TIPSY TOURIST: Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar

Croce's Restaurant and Jazz Bar are in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego.

Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar are in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego.

Memories enticed me to go to Croce’s, the restaurant and jazz bar Ingrid Croce opened in memory of her husband songwriter Jim Croce.

Croce's dining room has two levels and is located next to the bar where musicians perform nightly.

Croce’s dining room has two levels and is located next to the bar where musicians perform nightly.

But the food (and wine pairings), the music and the vibe would make me return.

I was just discovering the music of Jim Croce when he was killed in a plane crash in 1973. A novice guitar student then, I learned simplified versions of his lovely melodies and played them all the time.

So when I heard about a restaurant named in his honor all these (oh no, 40!) years later, I quick got on Open Table and made a reservation. It had to be a Saturday night and it had to be late enough to hear the jazz combo.

A mural of Jim Croce in the bar.

A mural of Jim Croce in the bar.

The tributes to Jim are everywhere — photographs on the wall of the main dining room, along with his gold records, and in the bar, a wall mural of his craggy, mustachioed face that stretches from floor to ceiling.

When we arrived (just before the band got started) the background music was one of Croce’s romantic ballads.

Ingrid herself welcomed us at the door. She showed us to a tiny table in the center of the main dining room, a few steps from the wood-paneled bar. The room has a high ceiling with a small mezzanine dining area. White walls, white tablecloths, an energetic level of noise — we knew this was going to be a memorable evening.

The website and the menu tell the story of Jim and Ingrid looking at the corner of F and 5th Streets in San Diego and deciding they needed a restaurant where musician friends could gather for food and music. And then Jim climbed on an airplane a week later and was killed when the plane crashed.

The restaurant is a tribute to the memory of the musician— but it’s quite a tribute to Ingrid’s own vision, as well, I’d say. Every moment was elegant, delightful.

Do you want a memoir or cookbook for dessert? Yes, please!

Do you want a memoir or cookbook for dessert? Yes, please!

The menu lists wine suggestions with every dish — from an artful goat cheese salad to a silky mushroom soup to maple-brined pork chops and the restaurant’s take on meatloaf.

The Latin-tinged jazz of Agua Dulce playing nearby added a cool vibe to the elegance.

Agua Dulce played in the bar the night we were there. Someone plays every night.

Agua Dulce played in the bar the night we were there. Someone plays every night.

You don’t have to eat here to listen to the jazz. The bar was jammed with music fans.

You don’t have to know who Jim was to enjoy the contemporary cuisine and warm hospitality.

You don’t have to buy a book either, but Ingrid keeps plenty of copies of her memoirs and cookbooks around. And she’ll sign one for you, too.

But you have to hurry if you want to see Ingrid’s vision in person. The landlord is ending the restaurant’s lease at the end of the year and there are plans for a new restaurant in another part of San Diego. It’s too bad really. The Gaslamp Quarter — today Party Central on Saturday night — was seedy and run down when the Croces stopped by that day in 1973. It took vision to see what the district could become.

Photographs and Memories is the latest cookbook from Ingrid Croce.

Photographs and Memories is the latest cookbook from Ingrid Croce.

© Text and photos (sorry, the pix are so bad) Mary K. Tilghman

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