It's easy to quickly become a fan of Tae Dickey. The owner/chef of Biga (950 Sixth Ave.) is direct but friendly. He's serious about hospitality and he wants to make a point by being a downtown restaurant that cares about locals and doesn't gouge anybody—not even the tourists who will wander over from Fifth Avenue. Most pizzas are less than $10.
"My inspiration? I was tired of overpaying for food that I didn't think was a fair price in San Diego," he says. "I'm trying to do my take on artisanal Italian with a fair price."
Biga (pronounced: Bee-ga) is at the corner of Broadway and Sixth Avenue, at the base of the Samuel Fox Lofts. Keep an eye on this block between Fifth and Sixth avenues. Two doors down from Biga is a new location for Ramen Yamadaya; betwixt the two a Mexican-styled Pipirens is readying to open.
Through a design collaboration with Point of Departure Architecture (it also did downtown's Café 21), Dickey got the look he wanted from a space that was originally built in 1928.
"I described my vision between old and new Italian design," he says. "I didn't want it to be too frou-frou, but approachable. I'm more of a rustic kind of guy."
Check out the white Carrera marble countertops and the 5,000-pound, green-tiled Italian pizza ovens. Look deeper into the open kitchen and get a glance of staff butchering hogs in-house. The 37-year-old Dickey, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who has been cooking since he was 13, says on weekends he serves a porchetta that slow cooks for three days.
The name Biga describes a fermentation process used for Italian pizzas and doughs. "It's the dough starter; the mother dough," says Dickey. "It lends flavor to all our dough products. Ours is 200 years old. It's slightly different than a sourdough starter. It's got a lower hydration ratio so it's a little firmer. It's in our pizzas and we put it in focaccias, and soon we'll use it to make our own bread."
At Biga service is fast-casual style, meaning you stand in line and order, then find a seat where a waiter will bring your food. Don't miss the carrots side dish. Dickey wood roasts Valdivia heirloom carrots and serves them in a bowl with house-made crème fraiche and mint pesto.
Actually, there's plenty here in the can't-miss category. Even if it's simple, like the rustic Tuscan ribollita soup, or the burrata cheese served with oven-roasted porcin's and truffle cream and topped with super-sweet pea tendrils. And warm mozzarella sides are made to order.
Biga is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day but Sunday, when Dickey closes shop to spend time with his family. Aww, right?
A pair of upcoming promotions are worth noting: On Jan. 18 stop in for a free coffee; and on Fridays throughout January come in for lunch, order an iced tea and get a free Margherita pizza. That's a Biga deal.