Breakfast pizza with sausage, provola cheese, scrambled eggs, and slivered almonds
When Italy native Matteo Cattaneo opened the original Buona Forchetta, in South Park, he turned a corner commercial space that had been sitting empty for years into one of the city’s most in-demand restaurants. Seven years later, its success has spawned a family of Italian restaurants serving its brand of Neapolitan pizza and fresh pasta from Encinitas to (pretty soon now) Coronado. This week the restaurateur officially opened his third restaurant in the South Park neighborhood.
3015 Juniper St, San Diego
This one won’t likely force the same American mispronunciations as his Forchetta restaurants. Like Cattaneo himself, it’s called Matteo. And it takes over a corner commercial space that has been sitting empty for years. However, it’s only been a couple years since neighborhood institution Rebecca’s Coffee House closed following decades as a hub for shabby furniture, scones, and open mic nights.
Nutella stuffed donut, dusted with confectioner's sugar
I couldn’t help draw comparisons as I first walked into Matteo on a crowded weekend afternoon. The space has shrunk to make room for an expanded kitchen, and though a children’s corner features an oddball assortment of highback upholstered chairs that would have fit right in to Rebecca’s ad hoc aesthetic, most of the dining room has been set up with a grid of modern, matching tables and chairs.
A spinach and blue cheese stuffed croissant, encrusted with sesame seeds (a la Cardamom Bakery)
The counter is roughly in the same place, but what you find behind it has seen significant upgrades: loaves of rustic Italian bread, pans of fluffy focaccia, and myriad pastries.
Some of those pastries, from coffee cakes to cinnamon rolls, are familiar. That’s because Matteo’s head baker is Joanne Sherif, former owner of another dearly departed local café and breakfast spot, Cardamom Bakery, which until last summer operated up the street in North Park. For more than a decade, Cardamom’s savory, stuffed croissants had been a personal, grab-and-go favorite of mine, so I was delighted to find that Sherif now serves them here. They appear a little smaller at five bucks apiece, but my spinach and blue cheese with sesame seeds tasted every bit as good.
Tiramisu inspired brioche french toast, with chocolate, berries, and honey espresso marscarpone
That might have been all it took to satisfy me, but it doesn’t even scratch the surface of a loaded breakfast menu featuring frittatas, benedicts, breakfast burritos, croissant breakfast sandwiches, chilaquiles, and burgers. There are vegan options and gluten-free baked goods — I spotted mini red velvet bundt cakes that looked every bit the part. I would have tried one of them, but I claimed the last remaining nutella stuffed donut instead, and I have no regrets.
A new bakery and breakfast counter in South Park
But you’ve got to be a consumer of bread to appreciate what’s going on here. Not just for the baked goods, not just for the ensuing sandwiches, and not just because they make tantalizing breaded breakfasts such as tiramisu brioche French toast with chocolate drizzle, honey espresso mascarpone, and fresh berries ($12). But because this is also a pizza spot. Sometimes, it’s the square pan, deep dish Detroit-style pizza, sometimes it’s the Roman pizza alla pala, oblong ovals of raised bread pizza, made with or without sauce. That’s the style to expect when you order a breakfast pizza.
Matteo has officially opened where Rebecca's Coffee House once stood.
Because how can you not, when given the option? Breakfast pizzas with scrambled egg toppings include bacon and avocado, and asparagus and porcini mushrooms. I went for the $10 sausage and provola cheese (a younger version of provolone), mostly because it included sliced almonds. Now I’m mad at every pizza spot I’ve ever been to that has failed to offer sliced almonds as a topping.
Matteo won’t likely match the success of Buona Forchetta, but seeing as Cattaneo has made it a nonprofit restaurant (its first quarter net revenues will be donated to the Chavista Cesar Chavez Service Clubs), the bakery and cafe will probably became a new neighborhood institution. And I’m sure it will piss off a few Rebecca’s fans for me to say so, but I think it’s an upgrade. Who wouldn’t trade scones for breakfast pizza?