‘Why did the cow jump over the moon?” asks this black felt letterboard. “Because the farmer didn’t warm his hands.”
I’m outside at The Farmer’s Table, the newest eatery to open on Piazza della Famiglia in Little Italy. This is about four o’clock in the afternoon. Monday. The place is packed. And talk about cold hands: even with the sun, the nipping breeze keeps you hopping. Yet the outside tables are filled anyway. I come up to this antique gas pump that’s like the welcome podium. Menu’s on display right next to it. Hmm. Ain’t seeing a lot of single-digit dishes. We’re talking bottom price of $11 (for a Margherita pizza) to around $34 (for a braised lamb shank).
“Do you have a happy hour? I ask the lady.
“Sorry,” she says.
Pity. I wander through the piazza to, hey, the Little Italy Food Hall. Sign outside is encouraging. “Happy Hour, Food Stations, M-F, 3pm-6pm.”
Great, specially ’cause it’s toasty inside. I head in. Thinking of that Roast place. I remember its luscious looking slabs of beef glistening on a big wooden carving board under golden heat lamps. Just what the weather calls for.
They have half a dozen food outlets inside. Mein Street Asian Kitchen, Not Not Tacos, Ambrogio 15 (pizzas), Wicked Maine Lobster, and Single Fin Kitchen. First surprise: Single Fin Kitchen, where they made healthy donburi bowls, is gone.
550 West Date Street, Suite B, Little Italy
But further down the line, a chef is carving away at a slab of roast beef. It’s that place: Roast. Above him, a menu loaded with a choice of sandwiches, “family meals,” rotisserie chicken, salads, meatballs, and — this looks like the real roast thing — plates. So you choose a protein, say roast beef. Costs $14 for a small portion, $18 for a large. But you get two sides as well. Like roasted potatoes, roasted vegetables, rice, kale Caesar salad, or braised cannellini beans. You can have other meats: prime rib is the most expensive at $17 small, $21 large, or porchetta (roast pork, $15/$19), meatball ($13/$17), or the cheapest, rotisserie chicken ($12/$16).
Or you can get these proteins in a sandwich. Two meatballs in a sandwich costs $11, or a cup of four balls, also $11. The roast beef sandwich is $12, prime rib $15, porchetta $13, and chicken $10.
That’s pretty much it. Except, what about happy hour? Oh yeah. You have to search it out, but they have a little card with all the Food Hall HH specials listed. Roast’s deal is $6 for a slider, or $10 for two. And you can choose meatball, chicken or beef. The guy carving a big slab of roasted beef, David, says two sandwiches really fill you, and of course the double deal’s da best. But I’m thinking of buying a HH glass of vino. So I just get the roast beef sarney, head for the bar and order a $5 Ca’Momi cabernet blend, and am gathering everything to go out to eat in the piazza when I realize: I gotta have those meatballs. So I goes back and ask if I can change my mind. Sure, David says, but that $10 double deal has to be ordered as one. So, sigh, drop an extra six dollars and change and get me that meatball slider.
Whatever, I head out with my two boxes and plastic glass of wine, just in time to catch the last of the sun. Have to say, get a kick at just being able to wander anywhere on this big piazza and eat and drink beer or wine without fear of some ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) cop coming and tapping me on the shoulder and telling me to get behind some wrought-iron fence. No idea how the Little Italy people pulled this one off.
I start with the meatball slider. The meatballs (“ground beef and pork,” says David) are stuffed inside a nice little baguette from a Mexican bakery in Spring Valley. They’re doused in arrabbiata sauce (tomatoes, garlic, chili), and grana padano (a hard cheese which David grates on top of the meatballs and the salsa verde). Standard but delicious. And they promise there’re no hormones or antibiotics in the meat.
Glad I got the roast beef slider too. I’m still hungry after the meatball sandwich, and roast beef goes great with the cab I’m sipping. Because along with the ample flaps of carved beef, beautifully sweet pickled onions and a distinct flavor of bay leaves, it has hints of that Argentinian chimichurri sauce. I’m tasting parsley and garlic.
Sun’s angling lower. Surrounded by sounds of splashing fountain water, kids tossing a football, others zipping round, sharing electric scooters with their dads, and old folks sunning themselves, motionless like shags. Fountain waters are starting to get pearlescent as the blue underwater lights come on.
David tells me Roast started in Canada,:British Columbia, in 2013. “Maryanne Carmack is our boss. She had the original idea. She brought it down to Liberty Station in San Diego, and now here.”
He says Carmack is into sustainable food. And reviving the butcher’s art. Now I think about it, it’s probably a bit like the aims at The Farmer’s Table. Good to see the gospel spreading.
Next time, I want to try that fatty belly and crispy skin porchetta. And specially the actual full-fare large prime rib plate with roasted potatoes and roasted veggies, even at $21. Guess sometimes ya gotta jump for the moon, no matter if it takes hot money or hey, cold hands?
- The Place: Roast, in Little Italy’s Piazza della Famiglia Food Hall, 550 West Date Street, Suite B, 619-795-7774
- Hours: 11am – 10:00pm, daily (till 11pm, Friday, Saturday)
- Happy Hour: 3-6pm Monday to Friday
- Prices: Meatball sandwich, $11; cup of four meatballs, $11; roast beef sandwich, $12; prime rib sandwich, $15; porchetta (boneless pork roast) sandwich, $13; chicken sandwich, $10; roast beef plate with e.g. roasted potatoes and roasted vegetables, $14 (small portion), $18 (large); prime rib plate, $17 small, $21 large; porchetta plate, $15/$19; meatball plate, $13/$17; rotisserie chicken plate, $12/$16
- Happy Hour Prices (Monday to Friday): Meatball, chicken or beef slider, $6; or $10 for two
- Bus: 83
- Nearest Bus Stops: India at Cedar (northbound); Kettner at Cedar (southbound)
- Trolley: Green Line
- Nearest Trolley Stop: County Center/Little Italy, at W. Cedar and California Street