If there’s one thing I really love when I travel, it’s being pleasantly surprised. (Better than the other way around, don’t you think?) I had a morning like that in San Diego. I knew I wanted to spend the morning touring around the Gaslamp Quarter, and I wanted to try breakfast somewhere outside my hotel. (Not that I didn’t love my breakfast in the hotel the previous day, but I wanted to sample as many different restaurants as I could in 48 hours).
The problem was that I had no idea where I wanted to go, and time was of the essence. I had wanted to get some work done in my room before I had to check out, which meant I’d put off breakfast too long. I was ravenous when I stepped outside the hotel, which, to anyone who knows me, means we were at DEFCON 1: If I didn’t get some food in me immediately, there would be a COMPLETE NUCLEAR DISASTER. So naturally, I turned to a source of local knowledge: The valet. I asked him where I could get a good breakfast close to the hotel. His reply? Richard’s Pancake House on Front Street.
As soon as he named it, I recalled having read about Richard’s Pancake House during my research for my trip. Some guidebook or other had recommended it as well. Satisfied that this was the right choice, I followed his directions, and it was an easy walk from the Manchester Grand Hyatt up Market Street. I recognized the restaurant as soon as I saw it. . .because of the long line of people waiting to get inside. It stretched all the way down the block. Ugh. I hate standing in long lines. I also knew there was no way I could wait that long before eating. I’d pass out from hunger first. So I kept walking, hoping I’d run across another diner soon. Very soon.
I made it as far as 5th Avenue, where I found a pizza and pasta restaurant named Sloppy Joey’s that had a breakfast menu and a hostess outside who greeted me like a long-lost friend. She seemed really eager to show me inside. Let me take this moment to say that when restaurants post people outside to pull you in the door, it’s usually not a good sign. It means the food is terrible and you should eat anywhere but there. But sometimes it means that there are so many restaurants competing for limited business in a small radius that they need an edge (ala Ocean Drive in South Beach). And sometimes, on the very rare occasion, it just means the staff is friendly. That was the case here.
Sloppy Joey’s appeared to me to be more of a nighttime restaurant that just happened to also serve breakfast. The waitresses and hostess all wore black and looked like they were headed to a Goth concert. I immediately thought: “Well, this won’t be a boring breakfast, will it?” Not if the decor was a sign. As it turned out, the waitresses merely matched the restaurant, which was decorated in lots of black, white and red. And there were prints of mobsters on the walls, including one near me of Al Pacino as Scarface. Hmm…Italian food, mobsters, okay. I get it. Kind of a stereotype, but fun nonetheless.
I was shown to a two-top table upstairs close enough to the large front window that I could people-watch a bit by looking down on the sidewalk below. (People-watching in the Gaslamp Quarter on a Sunday morning is a treat.) You can see in the photo above that the chairs were leather and very comfortable. There was another solo diner nearby, eating and reading a newspaper, so I didn’t feel self-conscious dining alone (not that I would have noticed anyway, since I was too hungry to care).
Service was very good. The staff was friendly and welcoming to everyone who came in, not just me. The first thing my waitress told me was that it was Happy Hour (at 11 am!) and they were offering half price Mimosas, Bloody Marys and appetizers. How much was “half price”? Two dollars. No kidding. Now, I’m not a fan of champagne, but I was on vacation, and it was only two dollars, so I thought “What the hell? Why not?” I ordered a Mimosa.
Believe it or not, this was my first Mimosa–or at least, the first that I can remember. And no, that doesn’t mean I’m usually too blotto to remember what I drink. It means I found it to be a very forgettable drink. So it’s possible I’ve had one before and just forgot. Like I said, I’m not a fan of champagne. It wasn’t bad, but I can’t say it’ll become my drink of choice. Plus alcohol at breakfast just isn’t my style. It did make me feel like I was on vacation though.
For breakfast, I ordered the Strawberry Shortcake Belgian Waffle. I am such a sucker for anything resembling strawberry shortcake that if you told me you’d invented strawberry shortcake-flavored liver and onions, I’d try it. And yes, it was scrumptious. Overall, a wonderful breakfast, all for $12.87 before tip, which I felt was very reasonable for a touristy place like the Gaslamp Quarter.
Sometimes it’s disappointing when the popular restaurant that all the cool kids go to is packed and you can’t get in. But sometimes, it’s a gift because it allows you the serendipity of discovering other delightful little eateries. If you’re in the Gaslamp Quarter on a weekend and you’re looking for something with a bit of character, give Sloppy Joey’s a try. They serve a rocking breakfast. And not sloppy at all.
Where: 548 Fifth Avenue (south of Market Street in the Gaslamp Quarter).
Hours: Sun-Thurs, 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat, 11am-midnight.