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Been waiting for this.

Last time I was here, early January, they were frantically trying to turn a hardware store into a proper Italian-style caffe.

We're talking about Cremalose (840 Fifth Avenue, between E and F). It's an Italian gelateria-bar-pizzeria-restaurant-cafe.

Meaning not just an eatery, but if you listen to their promises, a hang-out, where you can eat a gelato, or a panini, or something more serious, or just slurp a coffee. Not, like in some of the Little Italy joints, where they kick you out (in the nicest way) if you’re not a serious eater and just want a cup of joe.

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Cremalose, in what used to be San Diego Hardware's classic store, and before that, Woolworth's

Tonight, I’m tramping down the shadowy boulevard of dreams. And alright! Here’s Cremalose, open, shining all gold and red, looking like a brand-new store.

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Of course it’s almost as old as downtown itself, this frontage. A hundred years ago, this was Woolworth’s. The curved windows date back to oh, around 1912. Still here! So is the tin ceiling paneling.

So right now, about nine at night, it looks so cool. Peeps are taking martinis on the terrazza outside, and inside, cabinets shine with rainbow colors of gelati and cremalose (which are like gelati filled with the fruit they’re named after).

Actually, the gelati thing isn’t big on my list of must-eats. I like ’em fine, but it’s all the savory stuff further back that has my nose a-twitchin’. I see the wood-fired pizza is cranked up for starters, and there’s lists of Italian dishes on the wall, from seven-buck paninis to more serious dishes in the teens.

Trouble is, I ain’t prepared. Financially, that is. Not a lot of jingle to jangle. “Any ideas?” I ask Zenon, the chef at the panini section of the long counter. We happen to be standing by a pan of what look like segments of round focaccia bread, stuffed with meats, cheeses, and veggies.

“These are reasonable. They’re called ‘Schiacciate,’” he says.

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Zenon toasts my schiacciate

I like the look of the one nearest to me, with all sorts of colorful stuff inside.

“That’s the vegetarian one,” says Zenon. “It’s got grilled, sautéed eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes inside.”

“Yeah, but how much?”

“That one, $4.50.”

Man. Sounds too good to be true.

“And it comes with a mixed green salad,” Zenon says.

“Stiill $4.50?”

“Still $4.50.”

He even toasts it, when I go for it, so it’s all hot. It comes on a big fine china plate with real flatware.

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I take it over to the black marble bar where Jennifer’s standing in front of a blue-lit backboard loaded with exotic bottles of likker.

I order the cheapest drink, a Bud Light ($4), and eat my, uh, schiacciate here.

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Jennifer

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Oh. Mmm. I swear, this is maxxo delicioso.

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And the focaccia is crisp but fall-apart tender. Beautiful combo.

Salad’s huge. But it’s the tastes of the eggplant and the great yellow sautéed bell peppers and zucchini inside that bread that make this a killer combo.

So I don’t know what-all else they have food-wise here, but I’m comin’ back to try more of that new word I just learned, schiacciate ("Ski-a-chart-ay").

Of course I have to taste a cremalose. I sample a zillion flavors – they’re good that way – and end up paying $4 for a mix of strawberry and coconut in a cone.

Sixty percent actual fruit, they say. And specially the coconut, you’re actually chewing the stuff. I finish it off at the bar.

Hmm. Now, I’m thinking, the Gaslamp has its cool anytime café at last. You don’t have to be, like, celebrating yer boithday.

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Terrazza is starting to open up

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Server James brings a martini for local. Ideal dog-walk destination?

What I think I’m looking forward to most is coming by at ten in the morning, when they open, grabbing a coffee ($2.75) and settin’ up shop outside on the sidewalk patio for a session of serious people-watching, and taking care of business with my li’l laptop. They promise: you can sit here for hours, and jes’ nurse that cuppa joe.

If you can resist all the good stuff inside.

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Comments

hortense Feb. 23, 2013 @ 7:19 a.m.

Nice review. Don't forget that 'panini', like 'gelati', is plural. You have one panino or gelato, and multiple panini or gelati. 'A panini' is equivalent to 'a sandwiches', and 'paninis' is a bit like 'sandwicheses'. Hapy eating! Sounds good.

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