June 30 2016 05:12 PM

Great bread and sandwiches at Hillcrest fixture

Manchego Suprema
Manchego Suprema
Photo by Michael A. Gardiner

"Why do so many restaurants open and close in Hillcrest?" There's no shortage of theories: lack of (a) parking, (b) residential critical mass, (c) foot traffic culture, (d) all of the above, or the ever popular (e) none of the above. Bread & Cie (350 University Ave.), however, puts the lie to them all.

Charles Kaufman started the place in 1994 as a transition from a career in movies. He's best known as the writer, director and producer of cult classic slasher pic and Variety Top 100 grossing indie, Mother's Day. His goal was to bring French and broader European (but, it seems now, not British) style artisan bread to San Diego. In that, clearly, he's succeeded. Bread & Cie is, as a trip to a local Farmer's Markets or many supermarkets shows, a successful wholesale bread operation. It's an operation that's readily evident at the University location.

But Bread & Cie's also a café with a great menu for breakfast and lunch. There is, quite possibly, no breakfast in town better than its sample breakfast plate: three slices of Bread & Cie's fresh baked bread—I tend to go with the fig/anise, walnut/raisin and lemon pugliese—with sweet butter, preserves and cream cheese. I never get to the later two, opting instead to dip buttered breads into my coffee. It makes me feel so European I couldn't care less about Brexit.

Another good breakfast option is the smoked salmon platter. Superficially, it's not an unusual take on the theme, with smoked salmon, a schmear-like dill cream cheese, onions, capers and cucumbers. Instead of bagels, Bread & Cie offers a wonderful—if small—lemon ficelle bread. Its brilliant flavor casts the dish in a new light, but the bread's gone before the salmon is. Order it anyways.

For lunch, Bread & Cie offers salads, sandwiches, panini and soups. The signature soup is a classic creamy tomato that just begs to have some of the great bread dipped into it. My favorite sandwich there is the curried chicken salad, featuring diced chicken breast, water chestnuts, raisins and cilantro in a curried mayonnaise on its brilliant fig/anise bread. It plays like a take on British Coronation curry. I wonder if that'll be tariffed to death in Paris in the near future.

There's always a special sandwich that's worth considering. On a recent trip it was a Manchego Supremo featuring Spanish manchego, ricotta cheese, roasted eggplant and capers on a levain bread (think Euro-sourdough—take that, Brits). It's a creative vegetarian sandwich that leaves nothing wanting.

There's not one reason restaurants fail in Hillcrest, nor just two. There are many. Far fewer are the reasons Hillcrest restaurants succeed over time. One commonality is they tend to adopt a unique place in the market—a niche—and execute well within that niche. Corvette Diner did that, Khyber Pass does. Instead of putting yet another ramen place or two or three in the same stretch, these places—and Bread & Cie—chart their own courses.

And that's why they're still standing.

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