Look ma: no fence! Brass medallions, black line mark patio limits
Zinqué. Guess I just like the crazy French name. It’s what French hipsters call a sidewalk bar where you can stop, slurp a beer standing at the counter, and carry on with your day.
Now we have one here. Little Italy.
But why “Zinqué”?
2101 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego
“Because in traditional places, the counter and tables are topped with untreated zinc. Like here. They are ‘zinqué’d,’” says Stephen, the morning’s lone server. He pronounces it Zin-Kay. “It’s a slang name in French. It’s cool.”
This is eight in the morning. One of the things that brought me to Zinqué: You never have to fret about whether it’s open or not. The place serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, drinks, from like seven every morning to midnight every night. And till 2am Friday and Saturday.
Right now there’s a racket going on across the road. Workers are bashing off ply molds from level two of a high rise under construction. But, hey, makes a good show. Stephen has just brought me out a nice wide cup of steaming black coffee. I could have sat inside, but chose this li’l round corner table out on the sidewalk. That’s the other thing. No barriers between you and the sidewalk at this cafe. Just brass studs in the concrete showing the limits for tables. So you really feel part of the life of the street. This is as inside-outside as you can get. I’d never even heard of Zinqué till last week, even though they’ve been part of this little chain that a French guy named Emmanuel Dossetti started off in LA, ten years ago. Stephen’s telling me about it. “His first was in Weho. West Hollywood,” says Stephen. “It has since become a mini-chain up in LA. He has half a dozen now,” he says. “This idea of an all-day cafe where you can stop for a coffee or a full-on dinner really took off. He’s just opened his newest place in Scottsdale Arizona.”
’Course 8am is the egg-crack of dawn for me. Consolation was I thought I’d stop by here for a couple of oeufs on toast. We’re definitely beyond Little Italy’s fashionable central zone, but The Waterfront bar (open as well at this time), and Rovino Rotisserie make this a snug little gastro-corner.
OK. Breakfast? I check Granola with mixed berries and yogurt for $8, a breakfast sandwich of egg, muffin, tomato, basil and gruyere cheese, also for $8. Also a zucchini and egg white frittata bowl. Guess flavor will come from the avocado, parmesan, and pesto. There’s also arugula on the side. This is $7. Plus a mini egg white frittata with zucchini for $3.50, $3.75 with cheese. Still, I get the feeling one bite would be it.
My Croque Madame breakfast. Crisp, tender, garlicky
“We also have the brunch menu,” says Stephen. He turns one of the printed pages.
Ah. More choice. Soft scramble with parmesan and herbs, but it costs $13. Or “crispy, sunny eggs” with prosciutto and parmesan ($15). A prosciutto and gruyere croissant with mixed lettuces goes for $11, and baked eggs with chili and baguette is $14. So is Quiche Lorraine. Moules frites (mussels and fries) is $18, burger’s $15, and steak frites with chimichurri (parsley and garlic) sauce or peppercorn sauce goes for $24. So a lot of items are up there, price-wise. And bottom line, I see a glass of wine (not that I’m thinking of having one now) is around the $15 mark. That tells you what demographic they’re aiming for. On the other hand, they do have a Monday to Friday happy hour, 4-7, where pork belly tacos go for $6, salami toasts $4, country pate $5, and cocktails and aperitifs are $5 off. So you’ll end up paying maybe $10. Glasses of wine are $4 off and beer, $2 off.
Meantime, I’ve got a belly to fill. I think of the eggy dishes, but honestly they sound a little anemic, but I notice they’ve got a croque monsieur on the brunch list. And even the croque madame, which means a fried egg has been added on top of the cheesy, hammy, crisp-edged grilled thick-bread sandwich.
My Scottish friend, Annie, calls. “I’m stuck!” I say. “What’s the best French breakfast?”
“Don’t worry!” she says. “Think flakey, mouth-watering hot croissants, melting, buttery. Paris cafe on a plate! Just be sure to have them warm with a dollop of salt butter, maybe jam. Gulp your coffee. Dunk the croissant. Stuff it with ham and cheese. You’ll be smilin’ like a bylt haddie!”
Not sure what the heck “bylt haddie” means, but she does inspire me to just allow this French thing to work its charms.
And now I remember the croque madame I had at Clayton’s Bistro a few months ago. — such crunching, oozing goodness. So I ask for that. It comes out golden and thick and with a little forest of mixed greens nicely oiled. And it has a subtle but luscious flavor of garlic behind the cheese and prosciutto tastes. It is simple but oh-so filling.
Stephen comes out to check on his sidewalk customers. He’s an interesting guy. Somehow got to Dubai, reveled in the architecture there (his daddy’s an architect), and works mainly to get funds to do more travel. Even in this age.
Next time, I’m going for a moules frites breakfast, if I have $18 to splurge. Love moules frites.
Sun’s snaking along Hawthorn when I get up to leave. It’s going to be a hot one, but this has been cool.
- The Place: Zinqué Cafe, 2101 Kettner (at Hawthorn), Little Italy, 619-915-6172
- Hours 7am-12am (till 2am, Friday, Saturday)
- Prices: Granola, mixed berries, yogurt, $8; breakfast sandwich (egg, muffin, tomato, basil, gruyere), $8; mini egg white frittata, zucchini, $3.50 ($3.75 with cheese); soft scramble with Parmesan and herbs, $13; “crispy, sunny eggs,” prosciutto, Parmesan, $15; prosciutto and gruyere croissant, mixed lettuces, $11; baked eggs, chili, toasted baguette, $14; quiche Lorraine, $14; moules frites, fries, $18; burger, $15; steak frites, chimichurri or peppercorn sauce, $24; breakfast egg sandwich, $8;
- Happy hour (Monday to Friday 4-7): pork belly tacos $6; salami toast, $4; country pate, $5
- Bus: 83
- Nearest Bus Stops: (Northbound) India at Cedar; (Southbound) Kettner at Grape
- Trolley: Green Line
- Nearest Trolley Stop: County Center/Little Italy