Down the Rabbit Hole at Cafe Zucchero

Café Zucchero

1731 India Street, Little Italy

A rabbit? In Little Italy? Can’t believe my eyes. But there he is, hopping up from the trolley tracks and into the bushes of one of those mega-condos near Date Street. This close to downtown? What other wildlife is living under our noses? Coyotes? Bobcats? Sasquatch?

I’m heading for India Street from the County Center trolley stop. Decided to take a shortcut along a dirt path near the trolley tracks. That’s when the little guy loped casually in front of me. That’s good luck, isn’t it?

I’m here in Little Italy to see this guy who’s promised to fix Carla’s old laptop so it quits crashing. She has Vista. Say no more.

“Leave it with me,” says Pete, my nerd. He actually has a day job, or rather, night job. Security. Fixes computers on the side.

“You don’t want me to hover, breathe down your neck?”

“See you in two hours,” he says.

Which is how I end up on this sunny morning right outside Cafe Zucchero, here on India. Always liked the place because it has those swanky stone balustrades you can lean on as you sip coffee at the outside tables, under a green-and-gold awning. Then there’s the view up India. A string of red umbrellas, green trees, and hanging flowers. It all makes you feel good.

“Breakfast till 11:30,” says this guy sitting at a table right over the balustrade, munching on a waffle with syrup and strawberries. Must have seen me staring at the menu. Wow. It’s almost 11:00 already. “But you should definitely have this,” says his friend, who’s eating an egg BLT croissant. Scott and Kevin. They’re both students at Cal Western School of Law, just up the road. So it can’t be too expensive.

I sit at the next table, facing north. That way I can see the planes coasting in to Lindbergh, and my left arm can straddle the balustrade, my right arm free to lift the coffee cup. Hey, these little things count. Plus, the waiter (when I ask his name, he says, “Giuseppe…okay, Juan — same difference”) brings me a menu and a beautiful strong coffee ($2). The marble tables, the china plates, heavy silverware, heavy water glasses…and it’s on the right side of the street, the eastern side, shady in the morning. In the evening, you get the whole sunset thing. Plus, you can eat cheap. A croissant’s $2. Scott’s Belgian waffle’s $7.95. Kevin’s BLT croissant is $6.95, with hash browns. A ham-and-cheese panini (with hash browns) is $5.95. In the uova (egg) section, the cheapest, two eggs any style (and hash browns), costs $6.95. But the one I want is the Palermitana omelet. It has spicy Italian sausage, olives, and mozzarella cheese and, I guess, it’s the real Sicilian deal, named after Palermo, the capital of Sicily. Actually, Little Italy should be called Little Sicily, because most of the families here came from Sicily and still speak Sicilian. Even Italians from mainland Italy don’t know what da heck these guys are saying when they speak the home lingo.

So, may as well go for the real hometown dish. Except Nino, the chef, who’s come out to soak up some sun in a quiet moment, says you wouldn’t find the Palermitana in Palermo. “You’d get it as a frittata. Omelets are not a Sicilian thing.” But I order one anyway. It’s $9.95. Then, dammit, I can’t resist ordering a waffle (another $5). Suddenly, I’m looking at a 17-buck breakfast, plus tax ’n’ tip.

But, hey, it’s worth it for the cool factor. And the omelet does taste interesting, has that herby feel from the sausage. It’s the fennel, Nino says. The whole syrupy-waffle thing acts like a dessert.

I think I’m done, then Kevin comes outside with a big golden blob on a plate. “You can’t leave without one of these,” he says to Scott and me. “You gotta choose them from the ice-cream counter.”

Really shouldn’t do this, but I go inside and look. See a dish loaded with Kevin’s golden flying saucers. “Sicilian,” says Nick, the guy behind the counter. “They’re called Fried Iris. It’s like a donut roll with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips in the middle.”

They’re $3.50 each. ’Course, I have to get one. I take it back out to my table and bite in. Oh, man. Call it what it is. Pure, unadulterated, unapologetic sin. That sweet, cheesy, caramelly lavabog inside... With the cawfee, a perfect end. And it suddenly hits me — Cafe Zucchero: like, azúcar in Spanish. Sugar. Sugar Shack! That’s really what this place is about.

I know: I’ve lost a bundle. Kevin hears me grinch about spending so much. He lives around here. “You should have gone to the Waterfront on Kettner,” he says. “They have breakfasts for about $5, $6.”

Oh, well. No regrets. I notice a sign on the way out, something about live music, a guitarist, Fridays and Saturdays after 9:00 p.m.

Must bring Carla for that. I spend the absolute last of my spare change — got the laptop repair money in the other pocket — on a Fried Iris for her, then haul out the cell phone. “Carla? Getting the laptop, then I’m coming home. Don’t eat anything.” ■

The Place: Cafe Zucchero, 1731 India Street, Little Italy, 619-531-1731
Type of Food: Italian/Sicilian
Prices: Breakfast croissant, $2; BLT croissant, hash browns, $6.95; ham and cheese panini (with hash browns), $5.95; two eggs any style, hash browns, $6.95; Palermitana omelet (with spicy Italian sausage, olives, mozzarella), $9.95; poor boy (waffle or pancake topped with eggs), $8.95; Fried Iris, $3.50; lunch and dinner dishes also
Hours: 7:30 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Sunday–Thursday; till 10.30 p.m., Friday–Saturday; breakfast served 7:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m., Monday–Friday; till midday, Saturday–Sunday
Bus: 83
Nearest Bus Stop: India and Beech
Trolley: Blue Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: County Center/Little Italy

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