It’s the free blankets. A whole wicker basket filled with them, all rolled up. Mexican blankets, waiting for patio customers to grab ‘em and warm themselves up.
April 16th, opening day, on the patio of this first café on Little Italy’s still-unfinished Piazza della Famiglia.
Unfinished, but already Little Italy’s coolest plaza.
And hey, it actually is cool out here. Sunny, but a c-c-c-cold breeze a-blowing. So maybe it’s appropriate that this place is called the “Frost Me Café.”
“One of our crew brought the blankets from Tijuana,” says Audrey.
She and her partner Jon own this place.
I’ve been waiting for it to open for the longest time. It has the potential to be my go-to café. Because basically, I’m a patio guy. Love to watch the world go by. Take this evening: even with the wind, I’m determined to sit outside.
Frost Me is the first of two cafés opening on the sprawling piazza. The other’s still weeks away. But the piazza advantage is already in place: no cars to dodge, no patio railing to make you feel fenced-in. And they’ve put in good greenery, which glows luminous in the setting sun’s rays.
I head inside. All new, of course. They have a nice sit-up bar and plenty of inside seating.
“Welcome!” says Laurie. “Welcome!” says Michelle, bouncing up from the other side. Baristas. Wow. Everyone seems happy, not first-day-fretty. Glad to see they have wine and beer. And that they’re open from six in the morning till 9 at night. Every day. That makes it a true drop-in café. Glad they have food too, although Laurie says they’re not up to speed yet. But they do have plenty of their home-cooked bakery specialties, like chocolate croissants.
Except I want something savory. Aha. I spot something on their “Light Fare” list: Tartines, toasted, open-faced sandwiches. Tartines are in the same family as Welsh Rarebit (or is it Rabbit?) and “Scotch Woodcock” (anchovies on scrambled egg, on toast, sometimes with cheese). They have three tartines here. Not the cheapest. Between twelve and fifteen buckeroos. But this is Little Italy. You know what rents they have to be paying. The avocado and egg tartine is $12. It’s on toasted sourdough, with avo, radish, slices of boiled egg, parmesan cheese and chili flake. The smoked trout and cream cheese tartine ($15) comes with cucumber, red onion, capers, and dill.
And they have a sweetish one: Brie and Orange Marmalade ($12), “sourdough, brie, blood orange marmalade, hazelnut.” They each come with a small arugula salad.
But first things first: cawfee. Specially since I see they get theirs from Ritual, one of the “third wave” roasters. Very green. I take it out to sip while I hum and haw over the menu. Hmm. There’s the tartines, plus other possibles, like the mixed green and gorgonzola salad ($8), or a Caesar salad ($9), or a smoked trout and citrus salad ($15). Or sandwiches like ham and Havarti or turkey and brie ($9). Or even a pretzel and cream cheese for $5.
I’m just noticing that the bench I’m sitting on is hooked up for charging laptops and for wifi when this guy comes out from the café, and we get talking. Chaplain Ron. He has done lots of spiritual work in hospitals. Also helped distribute medicines in places such as China for Doctors Without Borders. Very cool.
Long story short, we end up sharing two tartines. He’s having the avocado and egg, I’ve got the brie and marmalade. We swap a couple of slices, and boy the avo and egg, which is piled up with the arugula salad in a vinaigrette, is fresh and delish.
But I’ve hit the jackpot with the brie and marmalade. It’s beautifully sweet, with the marmalade and a couple of blackberries and a slab of brie underneath, plus the crunch of chopped hazelnut on top, while the vinaigrette arugula — along with orange peel I’m sure I can taste in there — chips in to help make this tartine less sweet and more, uh, tart.
Chaplain Ron watches moms and pops sauntering, playing with their kids and dogs. “I need this,” he says. He says that all the time he spent dealing with stressed folks in life-and-death situations in hospitals took a toll. “Places like this let you mix with people in a non-stressful way.”
Audrey comes out to check up on us. And, have to say, we look an odd bunch, wrapped in our Mexican blankets: Chaplain Ron, me, others, chowing away in the wind.
It turns out Audrey and Jon already have a cupcake joint down in Seaport Village. And wow, they were winners on the Food Channel’s Cupcake Wars, 9th season. So yes, they’re going to have winning cupcakes such as apple molasses and espresso chocolate cherry here. Cost $3.75 each. And yes, frosting their cupcakes is how they came up with the café’s name.
Of course, one tartine does not a meal make, but it certainly helps hold the fort.
Later, as dusk sets in, the awesome new fountain at the end of the strada lights up all blue. Beautiful. Can’t wait for construction to end. Then they’ll have two cafes, and on Saturdays the Little Italy Farmers’ Market will move into this space. That’s when a spot on this patio, a glass of wine, and a tartine could be the perfect way to start your Saturday. Or, you could try a glass of the Boochcraft Kombucha ($8) they stock, with apple, lime, jasmine — and 7 percent alcohol — along with one of those champion cupcakes.
Sigh. The Beautiful Carla would have loved this. And BTW, heartfelt thanks to everybody who sent such beautiful messages after her passing. They mean a lot.
The Place: Frost Me Café and Bakery, 555 West Date Street, Suite A, Little Italy, 619-287-2253
Hours: 6am - 9pm, daily
Prices: Avocado and egg tartine, $12; smoked trout and cream cheese tartine, $15; brie and orange marmalade tartine, $12; mixed green salad with gorgonzola, $8; Caesar salad, $9; smoked trout and citrus salad, $15; ham and Havarti sandwich, $9; turkey and brie sandwich ($9). pretzel and cream cheese, $5
Nearest Bus Stops: India near Cedar (northbound); Kettner near Cedar (southbound)
Trolleys: Green Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: County Center/Little Italy (at West Cedar St. and California St.)