1917 India Street, Little Italy
(No longer in business.)
"Facebook HQ is four blocks away from our winery,” says Buff. “We’re up in Menlo Park.”
He takes a sip from his glass. “We need to be near the movers and shakers up there because we also store a lot of their exotic cars. I’m storing everything from a 1929 Rolls Royce to Ben Sloss’s Ferrari FXX K.”
Ben Sloss, turns out, is a VP at Google. The FXX K goes for $2.7 million.
Buff wears a black golf shirt with an Alfa Romeo patch on it. He fills his glass from his bottle of Stag’s Leap Petite Sirah and attacks his Po Pazzo burger.
Guess this is the type of guy you meet in here. One of the go-to joints for the business class in Little Italy, or that’s how it feels. It’s happy hour, crowded. I got drawn in here when the greeter outside said the magic words: “Half off bar-menu food items!”
I squeezed onto my bar stool just as a singer launched into Mack the Knife, and Sara the barkeep pointed to the clock.
“One minute left in happy hour.”
Yikes. I abandon the car talk and grab the one-page happy-hour list of food and drinks. I see Buff’s Po Pazzo burger (usually $12, but 6 bucks for the next 60 seconds) is made from Angus beef. His sure looks good with its big patty, shiny bun, and fresh lettuce and tomato. But right next to it on the menu is a filet and fries, “4-oz filet demi-glace truffle fries” for $8. Or short-rib sliders with pecorino cheese for $6.50.
“Most popular?” says Sara. “Lobster Mac.”
Oh, yeah. “Lobster Mac with Orecchiette [“small ear,” an ear-shaped pasta from the south of Italy] & aged cheddar,” $6. D’aaah… Eyes rush ahead. Spaghetti Bolognese “with a traditional Sunday sauce,” $5.50; chicken skewers and whipped blue cheese ($6); and, wild boar flatbread ($6.50), with some sort of “house-made” pork sausage, plus mozzarella, glazed onion, chili.
Natch, I end up with something totally different: “Sugo,” whatever the heck that is. It’s $6 HH for a beef rib and meat ball with Sunday Sauce and English peas. And I ask for the “Baby Kale Caesar salad” ($4.50) with shaved Parmigiano, mainly because you also get fried anchovies with it. Love anchovies.
“Drink?” says Sara quickly. No time to dither. I go for the first on the happy-hour list of reds. Hayman and Hill, a Cabernet from Paso Robles. Five buckeroos.
I get the order out just before the clock ticks to the half hour.
Whew. I settle back, check out the scene. Looks like a prosperous crowd. Interior’s basically one long mottled granite bar on this side, with scattered brownish booths on the other, cream walls with art, the piano, and in the middle of the back wall, a picture of Joe Busalacchi. Oh, right. The Busalacchi family. Lots of restaurants. Thought I detected a generous feel about the place. They’ve always been old-school Italian. So, no surprise that the gal’s singing oldies like “Fly Me to the Moon.” Somehow it works. Somehow I hope the next one is “Volare.”
By the time my food comes, Buff has chowed down his burger completely. “Good,” he says, wiping his fingers. “Very, very good. The Angus meat, the marination, and for what? Six bucks?”
Now a long plate of steaming meat in tomato sauce sits in front of me. And a second square platter with a green kale salad piled in the middle. And a glass of ruby-red vino. I take a slurp, then chop into the $6 meat dish. It’s beef, falling off a big ol’ bone. Peas put in an ap-pea-rance — heh-heh — but mostly they’re all drowning in the rich red sauce. Beside the rib is this meatball, hovering like a little satellite.
But “Sunday Sauce?” “Sugo?” What the heck are these?
“‘Sugo’ is just a word for ‘sauce,’” says Tizziano, the Italian head barman. “It’s like a ragu, or Bolognese. And ‘Sunday sauce’? Same thing.”
“So, what am I eating here in this sugo?” I ask.
“This rib of yours is the bone they cut the ribeye steak out of.”
Huh. See an actual ribeye, 16 oz, goes for $34. Oh, man. Next time...after the lottery win?
But, no, this ribeye leftover shank is good, filling, rich, tasty comfort food. And actually the herby meatball makes a nice contrast. And what’s totally delicious is the sugo price tag: $6 rather than $34.
Kale salad’s refreshing, too, with plenty of cheese, but (sigh) only one anchovy, hidden in batter.
Buff and I yak on about wines. I try to keep up. Turns out he intended to set up a climate-controlled warehouse in Menlo Park where people could store their wine and exotic cars. But he ended up buying a bona fide vineyard as well, Woodside. Oldest winery in San Mateo County. “Our most expensive wine? From vines brought over from France in 1884. La Questa cabernet,” he says. “$100 a bottle.”
How big is the vineyard? “Robert Mondavi spills more wine than we make.”
The gal and the pianist are coming to the end of their set with the Satchmo anthem — “...and I say to myself, what a wonderful world.”
Maybe it’s this wine, the $5 Paso Robles Cab, but that’s how I’m starting to see things. Plus, I see on the menu what “Po Pazzo” actually means: “A bit crazy.”
Somehow it fits. I mean, hey, I don’t own a vineyard, ain’t got no 1929 Rolls Royce, and when I stumble out onto India, I’m $16.74 poorer. But for some crazy reason, I’m feeling pretty darned good.
Happy Hour Prices: Po Pazzo burger, $6; 4 oz filet and truffle fries, $8; short-rib sliders with pecorino cheese, $6.50; lobster mac (with orecchiette, cheddar), $6; spaghetti Bolognese, $5.50; chicken skewers and whipped blue cheese, $6; wild boar flatbread with sausage, $6.50; sugo, with beef rib, meatball, $6; baby kale Caesar salad, $4.50
Nearest bus stop: India between Cedar and Date (northbound); Kettner at Grape (southbound)
Trolley: Green Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: County Center/Little Italy (at Cedar and California, two blocks from India)