722 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Hey-hey! Gaslamp in the early afternoon. It feels fresh and dowdy at the same time. You kinda feel that every second person is suffering some kind of hangover from the night before.
I ain’t feeling hung over so much as still waking up. Worked till the wee hours last night. Got up late. Carla got vertical before I did.
“Don’t worry, I’ll find something downtown,” I mumbled. “Gotta go to the Gaslamp anyway.”
“Breakfast? Gaslamp? Good luck on that one,” she said.
So, I got off the Green Line trolley in the Gaslamp and started up the Golden Mile. Fifth Avenue. Lord. People had food, but nobody had breakfast. By the time I’m up at G street I’m getting a little desperate.
It’s early, but the hostesses are starting to take their posts. Some even lock eyes and go, “Hello. We have early specials...”
Just coming up to my two favorite veranda patios, Osteria Panevino and Asti. Both Italian, each with kinda cozy patios. This osteria happens to be in the same 1887 building as a real hostel, the USA Hostel.
But what really stops me at Panevino (“bread and wine”) is — at last! — the B word. “Now open for Breakfast!” says the green banner. Of course, the main menu...forget it. We’re talking anywhere from $15 to $40 for a dish. Happy hour, they do have $7 plates, but happy hour is hours away.
“We have it until 3 p.m.,” says the hostess, Jessica. “The frittata is very good.”
Hmm... “Vegetarian frittata, zucchini, tomato, mushroom, bell peppers, avocado, $9.95.”
So, not the cheapest, but I see pretty much everything on the breakfast menu starts at about $10. Their Eggs Benedict (with ham, poached eggs, hollandaise sauce on an English muffin) is $10.99, and, for three bucks more, they have a Filet Mignon Benedict. They have crêpes (Nutella or frutti) and waffles for a ten-spot and ten-buck, half-pound breakfast burgers.
But what catches my eye is a “Breakfast Pizza.” Say what? The picture shows four eggs over-easy on top of a pizza with red, green, yellow strips of bell pepper, onions, lots of pale cheese, and chorizo or regular sausage.
It’s $11.95. And I see that regular antipasti like Bruschetta con Pomodoro (diced tomato, grated parmesan cheese, olive oil on baked bread) at only $4.95.
But what the heck. I can take lots home.
Jessica leads me to a patio table. I don’t even think of going inside, although they’ve got a really classy mural in there, what looks like medieval Florence. Huh. That old church with the dome looks just like our new Central Library.
Pretty classy out here, too. Wicker and polished wood chairs, fancy folded brown linen napkins. Tall waiter comes up. Steve. Do I want anything to drink? Dang right I do. Coffee. Just to push along the waking process after that late night.
And the coffee turns out to be the best bargain of all. For two bucks I get a silver pot of coffee to pour myself. And coffee’s a dream. Smooth but with body.
“Would you like your pizza with sausage or chorizo?” says Steve.
No contest. “As long as the chorizo has plenty of flavor,” I say.
“Trust me,” Steve says. “I’m a chef. I know good flavor. And the eggs over medium?”
“That means the eggs will be oozy but not runny?”
He nods. “Trust me,” he says. “This is the oldest Italian restaurant in the Gaslamp. Twenty-two years. These cooks know how to cook eggs.”
After he’s gone, I look down the gallery of street-side patios. You can see through from one patio to the next. Upturned wine glasses glint all along. The hostesses at their lecterns glance up and down the street. “Hi there!” “Hello. Care to see...” I notice they target the man every time. Good strategy.
I’m just thinking how I could get used to this when Steve brings my pizza, all steamy on a big, round, well-worn wooden platter.
And there are the eggs, four of them, covering most of the peppers and onions and chorizo blobs. But it sure makes a pretty picture, white and golds and greens and reds. And if the sushi ideal of pleasing your eyes first counts, then this scores big.
On the other hand, what the heck am I doing? I have a tough enough time getting through pizzas with all their dough at the end of the day. This pizza ain’t no way a bowl of Wheaties.
“Is this something your Sicilian owners would eat back home?” I ask Steve.
“No way. This is something for the American palate,” Steve says. “Everything Italian in America is slathered in cheese and sauce like they’d never do back there.”
Now I’m starting to feel a little protective. Of their breakfast-pizza idea and American-Italian food. Because it does look good. And the oozy eggs and the chorizo and the crispy pie do go great together. Especially with some Cholula hot sauce splotted on top and a big glug of coffee with every chomp. And it’s a pleasure cutting off chunks with my knife on that soft but firm wood base. No ugly clacking.
By the time I leave, totally stuffed, the street is in full happy-hour flood. Jessica and the girls next door at Asti, and further up at Pizza Lounge, are out there trying to turn passersby into customers in ten words or less.
“Hi guys! Three-dollar beers, seven dollar plates...” Sure, I paid more, but I think I got the better deal.
- The Place: Osteria Panevino, 722 Fifth Avenue, in the Gaslamp, downtown, 619-595-7959
- Prices: American breakfast (3 eggs, bacon, sausage or ham, hash browns or roasted potatoes, toast) $10.99; vegetarian frittata, $9.95; steak and eggs, $14.95; Panevino chorizo burrito, $13.99; filet mignon Benedict, $13.99; breakfast pizza (chorizo or sausage, with 4 eggs over easy or scrambled), $11.95; chicken panini, $10.95; happy-hour small plates (e.g., stuffed eggplant) $7; main items much more expensive (e.g., Ossobuco Milanese, $37.95)
- Hours: 10:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday; 10:00 a.m.–midnight, Friday; 8:00 a.m.–midnight, Saturday; 8:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Sunday; breakfast, weekend brunch till 3:00 p.m.
- Buses: 3, 11, and all downtown
- Nearest bus stops: Fifth and G (#3 northbound); Fourth and G (#3 southbound); Market and Sixth (11); all others, Fourth and Broadway
- Trolley: Green Line
- Nearest trolley stop: Gaslamp, Fifth Avenue and Harbor Drive