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University Heights standout takes over Croce's spot in the Gaslamp


The blood transfusion of Downtown’s food scene continues. To close 2013, iconic restaurant Croce’s moved out of its space after nearly 30 years. And now it’s filled. University Heights’ Balkan/American/global cuisine standout Café 21 will be taking the space at 750 5th Ave. Owner Alex Javadov confirmed the lease is signed. He and his wife Leyla are inheriting the liquor and cabaret licenses, which means they'll continue to do live music at the space like Croce's had for years—not just for dinner, but for brunch, too.

Why the Gaslamp, when many restaurants seem to be leaving for more affordable neighborhoods?

"That’s a good question," says Alex. "We constantly have lines on Saturday and Sundays at our current location. I didn’t like making people wait. Plus, I want to bring a neighborhood feel to Downtown, like Little Italy has."

The couple will be able to fit 200 people in the 4,000 square-foot space (their original restaurant is only 2,500). The design will be handled by local firm Point of Departure (North Park Brewery, Table 926), with tentative plans to open by late April. The only real difference between the two Café 21 locations will be the bar—where the Jovadovs plan to instill a seasonal, fresh-muddled, farmers market-style cocktail program.

Leyla is Cafe 21's chef, and her dishes lean a little healthier than most. Should be a nice change in the Gaslamp and its deep-fried chicken wingness. "Locals mostly don’t want to go there because of the parking and there aren’t any restaurants built for locals," says Alex. "I want to build a neighborhood space my wife and I would like to go to. “

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