The puff’s life blood — brie — oozes out like a cream river.
  • The puff’s life blood — brie — oozes out like a cream river.
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Café 1134

1134 Orange Avenue, Coronado

Opera? On Orange Avenue?

I was ambling up Coronado’s main street, trying to figure out what to do for the three hours Carla usually takes to get her hair frou-froued up over here — Diane was promising something “radical” — when I hear this voice. Singing. But not just any voice. A big, operatic voice. A woman. It seems to fill the avenue. I’m wondering if it comes out of Lamb’s Players Theatre, next to Cafe 1134.

But — erk! No. It’s coming from inside Cafe 1134 itself.

Julie sings an aria from behind the counter

Julie sings an aria from behind the counter

The singing barista

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Cafe 1134 sits inside part of the old (like, nearly a century old) Spreckels building. I have to go in. Inside is a bunch of customers on stools around the end of the counter, chins on hands, listening, as the barista, the gal standing behind the counter, if you can believe, belts out one gigantic operatic aria. When she hits the high notes the walls seem to reverberate. All the wine glasses on the high shelf shatter. It rains glass.

Okay, exaggerating a little there, but what pipes, what a voice! Customers up on the mezzanine floor, the one with the Romeo and Juliet balcony, lean over, eyes wide, drinks in hand untouched.

It’s kinda shockingly beautiful, and surprising. That voice, here, where you mostly hear Crosby Stills Nash and Young singing “Woodstock” or America’s “Horse with No Name” on the muted sound system.

I always liked this place because it keeps a rack of the day’s newspapers — the actual paper kind — on split rods in a rack, for customers to take and read with their coffee. And it has wrought-iron balustrades and a huge ornate mirror that gives it a kinda Old World feel. You imagine Toulouse-Lautrec coming in, top hat and all, picking up a copy of Le Figaro, and settling down with a glass of absinthe to read and observe his fellow cafeístas.

Other thing I like here: They have wines and beers priced incredibly low for Coronado. Like, Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale is only $3.75, or $2.70 during happy hour (4:00–7:00 p.m., Monday to Friday and all day Thursday). It’s even cheaper on Tuesdays, when all beer is half price. And they take a real interest in local craft brewers, not just Stone.

Mauricio with my meal

Mauricio with my meal

Also, they sell hard-boiled eggs for 75 cents. Great for staving off hunger, lining the gut.

Right now everybody’s frozen, transfixed by this barista singing her heart out. That’s a beautiful set of pipes she’s got. I stand rooted like everybody else until she hits the high note and nails it at the end. The place bursts into applause. A couple of cheers ring from the mezzanine. It somehow fits this place and its Victorian feel.

Then everything is back to normal.

“It was ‘Deh vieni non tardar,’ from Le Nozze di Figaro,” says the singing barista, Julie. “Mozart, ‘The Marriage of Figaro.’ Can I get you something?”

Okay, a coffee ($1.60). She brings it in a midnight-blue mug.

“How come you were singing?” I ask.

“We asked her to,” says one of the customers, Ria. “We come whenever she’s on.”

Turns out Julie — Julia Taylor — has been singing for ten years. “I haven’t sung with the San Diego Opera yet, but I’m looking forward to auditioning for them, now they have come back to life.”

She’s a mezzo-soprano. And shy? “I’ll sing any chance I get,” she says.

I’m still going “wow” as I take the coffee and a menu out and find a table on the sidewalk. I’m thinking: This is what cafés are supposed to be about, right? Spontaneous, outlets for talk, talent.

Actually, my spontaneous reaction is ye old taste buds come alive again. I see we’re in happy hour and they have a food menu for that, too. Quite a lot of good stuff. Like the brie puff, “topped with dried cranberries and pecans, served with fresh fruit.” If that means brie cheese, it sounds like a winner. Costs $6.65.

That’s the most expensive. Cheaper chow includes spanakopita — spinach and feta cheese wrapped in filo pastry — ($4.95), a quesadilla for $4.95, a pita pizza with feta and mozzarella ($5.50), tzatziki and pita for $3.85, a jumbo hot dog for $2.50, and a baked potato with butter and sour cream for $2.50, or with chili, cheese, and onions added, $3.95.

My chili potato

My chili potato

Hmm... Natch, I order too much. I get the chili baked potato and then can’t resist that brie puff.

Mauricio the chef brings out my two platefuls. Eyes bigger than gut again. I need a greed pill. Yes, the potato is totally scrumbo with the chili and lots of flaked cheddar cheese and sour cream and plenty of onions. I’ve always had a soft spot for baked potatoes, anyway, especially if the skins are really tough and overcooked. ’Course, you only really get that if you have hot ashes of a fire to cook them in. But this is fine.

Except the spud is totally eclipsed by the brie puff. So-o good. The pastry is flaky-light, but as soon as you bite it, out oozes the brie in a warm cream lava river. Waiting to tang it up: sweet red rocks of dried cranberries, plus pecans. And between chomps you can clean out your maw with slices of orange, bracing Granny Smith apple, cantaloupe, pineapple. Also, salty crackers. It’s a treat.

I top it all off with a cup of English breakfast tea (under two bucks), just as the beautiful Carla comes up the avenue. She looks, uh, what the...?

“I know. It looks like a mini UFO landing strip,” she says. Because Diane has put a blond streak clear through from front to back.

“Well, at least you’ll be easy to spot at night,” I say. “But guess what you just missed?”


“Pretty much,” I say

  • Happy Hour Prices: Brie puff (pastry stuffed with brie cheese, plus dried cranberries, pecans, fresh fruit), $6.65; spanakopita — spinach, feta cheese wrapped in filo pastry, $4.95; quesadilla, $4.95; pita pizza with feta, mozzarella, $5.50; jumbo hot dog, $2.50; baked potato (butter, sour cream), $2.50; with chili, cheese, onions, $3.95
  • Happy Hour: 4:00–7:00 p.m. Monday to Friday
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