Rose tongs out my spicy Italian sausage. With roasted peppers, it’s a deal at $4.70
“Ninth, Ninth. Walk sign is on to cross Ninth, Ninth.”
Listening to this every minutre or so is the one downside to my surprise discovery here on Market. An actual sidewalk cafe where you can sit down outside, and, I swear, sip away at a glass of wine. Even now.
969 Market Street, San Diego
It’s called “Rovino. The Foodery.” I came here figuring on a sandwich place. It had the big plus of being open. Okay, street’s a little unsleek, but not this place. Go in and the first thing you notice is: busy! People are constantly coming up and buying hot or prepackaged food to go.
Also: a big crew in bib aprons hustles back and forth with steaming, aromatic roasted chickens, cheeses, straw-skirted bottles of Chianti, pans of large sausages, cheesy scalloped potatoes, boxes of to-go salads, spaghetti and meatballs, on and on.
I wander up to the counter in front of this busy-busy kitchen. “Can I help?” says this masked gal Rose, behind some steaming trays of dishes like “sweet and spicy” sausages, meatballs, and that pan of scalloped spuds, all selling by weight.
My Italian spicy sausage with roasted peppers
And above, they have a menu board with ten sandwiches and eight pizzas. Sandwiches range from $8 to $12. The Piccante Siciliano looks interesting. It’s got hot capicola, calabrese salami, pepperoni and pepper jack in there, and only eight bucks. Pizzas are either $15 our $16. Tutti Carne (“all meat”) has the lot: capicola, prosciutto, pepperoni, meatball, and sausage. Goes for $16.
I almost ask Rose for a couple of meatballs, but then there’s the rest of the store to explore. I beg off and head towards a large deli area where a guy’s squeezing sour cream, looks like, out of a big cone-shaped bag. All around him, they have displays of prepared meals you heat at home: spaghetti ($7.99) or meatloaf dinner ($8.99). A short rib dinner with rice and veggies goes for $10.99. Double-sized dishes such as shepherd’s pie, pork osso buco, pasta with meatballs, or braised beef dinner go for $18.99. Best deal: veggie fried rice for two for $12.99.
I have a question. I noticed a couple of people actually sitting at the tables outside when I was coming in. And they were eating. “Can I get hot food here and eat it out there?” I ask Rose. “Not a problem,” she says. “Any of this hot food, or desserts.”
“You can take a glass of wine while you’re waiting, if you like,” says this guy carrying in more meatballs.
Antonia: living her dream from a childhood in Florence
“You mean to take out and drink?”
“As long as you have food coming,” he says.
Wow. So I choose a spicy Italian sausage with roasted peppers and some scalloped potatoes. And wow again, it only costs $4.70 for the sausage dish and $4.51 for the potatoes. Now I follow Rose over to the bar. “It’s closed, but we can sell by the glass or bottle,” she says. “Red or white?” She brings out a couple of already opened bottles. I like the look of the first, a white, Citra: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. Not totally sure what that is, but I’ll take it, even though it’s $9. Decent-size glass, though, and generous pour. And hey, who knew this was going to happen here at a deli on Market, a couple of blocks from the trolley?
So now I’m sitting at a white table on the narrow patio, looking across to the Tavern bowling pub — and beyond, the Grocery Outlet, with a line of people social distancing outside.
The social distancing here? There’s only that one couple about 20 feet away, and sparse traffic. Biggest noise: seagulls, laughing away from the rooftops.
The sausage is big and really zippy, pepper-wise. Ironically, it’s the roasted peppers that tone it down and give it a lushness. The cheesy potatoes are a garlicky creamy dream.
Scalloped potatoes: garlic heaven
Of course, you’re eating out of black plastic take-out boxes with plastic knife and fork.
“For proper dining, you need to go to our main place,” says this lady, Antonia, who turns out to be one of the three owners, “Rovino, in Little Italy. We set this up as a specialty market extension seven months ago.”
“Boy, the timing must be difficult, with the pandemic shut-down and all,” I say.
“Not at all,” Antonia says. “We haven’t suffered. We are cooking all day long. Our prepared meals and sandwiches, and our rotisserie chicken that we’re famous for, keep us busy nonstop. So many people who live in East Village condos come to us for their food, because we make everything. Our own pastas, desserts. This has been a dream, ever since I was a child in Florence. I started this with my business partners, Tom and Vincenzo.”
“Uh, is ‘Rovino’ your name?”
“No, no. Our specialties are rotisserie chicken and wines. So we became ‘Ro-vino.’
I look these guys up. Wow. their Mothership, Rovino, a wine bar-eatery in Little Italy, seems to have won every “Best Of” prize around.
So now I’m just finishing up this wine. Can’t believe my luck. One thing I know: I’ll be back with some buddy to share one of those rotisserie chickens and this same wine. I take a last slurp.
On my way back in, I notice these words on the wall. Una cena senza vino e come un giorno senza sole. “A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine.”
Hey. Couldn’t agree more.
- The Place: Rovino the Foodery, 969 Market Street, East Village, 619-972-6286
- Hours: 10am-9pm, daily
- Prices: Piccante Siciliano sandwich (hot capicola, calabrese salami, pepperoni, pepperjack, $8; Tutti Carne pizza (capicola, prosciutto, pepperoni, meatball, sausage), $16; hot chafing dish food daily eg. Sweet and spicy sausages with peppers, sautéed veggies ($9.99lb); Prepared meals to heat: short rib dinner, rice, veggies, $10.99; Alfredo and pea pasta, $7.99; shepherd’s pie (for two), $18.99; pork ossobucco (for two) $18.99; pasta meatballs, braised beef dinner, same prices; veggie fried rice (for two, $12.99
- Buses: 3, 12, 901
- Nearest Bus Stops: 8th and Market (northbound), 10th and Market (southbound) 3, 12, 901; 11th and Market (12, 901 northbound)
- Trolley: Blue Line
- Nearest Trolley Stop: Park and Market