Down on the farm, La Mesa-style.
La Mesa, six in the evening. This is 48 hours after “the events.” People are still cleaning up, boarding up, cheering each other up. After the human tsunami that swept through downtown La Mesa, it’s La Mesa’s citizens who are sweeping up the mess.
One middle-aged gent with his arm in a fresh sling gets into his car. Gingerly. “We’ve just been helping with the clean-up,” says his wife. “He hurt his arm lifting 8 by 4 ply.”
Alberto, the man with the country vision.
“La Mesa Strong,” say signs people have painted on newly hammered ply frontages. “Stay Strong La Mesa,” says another at Act II, a place that sells second-hand women’s clothing. They get over having no more display windows by standing their mannequins outside on the sidewalk. Inside, Jesse Elio and Joe Shattuck are talking with the ladies running the place about replacing their smashed windows. For free. They’re from La Mesa Glass. “We’re doing it for everybody,” says Jesse. “They have enough problems already.”
8141 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa
On the steps outside a restaurant - open! - at La Mesa Boulevard and Date, a couple of women are wondering aloud if Leslie Furcron is going to make it. She’s the grandmother who was shot between the eyes by a cop firing bean bags Saturday night. They talk as if she were their grandmother.
I’ve got to eat, and this place, Farmer’s Table, feels like it’s all they’ve got going hereabouts. Town’s closing down around me, in time for its seven o’clock curfew. So, I climb the steps.
It’s a handsome “rustic” place. It has a couple of shattered windows, but they’re still intact. And people are eating on its balcony as well as inside. And drinking beers.
Oh man. Beer. That, I could go for.
I head in. It seems obscene to ask. “You guys have happy hour?”
“No happy hour today,” says the girl at the podium. “We’re operating on a limited menu.”
She sits me down at a rustic, heavily varnished wooden table. The place is surprisingly crowded.
Jessie Elio and Joe Shattuck from La Mesa Glass, here to install smashed windows, free.
First things first. I order up a beer. Pizza Port Red Ale draft, $8. Maria the barkeep says I do have time to drink and eat, and the kitchen is still open. I know it ain’t gonna be cheap, but now is not the time to quibble over dollars and cents.
I check the appetizers. Wow. Here’s something I’d like to try: duck wings with jalapeño tangerine sauce ($15). A good old standby, meatballs in a jalapeño red wine tomato sauce goes for $14, shrimp Fra Diavolo (in a spicy tomato sauce) is $12, clams and mussels with roasted garlic and dry chorizo are $15, and grilled octopus in a lemongrass celery root purée with roasted fingerling potatoes runs $17.
In the salad department I’m tempted by the burnt carrot salad with avo and feta, for $12. I take one glance at the entrees, but from dishes like bone-in short rib ($36) or duck gnocchi ($28), I can see that’s a bridge too far.
Maria: business as usual.
But no time to fool around. I tell Maria I’m ready. And end up going vegetarian. I like the sound of the pear ricotta bruschetta. Specially that it’s drizzled with honey. Mmm. Pears and honey. Also, it costs only eleven bucks, not bad for here. I order it. Plus, I have a thing about beet. I’ve always loved those juicy sweet maroon bulbs.
So I order a beet salad that comes with shaved fennel (that kind of liquorice tang could be interesting), herbed goat cheese, cilantro and poppy seed vinaigrette. Is gluten-free and costs $12.
As I chomp into the bruschetta, the light outside is starting to fade. You can feel the mood drop too. Fewer and fewer people out on the street. But I take a moment to feel the thrill of the pear and honey taste, and the oh-so lightly toasted bread that the pear slices are layered on, glistening with honey. And I appreciate the ricotta cheese spread underneath too. It greatly enriches the taste. I mean it’s simple yet effective. Plus I’m pretty amazed at the cooks here keeping things alive and tasting good when the underlying atmosphere is so post-trauma.
Pear ricotta bruschetta: that’s honey flowing down the pear staircase.
The beet salad adds a sweet-savory layer to the whole experience.
The place is crowded with artifacts from farms. Little old wagons, a whole Farmall tractor, wheels turning chains turning wheels. Just tons of country stuff.
“My father was from Sicily,” says Alberto, the owner. “He had a small family farm. I always liked the idea of holding on to the history of the farming life. And also of having a local place where you ate food that was from local farms.”
Which is what gave Alberto the idea for this place. It seems to be working. He reckons he gets 1000 customers a day here, plus he’s started up in Bay Park and now Little Italy. “I collect everything,” he says. “And when I can’t collect, I design, like these chandeliers, in the country style. I think kids get a kick out of seeing pieces of the life of the old farmers. It took me a year to collect all this.”
He’s also trying to revive the idea of your local restaurant. “I live in San Carlos, and I never liked having to go far to find a place you could call your own. That’s what’s I wanted this to be for La Mesa.”
He says his place wasn’t too damaged, two nights ago, mainly because he organized people to “be here” to protect the place.
I chomp on till I have to take off. Can’t be sure how late the trolley’s going to be running.
In the twilight, the Farmer’s Table’s two shattered windows make it look as if it’s raining outside.
- The Place: Farmer’s table, 8141 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa, 619-724-6465
- Hours 11am-3pm, 4-8pm daily
- Prices: Duck wings with jalapeño tangerine sauce, $15; meatballs in jalapeño red wine tomato sauce, $14; shrimp fra diavolo, $12; clams, mussels, roasted garlic, dry chorizo, $15; grilled octopus, roasted fingerling potatoes, $17; burnt carrot salad, avocado, feta, $12; bone-in short rib, $36; duck gnocchi, $28; pear ricotta bruschetta, $11; beet salad, with shaved fennel, goat cheese, $12
- Buses: 1, 852
- Nearest Bus Stops: (Eastbound) Allison and Spring; (Westbound), Allison and Date
- Trolley: Orange Line
- Nearest Trolley Stop: La Mesa Boulevard station (at La Mesa Boulevard and Spring Street)