Crowds of humans and birds flock to the garden patio at lunch time.
11815 Sorrento Valley Road, San Diego
Mainly, I remember the walk. Up Sorrento Valley Road, across the Peñasquitos River, past countless modest-sized high-tech outfits, plus gyms, dance studios, and empty lots. I’m walking mostly on grass or dirt ’cause, again, no sidewalk. Nobody figures people will use their two legs to get to places around here. ’Specially in this part of town, where you can see glass palaces straight out of Oz, on the tops of mini mountains, silhouetted against the sky. Names like General Atomics, Pfizer, Qualcomm.
But, man, does it make getting there feel like an achievement. I must be a mile and a half up when I spot the crossroads with Carmel Mountain Road and — out of whack with all that glass and steel — this gabled farmhouse with arbors, gardens, and picnic tables under the trees.
I say “hi” to a white heron fishing from a little stream, near a sandwich-board sign that reads, “Corner House Cafe. Now serving coffee, smoothies, acai bowls.”
I head up across a small parking lot filled with a bunch of upper-crust cars. Sporty Beemers, Mercedes, Volvos. Then I’m past a birdhouse on a post and up to the side of the house, where there’s a blue granite counter and a couple of order windows.
Whew. So glad to be here, bit like Li’l Red Riding Hood making it through the woods to Gramma’s place. The walk has added to my hunger. I’ll take a load off my feet at one of the round concrete picnic tables in the garden as soon as I’ve put an order in.
Murals painted next to the windows make the place look like an old-timey general store.
I see three shadowy figures running about in the gloom of the kitchen inside. Better find a menu. Ah…here it is, on the wall.
Scenes from a grocery store are painted beside the windows. They show make-believe shelves of tortillas and apples on the left, veggies on the right. Also on the right: the menu specials. “Salmon Salad, $9.49.” “Lunch special, a pizza slice, side salad, and soda, $4.49.” “Chipotle black bean veggie burger, $6.89.” “Homemade hummus with pita bread, $4.49.”
“That hummus is very popular,” says this gent from inside when he sees me looking. “We make it right here. We are Iranian-Americans. We know hummus. Maryam, my wife, puts garbanzo beans, garlic, olive oil, sautéed jalapeños, cilantro, tahini — sesame — it’s luscious. I’ve been eating it for years.”
I recognize this guy’s face. I’ve stopped here before. Must be about six years ago.
“Name’s Kiu, right?” I say.
“Short for Kiumars, the first shah of the world,” he says. “‘Kiu,’ or ‘Gaya,’ means ‘life.’”
Hey. Gaya — like Gaia. And now I’m remembering…we talked last time about the great kings of Persia, like Cyrus, who was the first in the world to codify human rights. We talked, and I ate an Ironman sandwich, pretty sure.
I reckon that might be a good choice now, too. I’m looking for a sandwich that’s gonna replace all those electrolytes.
Kiu agrees. “We have lots of fitness fanatics, bike-riders, runners, and climbers come by. It’s popular with them.”
Huh. Now I’m an athlete.
I look up at the menu on the wall above the order window. An Ironman is “Grilled chicken breast, avocado, Swiss, honey-mustard dressing, tomato, and sprouts on sourdough bread, $6.89.”
Kiu says the price has gone up 54 cents in the six years since I was here last. That’s not bad.
I almost ask for that, then think, Nuh-uh. Been there, done that.
I see they have a burger for $6.69, fish and chips for $6.99, tons of sandwiches, pizza and pastas (spaghetti with meatballs is $6.99), and it’s all good, standard stuff. In the end, I go for the gyro plate ($7.39). I love the taste of that beef-lamb combo. Here, it’s 20 percent lamb, 80 percent beef. Kiu says I can have a Caesar salad instead of the rice. Which is cool, because there’s so much of the green stuff, and it comes with fried croutons and a good Caesar dressing. Pita bread, all those slabs of melt-in-your-mouth meat, plus the salad is way more than enough food. For $1.55 extra, I get a soda.
“It’s ’round the corner,” says Kiu. “Open the little shutters in the wall.”
I do as he says. Huh. The shutters are two feet high, hinged to the outside wall. Somebody decorated them with bluebirds, bicycles, and garden chairs. I open them up and — presto! — the whole panoply, from Sprite to Barq’s root beer. I get an iced tea.
I head for the small balcony at the side of the house. Wow. Crowded. ’Specially the big table in the middle. It’s filled with one large family, looks like. I recognize Maryam, Kiu’s wife. She’s sitting with her brother and his family. She says they’re fresh out of Iran.
Maryam, sitting with her family visiting from Iran, makes Corner House’s popular hummus.
“The food here is so much better than in Iran,” says her brother, Parssa. “And the service. People here are happy to serve you at restaurants!”
His wife Sharzad agrees. Her name is the same as Scheherazade (which is how we spell it), the legendary queen who told the 1001 Nights tales to the sultan, to save her neck. “Here, the meat is tastier,” she says, “and the drinks are sweeter. But we do have good holiday towns in the mountains. They have good food.”
I take the cardboard lid off my foil pan and start chewing. That meat: so tender and flavorful. The tzatziki sauce is nice and refreshing. Kiu says it has cucumber, yogurt, dill, and fresh lime. Yes, it’s served in a round, aluminum-foil pan, so this isn’t exactly Hilton presentation, but the food? Could be Hilton. You want to loll the whole afternoon away here. I’d’ve probably done it, if I hadn’t had to get back to the train.
Before I leave I have to ask: Is this a genuine farmhouse?
“That was a question till February this year,” Kiu says. “Then a little old lady came up, and told Maryam she had lived in it for years…in Point Loma. After she sold it, someone trucked it up here. So, farmhouse? I don’t think so.”
But does it look like one in this setting? You bet it does. All it needs to complete the scene are a few chickens and a couple of snorting pigs.
Gosh, if it wasn’t such a pain-in-the-butt walking distance from the Sorrento Valley Station, I’d come here every chance I got, just to enjoy a country picnic under the trees.
Prices: Ironman sandwich (grilled chicken breast, avocado, Swiss), $6.89; burger, $6.69; fish and chips, $6.99; spaghetti with meatballs, $6.99; gyros plate with pita bread and rice or salad, $7.39; Mandarin salad with grilled chicken, $7.49
Hours: 7:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Monday–Friday; 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday
Buses: 972, 972, 978, 979
Nearest Bus Stop: Sorrento Valley Coaster station