We’re walking, walking — hold it! Swear this used to be a hair salon.
But now we’re looking at a kind of Italian bar that spills out onto the sidewalk. I try to figure out what’s different. Then I realize: those pesky sidewalk guard rails to keep the in-crowd in and the riff-raff out, they’re missing.
No rails! Just some round high tables and green-top stools on the sidewalk, leading you into a light-yellow-walled interior, and finally a bar. Funny what a difference this makes. It feels accessible. The sign outside says “Bar One. Drinks & Links.”
“Uh, except you can’t drink out here,” says the server, Alex. “Just these tables. Because they’re on the sidewalk. It’s the city, or [state bureau of Alcoholic Beverage Control]. But you can have a soda and eat anything on the menu.”
Sigh. These crazy liquor rules.
“Happy hour?” I ask.
Great. Another hour. She goes to get a menu.
Except, I don’t see any links. Not on the happy-hour menu. Instead, you have a choice of sliders, going for $2.50 each. A meatball slider (“grandma’s meatball, parmesan cheese, ricotta”), the Bar One slider (“beef patty, provolone, arugula, basil aioli, grilled onion”), and the Caprese (“mozzarella, tomato, basil, balsamic cream”).
“These are small,” warns Alex. She makes a circle with her fingers, somewhere between a ping-pong ball and a tennis ball. Oh, man.
I go for two anyway; the meatball and the Bar One. That’s five bucks. And I get a $3 ginger ale.
When my two sliders arrive, I bite my lip. Because, yes, especially the meatball slider, peekaboo size.
But here’s the funny thing. This one, the meatball, is totally scrumbo. I think it’s the meatball combined with the ricotta and maybe the parmesan, makes for a real umami moment. I see something similar on the “small plates” section of the menu, “Grandma’s Meatballs, with Sunday gravy (a red tomato and meat sauce), ricotta, crostini” for $9. Might try that next time.
The Bar One slider’s okay, with lots of fresh greens and a nice balsamic cream, but I’m still craving more Grandma’s meatball.
On the other hand, hey, if I leave now, I’m in and out for $8. A big deal in Little Italy. Then my eye catches the main menu. And the “L” word.
Sigh. My weakness.
“The Jimmy B,” says the “links” page. Hmm... Wonder who Jimmy B is? Whatever, it’s a spicy or sweet pork sausage, grilled peppers, and onions. Costs $10.
“That one is really good,” says Alex. “I like the spicy.”
I check the rest of the menu.
For $11 they have a “Chicken Parm” link, with breaded and fried chicken sausage, mozzarella, and Sunday gravy. For $13 they have “Lamb Bam Thank You Ma’am (lamb sausage, mint pistachio pesto, ricotta, pistachio crumble).” That sounds tempting. Then for $8, a veggie cannellini bean “sausage.” Also a full-size Bar One burger for $12, a “chicken sando” for $12, a cold-cut sub for $11, and a bunch of small plates. They include a “Guido Poutine” ($13), and Buddeee Wings (“crispy wings, ‘Dago’ sauce”) for $7.55.
Funny price, $7.55, I’m thinking. Then I see beneath the Buddeee Wings it says, “In memory of our ‘buddeee,’ #55.”
“Junior Seau,” says Hunter, the other barkeep. “Number 55. He was our owner Jimmy Barone’s dear friend. Seau was godfather to Jimmy’s daughters. This whole place is a tribute to Junior Seau.”
I look behind me. A gallery of black-and-white family photos. Junior Seau is at the top.
Turns out Jimmy Barone owns a bunch of places around Little Italy. Caffe Italia, others. This is his latest.
I end up ordering the Bar One sausage link. I want to get the spicy one, as Alex suggested, but sweet sausage, who can resist? The preparation takes some time. Like, 15 minutes. “That’s because it is made here in Little Italy and is prepared right here,” says Hunter.
Q: Is it worth the wait?
A: It is totally worth the wait.
It comes with a salad (I could have had fries) on paper on a metal tray. First bite and I know: This is good. The rough-textured pork sausage has the taste of fennel in it, plus a sweetness tempered by the charring at either end, and by the red peppers and flicky onions. And it has arugula and scatterings of — pistachio crumble? — on top. Man. One of the sexiest dogs I’ve seen and tasted. And the side salad is interesting, colorful, and plentiful, too.
Plus, get talking with Hunter and Alex. I have to ask: “How come you guys don’t have to have a railing around your sidewalk tables like everybody else?”
“It’s called the Seamless Patio,’” says Hunter. “We’re experimenting with it, with the city. Just putting studs in the sidewalk. Keep the tables behind them. Less bulky. Friendlier interface. Hoping it works.”
Amen. I’m also hoping state bureau drops the crazy ban on wine and beer out on this patio.
But the thing I keep wondering most, as I head down India is why they called it “Bar One.”
Now it’s the middle of the night.
I sit up in bed.
“What?” says Carla.
“Bar One. BarOne! Jimmy Barone. His place. Of course!”
“I am the dumbest, slowest…”
“Bar none. Get back to sleep.”
1532 India Street, Downtown San Diego
Kitchen Hours: 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily. Till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Bar: 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Later on Friday and Saturday
Happy Hour: 4–7 p.m.
Prices: Happy-hour sliders, $2.50 each, include meatball slider, the Bar One beef slider, and Caprese (mozzarella, tomato, basil, balsamic cream); Jimmy B spicy or sweet pork sausage in bun (with grilled peppers, onions, plus fries or salad), $10; Chicken Parm link (breaded and fried chicken sausage, mozzarella, Sunday gravy), $11; Lamb Bam Thank You Ma’am (lamb sausage), $13; veggie cannellini bean “sausage,” $8; Bar One burger, $12; “chicken sando,” $12; cold-cut sub, $11; Guido Poutine small plate, $13; Buddeee Wings, $7.55
Nearest bus stops: Kettner and Cedar (83 southbound); India and Cedar (83 northbound)
Trolley: Green Line
Nearest Trolley stop: County Center/Little Italy, near Kettner, between Beech and Cedar