Curry Pies, Coffee, Art

Coffee and Art Photographic Art Gallery

777 Sixth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

I’ve been called flaky. But hey, this is flaky. Who woulda thought? Eating a pastry-covered curry pie for breakfast in a converted condo in East Village?

Here’s how it happened: I was wandering hopelessly around downtown, trying to find a Wi-Fi hotspot for my Eee PC (couple of hundred, Toys R Us). Big step up from tin cans and string, heh-heh. So, I’ve just learned emailer’s Rule Number One: forget Starbucks. Some guy there quoted me $4.95 for the Wi-Fi privilege. Puhleez. Then, right here on Sixth, I saw this li’l place that says, kinda mysteriously, “Coffee & Art.” It’s in one of the spaces in these new clapboard-and-concrete apartment buildings called 777 Lofts. And I noticed the laptoppers. Two of them at tables outside, under a red umbrella. They just looked like they were online, emailing very important people.

So, I climb the steps to the tiny patio behind a planter filled with green upright plants and carry on inside. It’s all very vertical in here, too, loft-y, with stairs climbing the Matterhorn to a bedroom-type space. Down here at ground level, there’re a couple of tables, a dark- and milk-chocolate-brown–striped counter at the back with a fairly empty pastry display case, and a supersmart espresso coffee machine called La Marzocco. “The Lion.” Arty photographs, framed and strung on vertical wires, crowd both side walls. Long lights dangle from the way-high ceiling, plus there’s a squiggle of track-lighting.

A head bobs behind La Marzocco.

“You have Wi-Fi?” I ask.

“Oh, yeah,” says the guy, Wayne. “Password’s ‘Junkyard.’ ”

Wow. That’s trusting. He has an accent that sounds South African. “My friend Rui and I came over from Pretoria, our capital,” he says. “We started this place up in May.”

Price list doesn’t have straight drip coffee, but there are Americanos for $1.95. Figure the internet access is worth that. And the Americano’s nice. From Caffé Calabria, Wayne says. Served in a tall glass cup, too. While I’m about it, I scan through the menu. Hmm... Could do with breakfast — haven’t eaten a crumb all morning. I sit at a table and fire up my little Eee PC. Okay, it’s not that cool. But it fits in my wide jacket pocket and only weighs around a pound. That’s worth a thousand Apples.

They have things like stuffed croissants for breakfast, but methinks I’ll have lunch for breakfast. More to it. “Lite Lunch Menu,” the menu card says. The Coffee and Art salad, which has mixed greens and veggies, artichoke hearts and chicken (or whatever the lunch meat du jour is), sells for $7.25. A Greek salad is $5.25. They have a panini “sandwich of the day” with salad for $7.25 and a grilled-cheese sandwich with salad for $5.25. Then, huh. “Savory Pot Pies.” This gets my nose twitching. Beef curry pie with a salad is $9. There’s also steak-and-mushroom or chicken-and-mushroom ($9.75), and vegetarian curry ($8.75) or cheese-and-spinach pie ($9).

But, no contest. Curry. Love that Indian tang. Carla’s always been into Indian cooking. Actually, everything Indian and colonial. Lately she’s got me going, too. We’ve been reading Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim to each other. Oh, man. That sweaty, troppo, raffish scene. Curry for breakfast? But of course, old bean. Perfecto, before the tiger hunt, what?

“An English lady makes these,” says Wayne. “She has the place next to the Shakespeare Pub.” He takes out one of the big triangular slabs of pastry I’d noticed in the display cabinet. A triangular pot pie? And nine buckeroos ain’t that cheap, even with a salad. Guess that’s East Village rents we’re helping pay for.

But all doubts disappear the moment I lift the first chunk to my lips. The pastry. Omygod. So flaky, so light, golden, crunchy, plus that beefy curry dotted with peas and beans and carrots inside. It’s one of those moments.

“Man, that is so-o good,” I say to Wayne. “Is this a South African thing?”

“Well, don’t forget we have really big Indian communities in our coastal cities, Natal and Durban. You get great curries there.”

He points out that each pie has a different shape branded into the pastry. Like, a heart for chicken, a cross for steak, a V for the vegetarian. “We get a lot of Aussies coming in,” he says. “We know who they are because they all like ketchup on top.”

Ketchup with curry? Is nothing sacred? You can hear Gandhi turning in his grave.

Meanwhile, I’m chomping arugula. The salad is fresh, well lubricated with oil and vinegar, and has tasty olives.

Wayne says he stages a new photographic exhibit every month. Charges the artist maybe $350, plus 30 percent commission. These are selling for a few hundred clams each. “Our original name was ‘Coffee and Art Photographic Art Gallery,’ ” he says. “But people were intimidated by that. They thought we were a gallery, not coffee and food.”

Now he’s off to chat with other customers. They all seem to know him. Everyone talks about work, boyfriends, parties, breakups. Seems like Wayne’s the confidante for the neighborhood, the neighborhood these local condoístas must be trying to create.

So, finally, I get online… Lessee, must do an email. Who do I have to message? Ah, yes. “Carla. Dinner. Reply instantly if you want me to bring home the flakiest curry pies of your life.”

The Place: Coffee and Art, 777 Sixth Avenue, downtown, 619-501-8458
Type of Food: Pies, panini, salads
Prices: Breakfast: fruit, yogurt granola, $4.75; cheese-and-tomato croissant, $5.50; “Coffee and Art” lunch salad (mixed greens and veggies, artichoke hearts, and lunch meat), $7.25; Greek salad, $5.25; panini sandwich of the day with salad, $7.75; grilled-cheese sandwich with salad, $5.25 (with tomato, $5.50); beef curry pie with salad, $9; steak-and-mushroom pie, salad, $9.75; chicken-and-mushroom pie, salad, $9.75; vegetarian curry pie, $8.75; cheese-and-spinach pie, $9.
Hours: 7:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m., Monday–Thursday; 7:30 a.m.–8:00 or 9:00 p.m., Fridays; 9:30 a.m.–8:00 or 9:00 p.m., Saturdays; closed Sunday
Buses: 3, 11, 120, and all downtown
Nearest Bus Stops: Fifth and G (number 3, northbound); Fourth and G (number 3, southbound); Sixth and Market (11); Fourth and G (120); Sixth and Broadway (other downtown buses)

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