Little Italy's Monello | An Authentic Farmers' Market-Inspired Brunch

Monello's brunch pizza
February 1, 2013

Some of my fondest memories derive from a summer spent traveling throughout Italy.  Italia is a remarkable country where the people embrace the beauty of simplicity, understand the comforts of leisure and take pride in even the smallest of tasks.  So it goes at Monello in the 'Q' Building of Little Italy, where we recently enjoyed a stellar Italian-inspired weekend brunch on a most beautiful San Diego day.  As the warm sun shined in my face, I sipped on my Bellini, enjoyed a simple salad of rocket and fresh mozzarella, ordered my brunch, and was instantly swept back to Parma.  But wait, does 'brunch' as we know it even exist in Italy?

Main dining area
"Milan is a very fashionable city and is currently going through a change, as it embraces more American trends," explained co-owner Guido Nistri. "Brunch is popping up more and more; and although we Italians are used to more of a relaxed, nibble approach to our morning meals, we are starting to embrace larger breakfasts and specifically brunch."  So there you have it - Italian brunch it is!

Monello is the little sister of neighboring Bencotto, both owned and operated by Milanese husband and wife Guido and Valentina, as well as Executive Chef Fabrizio Cavallini.  Translating to "naughty little boy" in English, Monello is inspired by Italian culinary traditions and the upscale street food found in Milan - simple dishes prepared with high quality ingredients.  At Monello, take comfort in the fact that if it is not sourced from Italy, it comes from local markets, with most ingredients prepared in house - from the mozzarella to the bread and pasta to the sweet vermouth.

The Rossini
Monello is located on a quiet street in Little Italy with a European style, dog-friendly patio, featuring glimpses of the San Diego Bay and harbor.  Described as "trattoria chic," the ultra modern interior boasts stamped concrete walls, a bakery display for prepared piattini and a sit down bar stocked with wines and spirits.  On a saunter to the restrooms, be sure to take notice of the refrigerator display cases where cured meats and cheeses are described and marked with their location of origin. 

To get into the mood, we ordered one of each of the brunch cocktails: an Italian version of the Parisian Mimosa, the Bellini combines peach puree with Prosecco, while the Rossini combines strawberry basil puree with the Italian sparkling white wine ($10).  Both were refreshing and definitely featured the delicate wine rather than their fruity additions, making a not-so-sweet compliment to a savory meal.

Of the panini al latte (stuffed mini bite sandwiches), we enjoyed a soppressata salami and fontina cheese, as well as a caprese with mozzarella, tomato and basil ($4 each).  Each of the handheld delights were perfectly composed with fresh, flavorful ingredients, and surely a light, yet satisfying treat we'd stop in for on any venture to Little Italy.  We also indulged in an arugula salad with housemade mozzarella, fresh tomato and a drizzling of robust olive oil, an ideal combination demonstrating how simple ingredients can make for a delicious and inspired dish.   We also received warm house made bread - truly the best bread we've had in San Diego, maybe beyond.  This soft, airy bread was perfectly chewy, with amazing viscosity and elasticity, the product of a 4 day, labor-of-love: the dough ferments for four days, enhancing the flavor and character of the bread (same as the pizza dough). 

From the breakfast menu, we chose the Monello eggs benedict ($10), two stacks layered with thick cut proscuiutto, atop thin slices of crisp bread, with poached eggs, and fontina cheese, covered in pesto hollandaise and accompanied by a refreshing side salad.

We also opted for the brunch pizza, which was more than enough to fill two hungry brunch goers ($14 and only served on Sat. & Sun.).  This bad boy is Monello's fantastic crust topped with ingredients sourced from Saturday's Little Italy Farmers' Market - cheese sauce, crisp bacon, sauteed spinach, and two sunny side up eggs.  A great rendition of a rising trend, this pizza would be fun to share amongst a group and definitely comes recommended.

To end our beautiful Saturday mid-day meal, we ordered two caffè - a macchiato and a marocchino (each $4) - and lulled our bellies into a food coma with a famed bomboloni ($5) - fried sweet dough filled with vanilla egg custard, dusted generously with cinnamon sugar.

Monello is an undeniably authentic and welcomed addition to the vibrant and bustling neighborhood of Little Italy.  As a recent recipient of the coveted 'Quality' rating from the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West (one of the first San Diego recipients of this world-renowned designation), the Bencotto family of restaurants stays true to its roots, while embracing local trends and products to provide a quality dining experience.

Monello is located at 750 West Fir Street, Little Italy and is open offering lunch Tuesday - Sunday beginning at 11:30 AM; aperitivo from 4-7 PM; and dinner from 5 - 10PM; as well as farmer's market brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10AM - 3:30PM.

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750 West Fir Street, Little Italy

House made mozzarella with arugala and tomato

Best bread ever!

Caprese panini al latte

Vanilla egg custard bomboloni
Monello on Urbanspoon