25Forty: A la famiglia!

Meal with wine for $7.50?

How can you make a sausage look like a million bucks?

Come to Old Town.

I did, t’other night. Right across from the late lamented Wine Cabana, I spotted 25Forty Bistro and Bakehouse (2540 Congress Street, Old Town, 619-294-2540). Then I noticed a clump of people at the entrance to that chic black and white bistro.

So I cross Congress and jump up the steps that lead to the fire-pit patio and the li’l ol’ white house that this bistro occupies.

Big clump of folks at the entrance, all talking at once, in Italian.

“My family,” says Mark. Oh yeah. I remember him from two years back. Came in when he was just starting.

“We’re very proud of our boy,” says Maria. “I’m his mom. His madre orgoliosa.”

“He’s turned out good, real good,” says Joe. “I’m his uncle.”

“And I’m his dad,” says Luigi. “We come from Calabria. His food is as good as home.”

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by Ed Bedford

Uncle Joe, Lou, cousin Gisella (Lou's wife), Aunt Yolanda, Mark, Maria (Mark's mom), Luigi (his dad)

“We’ve made it to two years,” Mark says. “That wasn’t always easy.”

I understand. Heck, there’s Wine Cabana closing down right across the road. Congress Street ain’t San Diego Avenue, where all the business is.

This is when I see the banner outside saying “Happy Hour, 5:00-6:30. Fifty percent off all drinks and listed food items.”

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by Ed Bedford

It’s 6:15. Who wouldn’t investigate?

So a moment later, I’m sitting inside this clean mainly black and white interior with the kitchen on one side and a big chalk-drawn map of the world on the other. Oh I get it: It’s showing where all the house wines come from. “We’ve been starting to get African wines,” Mark says. “They’re really interesting.” Wow. African. From Mauritania, Morocco.

I see they also have an $8 lunch buffet, and a cooking class schedule.

Merissa the waitress...

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by Ed Bedford

...brings the menu. Items you can have on happy hour include kale (with sugar-coated cashews, raisins and soy) for $10. So that’d be $5; pork chops and spinach ($17/$8.50), and hey, bangers and mash with gravy and onions for $9. Which’d be $4.50.

So I ask for that and a glass of the house red – getting off on wine right now - normally $6, so $3…deal!

And here’s a nice touch: the black cloth table tops are overlaid with paper. And they have a jar of crayons so you can doodle while you wait. I’ve just about completed a Mona Lisa that beats da heck outa Leonardo when Merissa arrives with my sausage...

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by Ed Bedford

... and wine...

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by Ed Bedford

It’s all beautifully presented like I was the King of da woild, not some cheapskate always looking for a deal. And this guy Mark sure knows how to make a humble sausage look and taste good.

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by Ed Bedford

Yes, you’re gonna get lash-burn on your cheek from onion-flick as you suck them babies in...

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by Ed Bedford

...but for $7.50 for food and wine ($8.66 after tax), who’s complaining?

I’d ask Mark more about it, but he’s tied up with his doting parents and uncles and aunts and cousins. Half of them are on vacation, out from Italy. I tell you. Everybody’s talkin’.

What a scene.

As they say in Moonstruck, “A la famiglia!


25Forty is pretty legit, in my experience. It's the kind of place you have to stumble upon, but once you get there it's a good spot for Old Town. I was looking all over last night for the same kind of deal (except I was out in La Mesa) and I didn't find it. It was kind of chilly and I just wanted some hot food, but there was nothing that looked right. Now I'm jelz.

Yes, Mark the chef seems like the real thing. Like, genuinely interested in trying new things and not charging you gold card prices. He had some tongue when I was there that looked good enough for the most squeamish.

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