The chicken costs $2 extra, but what a deal!
Oh, man. Two steps forward, one step back. People have had their hopes raised a lot for this end of East Village. First, Quartyard opened, was a raging success, then it closed. Then that sidewalk Primo Sports Bar on Market opened, now it’s closed.
On the other hand, Beshock, the new ramen place at Market and 13th, seems to be going great guns, and now there’s a third place open, at 14th and Market, Alpha Pizzeria.
Actually, tonight I’ve come to see where Quartyard plans to move to, now that they’ve been developered out of their Park and Market block. Let’s see, they said they had a location at 13th and Market. Oh, yeah. A quarter of a block with a chain-link fence, going down as far as a li’l wooden house looking kinda defensive with all this new stuff marching toward it.
Just beyond, across Market, I spot a new sign outside Primo: “For lease. Fixturized restaurant space.”
Plenty of room for outside eating
But, hey, on this side of the street, another sign: “Alpha Square.” It’s on the corner of a new apartment block. What’s nice is the whole corner is an outside patio. “Alpha Pizzeria Deli,” say the banners.
Inside, lights are blazing. The interior’s bright and with blue walls beneath one of those high matte-black ceilings. Furniture’s mostly tall-stool tables. Almost feels Starbuckian. People eating, sipping coffee, working on assignments.
I make a quick check of the pizza cabinet. They have $2.75 slices with flavors like buffalo chicken, blue cheese and mozzarella with buffalo sauce, or their Alpha Supremo with pepperoni, sausage, red onions, ’shrooms, mozzarella, and pesto sauce.
Molly, the gal behind the counter, says I should try the mushroom pesto pizza. “It’s one Alex Carballo created,” she says.
Huh. Alex Carballo. I’ve heard that name. Oh, yes. Became famous after he ran the food side of things at Stone Brewing’s flagship World Bistro in Escondido. Turns out he pretty much trained people here and created the menu.
So, we’re looking at starters like hummus ($5.95), meatballs ($6.95), and chicken wings (eight for $7.95); then, salads between $6.50 for the House, to $10.50 for the antipasto, with stuff like capicola and salami, feta cheese and black olives.
After deep study, I go for the rigatoni.
In the pasta section, you build it yourself for $7.95. Sounds like a deal. You choose your pasta between penne, rigatoni, and fusilli (they have gluten-free fusilli for $1 more). Then you choose your sauce between marinara, pesto, alfredo, and (for $1 more...I guess because of the meat in it), Bolognese. Then, for an extra $2, you can add more proteins: meatballs, grilled chicken, sausage. Or add veggies at $1 each.
Grilled paninis are also $7.95. Choice is pesto chicken, Italian prosciutto, or Caprese. Cold sandwiches like tuna go for $7.95 and baked sandwiches are $8.95. “The Grinder” looks good: basically mortadella, salami, capicola, pepperoni, provolone cheese, and pepper spread.
With pizza, think anywhere from $2.50 for a slice of just cheese ($2.75 for the ready-mades with toppings) to $15.95 for a large (18-inch) red pie, plus add-ons of different cheeses ($1), veggies ($1), and proteins ($2).
They also have a kids’ menu of pasta, a slice of pizza, or turkey-and-cheese sandwich for $4.75. Price includes a fountain drink and a cookie. Nice.
Tubular bellies of penne
I see Molly flying by with a colorful pile of green and white pasta to a gent in the corner.
“Lemme have that one,” I say to her on her way back.
“That’s penne, and we’re just out,” she says. So after further deep study I get rigatoni and go for the marinara and chicken. And black olives. So now we’re talking $12.
Parmesan and black olives — two essential extras
But so-o filling. The half-dozen slices of chicken could last you through two meals. They have pesto on them, looks like. But the best thing: adding those olives.
“So, how come you guys are surviving, when Primo across the road isn’t?” I ask.
“Well, we’re serious, and this has been planned a long time,” says Molly. “We built this building as a residence for homeless people and people with special needs, physical, mental, seniors, vets. The Alpha Project has been growing from a very small program giving jobs to homeless men and women 30 years ago to now, when we have places and programs all the way up to the Bay Area. But this is our first restaurant. So it was totally cool that Alex Carballo got involved. He’s taught us so much. He created the menu and is helping train our residents to work in our kitchen.”
Ah. So this is a project, not just another eatery. I know earning a food handler’s card can be like one giant leap when you’re working your way back to a life.
And a lot of lives are involved. They have 203 studio apartments in this building alone. Seventy-plus vets live here.
And, yes, Molly says they’re working on a beer-and-wine license for here, too.
Great. Sitting out on the corner in the evening’s going to be uber-cool. Also, I can see Carla and me coming for coffee in the morning. Hopefully they’ll start bringing in a few pastries to help ease us into the day.
I mean, this part of East Village is definitely still not the coolest part of town, but with big-hearted places like this opening, plus Quartyard with its Meshuggah Shack coming to fill up the empty space next door (hopefully in November), it suddenly looks like we’re starting to see lift-off for what you might call Far East Village.
Signs for Alpha are temporary, but the food is up and running.
550 14th Street #116 , San Diego
Hours: 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily (till 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday)
Prices: Starters, e.g. hummus, $5.95; meatballs, $6.95; chicken wings, 8 for $7.95; house salad, $6.50; antipasto salad (capicola, salami, feta, black olives), $10.50; pasta, e.g. rigatoni with marinara, $7.95; add proteins, $2; add veggies, $1; grilled paninis, e.g. Italian prosciutto with brie, apples, $7.95; cold sandwiches, $7.95; baked sandwiches, $8.95; pizza slices, $2.50 (cheese only), with house toppings, $2.75; whole pizzas, $13.95 medium (14˝), $19.75 large (18˝); kids’ menu (pasta, pizza slice, or turkey-and-cheese sandwich, $4.75 (includes fountain drink, cookie)
Buses: 3, 5, 901, 929
Nearest bus stops: Market Street at 14th Street (3, 5); 11th Avenue and Market Street (901, 929)
Trolleys: Orange Line, Blue Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Park and Market