By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Don’t let the name fool you. Sheldon’s Service Station isn’t in the business of oil changes and brake jobs. It hasn’t been for at least 50 years. But the bones of the circa-1920 building remain largely intact, and they’ve given way to a charming café that serves breakfast and lunch daily.
Business partners Aaron Dean and Gy Kirk launched the La Mesa Village venture in October, and they’ll soon open down the street Boulevard Noodles and Boulevard Yogurt. A third and much larger project is also in their pipeline – Depot Springs Beer Company, which will encompass a brewing facility, restaurant, kid’s zone and amphitheater when it opens early next year at 9401 Fletcher Parkway.
At Sheldon’s, they’ve introduced a bright and healthy bill of fare that includes fluffy potato latkes topped with vegan crème fraiche and apple-pear compote; blue corn chilaquiles with poached eggs, black beans and smoked tomatillo salsa; and a couple of creative takes on avocado toast. They’re among the morning starts that rival your everyday pancake and omelet plates.
In lieu of the Milanese-style avocado toast with arugula, burrata and aged balsamic, we chose the za’atar version featuring two slices of multi-grain bread crowned with watermelon radishes, Greek yogurt and two expertly poached eggs. Adding depth of flavor was a dusting of Middle Eastern spices (za’atar), which paired swimmingly to the generous layers of smashed avocado in the construct.
Lunch potentially begins with a bowl of earthy Portobello mushroom soup spiked with chives and a little cream. Smooth and rich, it was as meaty tasting as chili con carne, sans the beef and heavy dose of cholesterol.
From the midday menu, we progressed to a couple of outstanding sandwiches while skipping over two different salads, one of which mingles arugula, apples, shaved fennel and burrata, and the other featuring quinoa, roasted butternut squash, haricot verts and pomegranate seeds.
Much to my liking, the albacore tuna salad incorporates a good measure of hardboiled eggs, just like the way my mom used to make it. The mixture was generously contained between slices of toasted multi-grain bread along with arugula and fresh tomatoes.
The daily panini was impossible to pass up – blistered jalapenos with Monterey Jack cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, Sriracha, and optional bacon to boot. My companion, who is fearful of spicy foods, embraced the sandwich’s medium heat level without drama. So well-conceived, I vote that it becomes a fixture on the regular lunch menu.
Seating at Sheldon’s is mostly outdoors, on a spacious, inviting patio the owners added to the property. Inside is an order counter, where Café Moto coffee drinks are made in eyeshot of a display case flaunting muffins and pastries. Beer and wine are also available.
A few vestiges from the service-station days remain in place, such as an arched window on the side of the building, a wooden door that led to the station’s small office, and some non-active wiring on a ceiling that fits the café’s historic aesthetic.
On the front of the building is a plaque by the La Mesa Historical Society honoring George Sheldon for constructing “one of the first full-service gas stations in La Mesa.” It also features an old photograph of the structure at a time when the area was much sleepier.
Sheldon’s location is idyllic. It sits across the street from Legacy Park and is a stone’s throw from La Mesa Boulevard’s shops and restaurants, which include the newish Coin Haus as well as Bo-beau Kitchen + Garden, both operated by Cohn Restaurant Group.
“We came in at the right time,” Dean said. “There are a lot more millennials and young families moving into the area. In a couple of years, people will be shocked at what a really cool neighborhood this has turned out to be.”
Sheldon’s operates from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, although starting Nov. 15 it will stay open until 8 p.m. In addition, live acoustic music is held on the patio from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.