I’ve got a couple of answers to that. Feta 1, Turkey 2.

No, we’re not talking World Cup soccer scores. Just the two sandwiches you gotta decide between next time you venture to the underbelly of Golden Hill, specifically to this old shophouse-turned-café named Influx. Feta 1 is a mush of roasted-eggplant spread, feta cheese, sliced red onion, tomato, and mixed greens. It’s served on focaccia bread, which they bake right here. Turkey 2 is roast turkey breast, bacon, Swiss cheese, red onion, mixed greens, and mayo, also on focaccia bread. Oh, man. That focaccia. Light fluffy pizza-style flatbread, with an olive-oily thing happening on the crispy crust. Mmm…

Okay. Back up. There I was, aboard the #2 (yeah, on the bus again), heading up Broadway toward Golden Hill and North Park. ’Course, first we had to swoop under the I–5. Big dividing line. Like comin’ out of Baghdad’s Green Zone, though east of the freeway’s mostly just a bunch of age-old houses and apartment buildings. But, where there used to be a shabby old thrift store on the corner of 20th, now there’s this pale green place with café tables along one side and stand-alone red letters that spell out “Influx.”

So, why not? I pull ye olde cord, hop out, cross the road, and walk into a big spare space with varnished plank flooring and white, art-free walls. There’s a rack of tables down the left side with cool cats all sipping java and staring at their iPads — okay, mostly Mac laptops. Gentrification 101! Place makes you think of Rebecca’s in South Park, Claire de Lune in North Park, or Java Jones in East Village. But cleaner, sparser decor. There’s a cooler at the counter against the back wall with baked goods inside, a red Rancilio espresso machine nearby, and a rack of black coffee urns. But what you really notice is a way-big, bright-red, L-shaped settee. You just long to fling yourself into it. And all the chairs are those white tulip-shaped design by that famous Danish designer…d’agh…

“Saarinen,” says one of the girls sitting behind her computer. She’s seen me staring.

What I like is that the room — the whole place — feels new, even though the house is old, exactly 100 years old, according to this guy Jason who, turns out, owns the business. It was built in 1910. William Howard Taft was president. You blink, look out through the windows, and realize that people back then looked out these same windows, but they saw ladies in long dresses, bankers in bowler hats, drays with horses snorting, men in Stetsons, flicking reins, kids playing with hoops in the dirt road…cows mooing in the farmland…

“Sir, sir?”

Oh, right...not 1910, 2010. Lady wants me to order. I look up at the menu board. They have a bunch of stuffed breads, plus cereal bowls and salads. The Croissant Melt 1 has ham, brie, and Dijon mustard ($6.50). Croissant Melt 2 has tomato and basil instead of the ham ($6.50). Bagels start at $2.25 with cream cheese and go up to $4.50 for the bagel scramble with two eggs and Swiss or jack cheese. It’s $7.95 for the Traditional, with cream cheese, smoked salmon, tomato, red onion, and capers. Then they have ten sandwiches, like the Feta 1, all $6.50. Salads — organic — are mostly $6.95, including the “Goat,” with goat cheese and cranberries (add chicken breast for $2.50).

The gal behind the counter’s name is Trista. Means “sad” in French, right? Too cool. All we need is Jacques Brel singing for atmos. I ask for a coffee ($1.50) and the Feta 1 sandwich with the eggplant, and when it comes (over to the big red couch, natch), I lunge into that crispy-covered pillow of focaccia (it means “fireplace”) bread. It is super-delicious.

“My wife Gina and I met in this neighborhood,” Jason tells me later. “That was 14 years ago. We wanted to have a place nearby where you could have a coffee, meet friends, eat, work, study. The problem was the neighborhood. Girls I knew feared to walk two blocks alone. It was pretty rough. And there was nowhere to go hang out.”

So they decided to be pioneers. They spent two years cleaning out this former thrift store. Jason had experience working at Cafe on the Park and Sushi Deli. Gina had been at Williams-Sonoma.

When they opened eight years ago, it triggered a neighborhood change. “It’s amazing,” he says. “Every house on the block has been painted. There’s been a change in philosophy. You can call it gentrification, but people around here walk their dogs now. We’re getting a San Francisco feel. And we’re part of it. We’ve had a couple of novels and a thesis written in here. I’m proud of that.”

Now they’ve taken space in the new Q building in Little Italy for a second Influx. It’s a movement. Hey, why rent workspace when you have a laptop and Influx for your office? My only suggestion: snooze sofas, for those moments when you just can’t laptop anymore.

The Place: Influx, 1948 Broadway, Golden Hill, 619-255-9470. (Also at 750 West Fir Street, suite 105, Little Italy, 619-255-0735)
Type of Food: American light
Prices: Breakfast yogurt bowl (with fruit, granola), $6.25; croissant, $2.50; Croissant Melt 1 (with ham, brie, Dijon mustard), $6.50; Croissant Melt 2 (with tomato, basil, brie, mustard), $6.50; bagels with cream cheese, $2.25; bagel scramble (with two eggs, Swiss or jack cheese), $4.50; the Traditional (with cream cheese, smoked salmon, tomato, onion, capers), $7.95; Feta 1 sandwich (eggplant spread, feta, onion, tomato, mixed greens on focaccia), $6.50; Turkey 2 (turkey, bacon, cheese, onion, mixed greens, mayonnaise on focaccia), $6.50; goat salad (with goat cheese, cranberries), $6.95 (add chicken breast for $2.50)
Hours: 6:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., daily
Bus: 2
Nearest Bus Stop: Broadway at 20th Street

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