By Frank Sabatini Jr.
A fresh dining concept opens on La Mesa Boulevard
The structure that housed Sanfilippo’s Pizza for 40 years, and then stood forsaken after the iconic restaurant closed in 2016, has sprung back to life as Farmer’s Table. The $2 million venture, which opened Feb. 16, is headed by Sicilian-born restaurateurs Alberto Morreale and his cousin, Vincenzo LoVerso.
Located at 8141 La Mesa Blvd., the whimsical farmhouse-theme establishment is a larger offshoot of Farmer’s Bottega Restaurant, which Morreale launched a couple years ago in San Diego’s Mission Hills neighborhood. With similar menus, the spotlight is on contemporary American-Mediterranean cuisine constructed largely with locally-sourced ingredients.
Morreale also co-owns two locations of Fig Tree Café, in Hillcrest and Liberty Station, while LoVerso runs three restaurants in downtown San Diego: Osteria Panevino, Greystone Prime Steakhouse & Seafood, and Osetra Seafood & Steak.
“We’re bringing a little fresh air to the west end of La Mesa village,” said Morreale, citing his farm-to-table ethos and the striking remodel he made to the building.
Big, sliding windows and an outdoor patio were created to give the interior an open feel. A new kitchen was also installed. It’s separated from the dining room and a 12-seat chef’s table by glass panels, affording views of a wood-fired oven imported from Naples designated for cooking Neapolitan pizzas topped with a variety of fresh produce and locally-cured meats.
During the renovation, Morreale combed several regional farms for scrap materials, old tools, and other bric-a-brac he incorporated into the design. The search led him to a 1939 red tractor that serves as a focal point in the bar area.
In addition, the wood salvaged from 20 wine barrels was used to treat some of the walls, and their metal rings became the framework for a chandelier hanging in the main dining room. Another chandelier, which spans 20 feet long, was made from an old ladder, ropes, and shovels.
“The transformation of this corner in La Mesa has truly been remarkable,” said Mary England, president and CEO of the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce. “The restaurant’s new look, combined with the new menu and dining concept are excellent additions to our community.”
Dinner at Farmer’s Table potentially begins with bison tartare with a quail egg, or perhaps another appetizer of slow-roasted house-cured pork belly served over potato risotto with bacon jus.
The menu progresses to various “jars” filled with grain salad, roasted veggies or chicken liver pate before verging into assorted bruschettas, soups, and salads, one of which combines “burnt” carrots, avocado, red onions and feta cheese with citrus-thyme vinaigrette.
For the Neapolitan pizzas, Morreale adheres to proper, international standards by using 00-type flour for the hand-kneaded dough, and fresh mozzarella and imported San Marzano tomatoes as the base toppings. The pies are cooked at high heat and pop out of the oven in 90 seconds or less.
Entrees run the gamut from duck gnocchi and ratatouille risotto using seasonal vegetables to creamy pasta Carbonara, rib eye with garlic-herb butter, and pappardelle noodles with short rib.
Morreale is a stickler for sourcing many of his ingredients from local purveyors. They include Suzie’s Farm, Specialty Produce, Stehly Farms, The Meatmen, Venissimo Cheese, and Assenti’s Pasta.
LoVerso aptly oversees the wine inventory, given he has garnered copious awards by Wine Spectator for his extensive collection at Greystone. Here, customers are faced with nearly 50 different labels from California, Italy, South American and other areas around the globe.
There are also 20 local craft beers on tap in addition to a cocktail list offering one of the most unique bloody marys in town.
“It’s a family-style bloody mary that comes in a pitcher with a whole fried chicken on top and root vegetables inside,” Morreale said. “The server splits the chicken for you tableside.”
The restaurant also presents a breakfast-lunch menu featuring frittatas, omelets, Benedicts, pancakes, salads, sandwiches and pizzas.
Morreale, a resident of San Carlos, is convinced he branched into the right area with his new restaurant, which was booked to capacity the first few nights after opening.
“You can see the direction downtown La Mesa is going. It has the same vibe as some of the San Diego neighborhoods before they grew. I think this could be the next North Park when it comes to dining out.”
Farmer’s Table is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then 4:30 to 10:30 p.m., daily. For more information, call 619-724-6465, or visit farmerstablelamesa.com.