Lamb meatballs: Some like them hot
1429 Island Avenue, San Diego
I was passing 15th and J the other evening. The pinnacle apartment tower was all lit up, advertising rental apartments from $2K to $10K per month. But where do all those gentrified renters go to hang out?
“Halcyon coffee lounge,” says the gal at the desk. “Fourteenth and Island.”
Five minutes later I’m inside this Seattle-looking place with washed-out green walls, long hanging lamps, blue-and-yellow sofas, low tables, and a fab view-to-the-bay deck that Halcyon shares with Stella Public House.
The Stella sign
So much salmon, so little time
This crazy tower turns much-dissed beets into stars
I grab a small coffee ($1.40) while I check the menu. Good news: we’re in happy hour. That means any of four snacks are half off. The bruschetta’s $6.50 instead of $13, hummus $3.50, artichoke dip with blue cheese $5, and “avocado-smooshed toast,” $6.
It’s the smooshing that gets me. This is “avocado smear on house-made bread topped with smoked salmon, chili flakes, onion, and tomato.”
I order that and then find out that they have a different menu next door in Stella’s. But only three minutes of HH left (yes, late again).
So I whip around into Stella’s bar. The barkeep Michaela has a menu ready. She says they’re proudest of their pizzas. “Our chef is from Naples. He uses a 100-year-old mother yeast. It has been alive for 100 years! It gives the dough a special flavor.”
Except, no pizza on the happy hour list and a minute left to decide. I rush through the Small Plates. Same HH price deal. Speck-wrapped asparagus ($4.50), fried eggplant ($5), the compulsory roasted brussels sprouts ($5), arancini (risotto, salami, cheese, $5), roasted veggies ($5.50), mushroom risotto ($7), lamb meatballs ($5), and a mac and cheese ($5).
Oh, and a “beet tower.” A pile of red and yellow beetroot slices layered with a ricotta-goat cheese mousse and toasted pistachios ($5).
The beer? Stella’s one permanent brew isn’t Stella, it’s Peanut Butter Stout from Belching Beaver, the North Park brewery.
Thirty seconds. I’m brief, decisive. “Meatballs, beet tower, Peanut Butter Stout.”
Michaela zips over to the computer. Raises arms in victory. “Made it!”
Phew. Each of these is five bucks, plus the $6 for the avo-smooshed toast from Halcyon. Way too much. But here are the rewards: The lamb meatballs are filling, and the tomato sauce has some real spicy heat to it. The beet tower is outrageously good. A thing of sweet, beety beauty. And pistachios give it a quirky lushness.
But first place? No contest. Avo-smooshed toast. I mean, avo’s fine, but it’s the wave upon folded wave of salmon toppers that makes this a totally delish meal in itself. The house bread tempers the richness. This six-buck slab is the deal of deals.
Oh, and the Peanut Butter Stout? Sweet, original, but maybe a little too cute for moi.
I’ll be back for more smooshy avo, but next time I’ll sluice it down with a little more hoppiness.