What $5 buys during happy hour: three zesty meatballs of beef, pork, veal
  • What $5 buys during happy hour: three zesty meatballs of beef, pork, veal
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Caffe Primo

1330 Market Street, East Village

Hey hey! Impressive company I’ve got here: Oprah, Renée Zellweger, Bruce Willis, Daniel Craig, all customers at Caffe Primo.

Uh, okay not at the same time or at the same Caffe Primo. Or even in the same city. They go to a Primo on Sunset Stripin L.A. And this is just according to the café’s blurb. I haven’t called my buddies Oprah, Renée, Bruce, or Daniel to confirm.

Most important, they get the Benedict sauce right

Most important, they get the Benedict sauce right

Still. Who would have guessed? Here on Market Street, at, like, the “wrong” end, up by 14th Street, outside the East Village cool pool, stands this new, big, confident street café, all dressed up for the in-crowd.

Hilse, the barista, is telling me about the place. How Caffe Primo’s from L.A. and opened this branch here in July. It’s a nice surprise.

Even nicer surprise? They do breakfast this late hour (about one in the afternoon).

I’d spotted it walking east from the Park and Market trolley stop, heading for the only supermarket I knew downtown, Albertsons. Then, on the corner opposite, a new café. Parisian almost, down to the golden wicker chairs and tables on the sidewalk patio. Just sticks out among the restaurant supplies, dog-wash places, dry-cleaning, little old flower shops.

So, I head into this space with a huge open kitchen, lots of seating, a long table, high industrial ceilings with modern chandeliers hanging, and a separate bar area. This is one big eatery. But I can’t resist going back outside. More greenery, more intimate, more street life, and, hey, in this brisk weather, some sun.

I sit me down, ask for a coffee. Get it pronto in a nice big china cup. Delish. Depeche Mode’s playing. I take a moment to check out the life out here on Market. You can see street denizens are starting to feel the pressure. Middle class is oozing in, brother...one smile, one checkbook at a time.

Then I’m head-down into the way-big menu that Hilde handed me.

So this, I guess, is what Oprah and Bruce eat for breakfast. You can get an oatmeal with berries, bananas, brown sugar for $6; a Belgian waffle, also with berries, plus whipped butter and maple syrup for $8. Or granola with berries, honey, yogurt, and toasted oats for $7.

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts

But all that’s playing around. Need a man’s brekky here. Spinach bacon omelet with goat cheese goes for $8. But, okay, most run into double figures. “Hangover Omelet” with Sicilian meatballs and mozzarella cheese goes for $11. Huevos rancheros (eggs, black beans, salsa roja, cilantro, avocado) runs $12. They all come with “Primo potatoes,” mixed greens, or fresh fruit.

They also have a bunch of brown-rice bowls with, say, herb-crusted salmon ($12) or blackened chicken breast ($11). And salads and wraps going from $9 (Caesar) to $14 (ahi tuna). Also, sandwiches, pizzas, around $12, and cheaper “shared plates” (appetizers, I guess). Blackened brussels sprouts are $7, crispy calamari’s $9, Sicilian meatballs go for $9, short-rib tacos are $12. House specialties are all Italian, like chicken marsala or parmigiana ($15).

But, no. Came here for breakfast. I choose the “traditional” Benedict: poached eggs, smoked ham, Hollandaise, on English muffins, for $11 (Benedict with salmon’d be $13). On Hilse’s advice, I take the potatoes as a side because they mix in yams, or actually, sweet potatoes. (What’s the difference? Wiki says it’s night and day. Sweet potatoes are basically Convolvulus, morning-glory cousins. Yams are related to lilies and grasses.)

The whole plate is a nice combo. Yes, I need to add salt to the potatoes because they taste a little bland, but they have a great combo of orange sweet potato, green and red peppers, and onions. Good to have nice, big eggs with floods of bright yellow yolk, too. Thin slices of ham give just enough flavor to zest up the hollandaise.

Of course Carla is going to kill me. Benedict is her all-time favorite breakfast. I think she’ll go for the vibe of this place, too. The blurb says it’s “inspired by the grand coffeehouses and espresso bars of Europe,” where you can “linger from early morning until late into the night.” Cool.

I also like the fact that they have happy hour every day, 3–6. And all of those “shared plates” are five bucks, along with house wines and a bunch of good draft beers, such as Pizza Port Chronic Amber Ale and Stone Delicious IPA.

Here’s what I do: take off, get a bunch of work done for three hours, and then lope back up Market at about four. Happy hour! Lithe-looking lady, Jordyn, brings me a plate of Sicilian meatballs, three of them, made from braised beef, pork, and veal for a Lincoln. Normally $9. And, what the heck. One more. Think about the marinara pizza (with oregano, garlic, olive oil, and tomato sauce, but — and the menu gives you fair warning — no cheese). So, I try the blackened brussels sprouts ($5). Meatballs are totally filling and with a good garlicky red sauce. Sprouts? Not so blackened, a little dense and tough; a little too like, well, brussels sprouts. Still, they’re good for you. I know, ’cause grandma told me so.

But who-all comes here? For sure, the owners must be playing the waiting game. Because this end of East Village ain’t quite there yet. Someone tells me the city gave the owners an incredible deal, like, a couple of years’ free rent, to persuade them to take the plunge in this area.

Man, I hope they hang in.

Prices: Breakfast oatmeal (with berries, bananas), $6; Belgian waffle (with berries), $8; spinach bacon omelet (with goat cheese), $8; Hangover Omelet (with Sicilian meatballs), $11; huevos rancheros, $12; brown-rice bowl with herb-crusted salmon, $12; blackened brussels sprouts, $7; crispy calamari, $9; eggs Benedict (poached eggs, smoked ham, Hollandaise, on English muffins), $11; Sicilian meatballs, $9, short-rib tacos, $12; chicken marsala, $15

Happy hour prices: All “Shared Plates,” $5, including marinara pizza, margherita pizza, blackened brussels sprouts, Sicilian meatballs, crispy calamari; also house wines, draft beers

Buses: 3, 5

Nearest bus stop: 14th and Market (right outside)

Trolley: Blue Line, Orange Line

Nearest Trolley Stop: Park and Market (two blocks)

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