610 W. Ash Street, Suite 100, San Diego
Ahhh... Slurp, burp, slurp again. Pinky finger raised, of course. I clink my cawfee cup down in its saucer. Sitting like a captain of industry here at the corner of Ash and India. Behind yellow and blue flowers, under a maroon umbrella, eyeballing a sapphire San Diego Bay twinkling in the morning sun at the bottom of Ash.
A Carnival Cruise liner’s white superstructure peeks out from behind the still-purple jacaranda trees.
We’re in Little Italy, technically, but really a couple of blocks south of where the main LI action is. And yet, I’m thinking, as I slurp my first cawfee of the day — and what a beautiful cuppa it is — where else in Little Italy can you catch a view down to the water from a café?
This morning, tramping up India, I noticed Petrini’s big red, white, and green banner reading “Breakfast, lunch, dinner” and saw what a great little patio they had beneath it. Four tables, three umbrellas, and a real coziness. I crossed over and headed in to see if I could afford it.
Inside, there are fountains, and mustard walls packed with bright paintings of, like, bulls, guitars, horses. They have maroon-cushioned benches along the side wall and blond wood chairs at the tables, and a half dozen fat stools front a kind of wine bar on either side of the open kitchen. Classy...maybe too classy.
“Still doing breakfast?” I asked this gal dressed in black. This was about 10:00 going on 11:00. “No problem,” she said. Cami. “I’ll sit outside,” I said.
And I’m sure glad I did. All that view down Ash to the Bay — you never notice it when you’re hustling up India. Plus, surprise bonus: traffic, Little Italy style. A guy pulls up in his Smart Car cabriolet. Like a standard auto with its rear end chopped off. Very Euro. Then a bunch of perky gals come beetling along aboard Vespa scooters. So La Dolce Vita. Plus, people walking up Ash pass so close they all say “Good morning” to you over the flowers. Nice.
So I’m downing my coffee ($2.50, endless refills) in its classy cup and saucer and checking the menu. Wow. We’re in luck. My kind of prices. Panini — sandwiches — go from $5.25 for the Formaggio (cheese) to $8.75 for the Hot Torpedo (stuffed and baked with capicola, salami, and provolone cheese). In between is the $8.50 Georgie Burger, named after the owner’s mom because sexing up the basic burger with garlic-grilled mushrooms and provolone was her idea. Oh boy, the Caponata ($8) looks good, too: sautéed eggplant with lots of other veggie ingredients, such as onions, bell peppers, celery, and tomato on an Italian roll. Okay, the cena — dinner — items are all up there, from $10 (for a basic pasta and sauce) to $19.75 for a flatiron steak. But you can have at least half of them for half price (from $5–$9) at lunchtime, which means till four in the afternoon.
But, of course, this is still mawnin’, ain’t it? A man has to break his overnight fast first. Breakfast goes till 11:30 (midday on weekends), so we’re good. The specialties include Italian toast (grilled Italian egg-battered bread with berry compote, $7.25) and focaccia with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers ($8.25). But under “Piatti dell’Uovo” (egg plates), the one I like is the frittata with meat and veggies — baked eggs with capicola ham pieces, plus provolone and mozzarella ($7.25, or $6.50 with just veggies).
The frittata comes in a cute little ceramic bowl, egg covered in stretchy cheese, either the provolone or mozzarella. A couple of chunks of peeled orange, and two slices of toasted Italian bread are served alongside. It’s not a vast, sprawling frittata like you get in some places, but it’s tasty and filling. And it feels, well, sophisticated. I must have asked for four coffee refills to help it down. Cami doesn’t complain.
“It’s been hard work,” says the chef and owner, David Petrini, of the first couple of years here. “We have to work to draw our customers. But food has always been part of my life. My father and uncles had five Italian restaurants in the Santa Barbara area, and my mother and brother and I had a place in Scottsdale.”
Turns out he was also in Hollywood for a while, acting (then getting an M.A., then in the landscaping business), but came to San Diego to start this place so he could be his own boss. “Our family is really strong,” David says. “We have reunions every two years. Maybe 120 of us gather, and eating is a big part of it. We even created a family recipe book. I use that a lot. We have our own salad dressing that my uncle makes and bottles. My cousin smokes the salmon we use for our smoked salmon pizza [$13.75–$19.75].”
I started yakkin’ with David when I came in to pay my tab. The cash register’s right beside the open kitchen. He stands there talking away, hands flying. He’s making up a salad now. It’s loaded with salami, olives, and shredded cheese. “The Numero Due salad,” he says. “ ‘Number Two.’ [$7.50] Our family has been making this since 1958. Never change a good thing.”
I can’t hold back a pang of regret. Why wasn’t my family like that? Big, boisterous, loving, inventing dishes, big reunions, lotsa music, singing, cousins, food, some of those straw bottles of Chianti, more food…
Sigh. I swear. Gonna round up some cousins, bring them down here when the sun’s setting, make a Rodney King speech: “Can’t we all just get along?”
The Place: Petrini’s, 610 West Ash Street, suite 100 (at Ash and India), 619-595-0322
Type of Food: Italian
Prices: Italian breakfast toast, $7.25; focaccia with smoked salmon, $8.25; frittata with meat, veggies, $7.25 ($6.50 with just veggies); formaggio panini, $5.25; torpedo (with capicola, salami, provolone cheese), $8.75; Georgie Burger (with garlic-grilled mushrooms and provolone), $8.50; Caponata (sautéed eggplant, onions, bell peppers, celery, tomato) on Italian roll, $8; fettuccine Alfredo, $7.50 ($15 at dinner); cannoli, $4.75
Hours: 8:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday; 8:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. Friday; 9:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Saturday; 9:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Sunday
Buses: 83, 810, 820, and most downtown
Nearest Bus Stops: India and Ash (83, 810, 820); Broadway and India (downtown buses)
Trolleys: Blue Line, Orange Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: America Plaza