Veggie and grain salad
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Amazing how long since I’ve been up here in Mission Hills. I’m at the corner of Washington and Goldfinch. Pass a doorstep with a carving in it: “Welcome Back to the Gathering.” It has a top hat with a rabbit’s ears flopping out of it etched into the stone. Oh, yeah. The Gathering, where the bar guy would do magic for you at the drop of a hat.

The Patio on Goldfinch

4020 Goldfinch Street, Mission Hills

Now the place is Harley Gray Kitchen and Bar. And almost next to it on Goldfinch I spot the Patio, the place Colette said we could meet. Has to be. Looks like a place an academic would pick.

Michele: "Just let me run through the specials.”

Michele: "Just let me run through the specials.”

A giant artichoke is its symbol. It has old weathered timber making up vertical fences and walls. Has herb planters outside, and, right inside, a living wall of lush plants climbing up to the blue sky, which you can see, thanks to a roll-back roof.

Colette’s a writer, professor, political junkie. I’m here to meet her because a buddy of mine, Ricardo, wants to make a documentary, using her expertise.

A baked artichoke and spinach cassoulet, with parmesan cheese inside and breadcrumbs on top.

A baked artichoke and spinach cassoulet, with parmesan cheese inside and breadcrumbs on top.

“Take her to lunch. Find out what she knows,” he said on Skype from Sydney, Australia. “Don’t worry, mate. I’ll front you for the lunch next time I’m through, you tightwad.”

“Tightwad, no,” I told him. “Lightwad? Yes.”

I’m just about to ask the hostess for help when a lady at the first table calls out. “Ed? Are you Ed?”

Julie is about to follow her grown daughter to a tattoo joint.

Julie is about to follow her grown daughter to a tattoo joint.

Phew. Colette.

Just about to get into the whole doco conversation with her when up bounces the server, Michele. “Hi, you guys! Just let me run through the specials.” And off she runs into, like, where the arugula was picked, what the weather was like, the slope, the drainage, like a salad was a vintage wine. It’s crazy-wonderful that people here care enough about what they’re serving, where it came from, and how it combines with other stuff on the plate. But so-o Mission Hills.

Julie's salmon rillette comes with "malted brown toast."

Julie's salmon rillette comes with "malted brown toast."

She leaves us with menus. And one good thing about places like this is they have a thousand menu items you’ve never heard of. Like, smoked salmon rillette? I have to ask this lady next door. Julie. She’s just ordered one. Turns out a rillette is a meat spread — pork, often. Like a pâté, but maybe less dense. This one’s salmon, comes with “malted brown toast,” which does sound enticing. Costs $7. But wait, that’s the happy-hour price. Lunch hour it’s $10. Man, if I just had time to wait till 3....

Turkey burger — big, but so it should be for $17.

Turkey burger — big, but so it should be for $17.

Julie is about to follow her grown daughter to a tattoo joint nearby to have a “heart and eternity” tat done on her left inside wrist. Ouch. She’s having a glass of rosé (probably about $9, or $4.50 for half a glass) to go with her rillette and to give her courage.

Artichoke's the symbol for Mission Hills spot.

Artichoke's the symbol for Mission Hills spot.

Colette’s husband, Thom, is already ordering the cheeseburger. That’s 17 buckeroos. Cheap, I guess, for the “large plate” items. Because we’re talking, like, $21 for a plate of Spaghetti Bolognese, $27 for shrimp and cheddar grits, $27 for a half chicken, $39 for a whole fish.

I’m sweating till Colette says, “I’m having a salad.” Salads run between $11 and $14. “Ooh, quinoa,” she says. “I’ll take the Veggie and Grain.”

Great. Only $11. So now Michele’s waiting on me. The burrata salad ($14) has potential. It’s another dish I know totally nothin’ about. Like, what is burrata? Michele says burrata is an Italian cheese that’s like mozzarella outside and creamy inside. Plus it’s a combo of squash, apple, endive, watercress, and spiced pecan.

I end up going for the cassoulet. Mainly because I know I had one before. A casserole with, like, pork skin, other meat, and white beans. French? Think so. But this is vegan: a baked artichoke and spinach cassoulet, with parmesan cheese inside and breadcrumbs on top.

“How big is it?” I ask Michele.

“Not so big,” she says, “but you get a hot baguette with it.”

Good enough, because it’s only 12 bucks ($9 during happy hour).

Colette’s Veggie and Grain salad arrives first, and, boy, looks like plenty. Quinoa, brown rice, avocado, corn, those red kidney beans, tomato, romaine, cilantro, and a toasted cumin dressing on top. Thom’s cheeseburger looks great.

Mine’s a little black iron casserole dish bulging with bits of artichoke heart and spinach, sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs and in a kind of soup marination that’s there to be soaked up by the baguette. And what I like is how the parmesan and the cheesy soup give real flavor to the two main veggies. It’s a great little dish.

Turns out this place is a kind of local for Colette and Thom. They live a couple blocks away. “Thom always has the cheeseburger, and I usually have the chopped salad [$9],” says Colette. I see it has garbanzo beans, wax beans, salumi, so it should be plenty filling.

But that’s the thing at upmarket places like this. There’s usually a way to fill up and not bust the bank, if you’re careful.

“We’re the only restaurant with a cheese cave,” says Michele. “Two of you could have a glass of wine and three cheeses. They’d cost $15, but you could get great cheeses like Shaft’s Blue Vein, from Roseville. It’s aged in a gold mine! Or a board of charcuterie for $12.”

I get outta there $46.33 lighter. That’s fed four of us. Eleven bucks each. Not too shabby. Sigh. I guess until Ricardo’s doco turns into a hit TV series, or even happens at all, there ain’t gonna be such a thing as another free lunch.

The Patio on Goldfinch

4020 Goldfinch Street, Mission Hills

Hours: 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Monday–Thursday; 11 a.m.–midnight, Friday; 9 a.m.–midnight, Saturday; 9 a.m.–

11 p.m., Sunday

Happy hour: 3–6 p.m. daily; all day Monday; late night 10 p.m.–close (drinks only)

Prices: Patio breakfast (two eggs, bacon or sausage, potatoes, biscuit), $14; slow-roasted pork-belly benedict, $15; Grand Marnier french toast, $11; mac and cheese, $10; cheeseburger, $17; veggie and grain salad (quinoa, avo, kidney beans), $11; burrata salad, $14; baked artichoke and spinach cassoulet, with baguette, $12 ($7 in happy hour); beef and blue flatbread, $15; happy-hour pork sausage flatbread, $10; happy-hour smoked-salmon rillette, $7

Buses: 10, 83

Nearest Bus Stop: West Washington at Goldfinch

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