5987 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego
“And now for a special live report from the border, here’s our border-affairs reporter, Ed Bedford. Ed?”
Cue Ed: “Yes, Cindy. I’m actually standing on the border. One foot on either side, my right planted squarely in El Cerrito, my left in Rolando. You may hear some banging in the background. That’s the sound of, uh, pots and pans. Because the extraordinary fact is that this line passes through the entrance of San Diego Desserts. We have Mark here — step a little closer, into the shot, Mark, thanks. Now, you’re the owner of San Diego Desserts. It’s a question of identity, isn’t it? Mark, the world wants to know: What are you, an El Cerritan or a Rolandian?”
“ ’Scuse me. You okay?”
Oh Lord, it’s Mark. He’s shaking my shoulder. Fantasizing again. Been a long day.
“Uh, you were saying…?” I ask.
“Only that the demarcation line between El Cerrito and Rolando runs through our front entrance.”
I’m at 60th and El Cajon because I needed to refuel, fast. Just finished an all-day job up here. Dizzy in the heat. No lunch. Now it’s nearly 8:00 p.m. Saw this low building with a big sign on its roof: “King Pawn.” For a moment I thought it said “King Prawn.” No such luck. But underneath is another sign that says “Desserts.” So I come up, have a look-see, and yes! They’ve added “…and local bistro!” to the title. They do meals, not just desserts. Lunches and dinners, mostly, with a brunch on Sunday. Plus, they have a wall of wine and a cute-looking patio with white trellises and jungle plants and wispy Moroccan drapes. Of course, the main room displays pastries and cookies and wedding cakes. Guess they are a bakery that grew. Whatever, quite a little dessert oasis — heh-heh — this far up El Cajon.
I go on through and take a seat in the “garden” area, at a table near to where three women and a man are eating and talking up a storm. I want to see what’s on their plates, to get ideas.
One’s got a pasta dish. I check the menu. Fettuccini with chicken and creamy garlic sauce. That’s $9, plus $2 for the chicken. So, we’re talking mid-range, not big-time cheap. The lunches are a little easier on the wallet, in the $7–$8 range. A roast-beef sandwich is $7, quiche is $8.
The second woman’s eating pâté. Ah, yes. Chicken-liver pâté with, uh, “toast points,” $6. The gent and the third woman have a salad. I see little fruit quarters scattered around the top, bright red, like mini-watermelons. Must be the figs of the fig salad. That one comes with “mixed greens, goat cheese, and walnut dressing, $7.”
It’s Mark, order book in hand. But I’m still checking out the menu. I see braised short-ribs with polenta and a green salsa, the most expensive item at $12. Or pan-seared chicken breast ($11), “airline chicken,” whatever that is, over “spinach-Parmesan potatoes.” Roasted salmon’s $10, chicken pot pie’s $8, and meat loaf with mash goes for $10.
There’s another page with appetizers such as poached shrimp ($7.50), fried polenta ($7), and a “deconstructed” niçoise salad, meaning items all separated on the plate, I guess ($9).
Hmm... Kinda hungry. Got a couple of Jacksons aboard, as it happens. So, I go a little crazy and order that fig salad, plus the meat loaf. And, gotta say, when the fig dish arrives, it’s super-delish. Those little sweet bursts, along with the goat cheese, make for a salad you can actually love. Nothing “eat your greens!” about it. ’Specially with the interesting bread Mark has brought.
The meat loaf is comfort food, but no way boring. It has bacon on top and good cheesy mashed potatoes. Trouble is, I’m distracted, rappin’ with the folks next door. Started when I took their picture for them. Turns out, Charlie’s been a clarinet player with orchestras around the world. Elisa, his wife, is a teacher. Sue’s just spent four years out in the Nicaraguan boonies, helping educate women about preventing cervical cancer. And Tanja, who’s, like, still a wild woman at 84, runs something called the Peace and Democracy Action Group. “It’s simple,” she says. “We’re trying to stop goddamn war.”
After the gang has left, I ask Mark, “So, really, what’s this about being on the border?” That’s when he tells me about the invisible line. And how El Cerrito means “Little Hill,” and the name “Rolando” was dreamed up by developers back in the 1920s, to combine “rolling” and “land.” They gave it a romantic Spanish twist by adding an o at the end.
Who knew? Meantime, I go completely over the top and order a tres leches cake ($4.75) before I’ve finished the meat loaf, seeing as how Mark’s fixing to close. It’s sponge, with layers of that wicked vanilla-fudge-tasting filling that’s addictive like caramel. I never miss getting a stick of it when I’m in TJ — even if I’m there to see Dr. Solorio, the dentist. This has a less intense taste but makes a nice light end to the meal.
Outside, I cross back into El Cerrito territory and head for the 15 bus stop. Already decided what I’ll have when I bring Carla here. Glass of port (’cause they have that) and a chocolate-caramel bombe, which I almost got instead of the tres leches. Oh, man. That should cost about $12. And if Tanja and Sue and Elisa and Charlie are there, that’ll be the icing on the cake.
The Place: San Diego Desserts, 5987 El Cajon Boulevard, Rolando 619-287-8186
Type of Food: American
Prices: Sunday brunch smoked-salmon platter, $8; San Diego scramble (with Brie, turkey sausage, potatoes, mushrooms), $7; roast-beef lunch sandwich, $7; chicken pot pie, mixed greens, $8; bacon and Swiss quiche, salad, $8; dinner fig salad, $7; chicken liver pâté, $6; braised short-ribs with polenta, $12; pan-seared chicken breast, spinach-Parmesan potatoes, $11; roasted salmon, $10; meat loaf with mash, $10
Hours: 6:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday; till 9:00 p.m., Friday, Saturday; 7:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m., Sunday
Buses: 1, 15
Nearest Bus Stops: El Cajon and 59th