Croque-monsieur from Cafe Masillia
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Cafe Massilia

2121A El Cajon Boulevard, University Heights

For whatever reason, 2121A El Cajon Boulevard went tentantless for an eternity after the departure of Eclipse Chocolat. Downtime for empty restaurant buildings is usually minimal. Landlords want rent paid, and there’s no shortage of brilliant ideas waiting to be developed at the hands of entrepreneurial upstarts. The place that finally took over the empty spot, Cafe Massilia, addresses a distinct vacancy in University Heights’ southeast corner: a walkable coffee shop. Especially for the people living just south of ECB, the walk to Mystic, Twiggs, or Lestat’s is a few minutes too long to be 100% convenient for foot traffic.

Finally, a business is open in the former Eclipse Chocolat space!

Finally, a business is open in the former Eclipse Chocolat space!

Great ambition went into designing the interior. Lime green and purple dominate the visual effects, right down to the cloth napkins at every table setting. The snow-white, fluffy upholstery on the chairs looks rad...at least while it’s all brand new. It begs for careless eaters to spill coffee and sauce all over it, and time will tell if the new owner wants to make the effort to keep them looking pristine.

The menu is cafe fare and vaguely French. After hearing the new owner speak more than a word or two, the Frenchness makes perfect sense. Let’s just say she’s charmingly incapable of pronouncing the letter h. It’s not a long menu, but the presence of croque-monsieur and -madame scores extra credit. “Mr. and Mrs. Crunchy” are great excuses to eat a sandwich with a knife and fork like a good French person would do. In addition to the sandwiches and espresso drinks (which are on the cheaper side for the time being), the cafe stocks up a lovely selection of pastries from the popular Opera Patisserie in Mira Mesa. A few breakfast items, like French toast, dot the menu around the sandwiches, coffee, and pastries.

White chairs look attractive at Cafe Massilia, but will they weather years of customers' backsides and spilled coffees?

White chairs look attractive at Cafe Massilia, but will they weather years of customers' backsides and spilled coffees?

Reportedly, permitting issues were a big part of the cafe’s delay in opening. Even now that it’s more or less up and running, the health department continues to hassle the business over equipment regulations. An inspector walked in during slow hours [I was inside eating a sandwich at the time] and informed the owner that he was there to impound her equipment because the model #’s didn’t match her plans.

Now, that’s all well and good. Regulations are regulations. In the words of one restaurant owner, “get your permits first and buy the equipment to match!” What was unacceptable on the health department’s part was that the inspector had no record of previous inspections. He didn’t even have the names or credentials of the two other inspectors who had (allegedly) given permission to operate with x-panini press and y-oven in lieu of other models. Those are the kinds of issues that should be tracked and signed off on (or not!). There should be no circumstance in which a health department official is unaware of the results of previous inspections. We are talking about something as simple as carbon copies here, not rocket science. Demanding basic aptitude from a smallish bureaucracy, especially one that maintains vice-like control over foodservice operations, is not an unreasonable request. Regardless of whether the health department is an inept organization or the iron vanguard of public health, how are the inspectors supposed to serve the public if they’re in operational disarray?

Questions of government efficiency aside, Cafe Massilia seems to be weathering the never-ending onslaught of civil paperwork and could be an asset to the neighborhood.

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