Frank Sabatini Jr.
Indulging in the company of cats
Since making its introduction to the LGBTQ community at the San Diego Pride parade last year, the stylish two-level Whiskers & Wine in North Park is still landing on the radar of cat lovers throughout the county.
Owner Nicole Smith runs the business with her husband Christopher. She said it’s the only cafe in California with a full liquor license where “you can order a ‘meowtini’ and pet a cat.”
With a fresh slate of seasonal cocktails in the offing, it’s also a place where you can sip wine while munching on things like “charCATerie” boards; “pawsitively French” and “catprese” flatbreads; and oven-baked “kitten tots” served with Himalayan salt and “CATsup.”
The cafe’s wine inventory is currently changing. Until recently, Smith sourced her vino exclusively from Tricia Record- Swartz of Record Family Wines, which had a tasting room in Hillcrest until Record-Swartz moved back to Paso Robles, where her family’s winery is headquartered. (That space is now a wine and flower shop called Cork & Stem, 1035 University Ave.)
“We try to work with local women-owned vendors. So we’re slowing shifting to new wine partners.”
Whiskers & Wine has been around since 2022. More than 170 cat adoptions have been made through the business. At any given time, the number of resident cats range from 12 to 17. They live cage-free inside the cafe, and all of them are available for adoption.
Visitors are charged $30 for 75-minute visits. The cost includes full access to the downstairs lounge and upstairs patio—and of course mingling time with the cats. Smith points out that visitors must be at least 12 years old. Reservations are recommended.
“The aesthetic of our elegant lounge is more adult-oriented. We’re catering to adults who want to come in and have a cocktail or glass of wine.” 2856 Adams Ave., 619-837-2325, whiskersandwinebar.com.
‘The best fries in California’ are in North Park?
It’s a tall order when food media call out certain restaurant dishes as being “the best” you’ll find in various cities, states or countries. Hence the popular website, lovefood.com, which points directly to The Smoking Goat as having “the best french fries in all of California.”
The recent survey gave top honors to The Smoking Goat’s fries because they’re deep-fried in precious duck fat, a technique that chef-owner Fred Piehl has been using since he opened the French-inspired restaurant in 2010. Cooking anything in duck fat back then was a novelty — and to many, it still is.
“They are really something special,” the writers at LoveFood concurred while praising the fact that the perfectly crispy fries take on a drizzle of truffle oil and a dusting of pecorino Romano cheese. Served with a side of mustard aioli, we’ve experienced these spuds firsthand and have to agree they are pretty stellar. 3408 30th St., 619-955-5295, thesmokinggoatrestaurant.com.
Mission Valley newcomers
Two palate-grabbing establishments have arrived in Mission Valley: A fast-casual Israeli eatery called Hamitbach Street Food, and a third location of the Chula Vista-based Novo Brazil Brewing.
The former specializes in kosher dishes found commonly on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They include arais (grilled pita stuffed with ground beef, onions and parsley); chicken schnitzel in challah bread; merguez (spicy beef sausage); cauliflower shawarma, and more. 5664 Mission Center Road in the Friars-Mission Center plaza, 619-272-0182, hamitbachstreetfood.com.
Novo has taken over the 11,500-square-foot space left vacant by Tilted Kilt in Mission Valley Mall. It is the company’s first location in metro San Diego, featuring more than 60 taps pouring beers from Novo’s hefty portfolio. The food menu offers a mix of Brazilian and American fare such as chicken croquettes, grilled steaks and fish, California burritos, and more. 1640 Camino del Rio North, 619-310-5387, novobrew.com.
Get ‘toasted’ in La Mesa
A cool, new brunch spot called Toasted La Mesa is being compared by some to popular Hillcrest kitchens such as Snooze and Great Maple. The stylish restaurant has two locations in Las Vegas and one in Oceanside.
The menu in La Mesa follows suit with daily bottomless mimosas and an all-day “gastrobrunch” menu of top-selling dishes such as classic French omelets, red velvet pancakes and peanut butter and bacon French toast that pays tribute to Elvis Presley.
Toasted was founded several years ago by restaurateur Sami Ladeki of the well-established Sammy’s Woodfire Pizza chain. 8555 Fletcher Parkway, Suite 104, La Mesa, 619-460-8555, toastedgastrobrunch.com.
Mini review: The new cookie at Costco Food Courts
Consumers are still mourning the recent loss of Costco’s popular churros that were available for a couple of decades at the store’s outdoor food courts. They’ve been replaced with a chubby double-chocolate chunk cookie, which sells for $2.49. And we’re not complaining.
Served warm, the cookie is bi-textural. It sports delightfully crunchy edges and a soothing, soft interior. The all-butter crumb is unmistakable as it blends blissfully with bittersweet and semi-sweet globs of chocolate. For this writer, who isn’t a huge fan of cookies, it was love at first bite.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to ignore your diet because one of these beauties will set you back 750 calories. costco.com.
–Frank Sabatini Jr. has been writing about food in San Diego for over 35 years. He launched his own food blog during the pandemic, called, “The Hash Star,” which you can follow at thehashstar.com. He can be reached at [email protected].
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