Italian cuisine

Rare vegan Italian cuisine flourishes at Civico 1845 in Little Italy

'Tiramisu Italiano', topped with vegan cream and chocolate flakes with an espresso cake inside.
Pietro Gallo says he makes the only vegan tiramisu across California. It’s called ‘Tiramisu Italiano’, covered in vegan cream and chocolate flakes with an espresso cake inside. Photo by Cassia Pollock.

Vegans have found a slice of heaven at Civico 1845 in San Diego’s bustling Little Italy – one of the only Italian restaurants to offer a full vegan menu with authentic, mouth-watering Italian dishes.

Owners, Italian brothers Dario and Pietro Gallo, started the place after moving to San Diego directly from Consenza, Italy, in the southern region of Calabria, three and a half years ago.

Managing Director Flavio Piromallo (left) and vegan owner Pietro Gallo (center) with his brother and owner Darrio Gallo (right). Photo by Cassia Pollock.

A vegan himself, Pietro Gallo says it’s one of the only Italian restaurants to offer a full vegan menu in all of California, while offering traditional Italian dishes with meat and dairy.

They offer an extensive vegan menu with various starters including Eggplant Meatballs, Calamari with Mushrooms and their most popular – ‘Caprese Mozzarella’ with delicious heirloom tomatoes.

Organic heirloom tomato covered with rice mozzarella in ‘Caprese Mozzarella’ appetizer, a gluten-free dish. Photo by Cassia Pollock.

Their wine list also includes seven vegan choices. Pietro recommended the ‘Santa Chiara’ white wine imported from the Terre Nobili wine company in Calabria. The wine is considered vegan because it is filtered with special equipment that carefully avoids cross-contamination with animal products.

The Times of San Diego tried its three most popular dishes, as well as its vegan bread which is served with a delicious pesto sauce. The light and fluffy bread is perfectly fragrant when dipped in its sauce brimming with authentic Italian olive oil, garlic and natural seasonings.

Soft vegan bread with a dipping sauce rich in olive oil, garlic and natural seasonings. Photo by Cassia Pollock.

Their top vegan dishes included our personal favorite, the traditional Italian eggplant parmigiana known as “Melanzana alla Parmigiana”. Eggplant is tender, sweet and juicy. It’s sprinkled with clusters of creamy, melt-in-your-mouth vegan mozzarella. Even if you’re not a big fan of eggplant, one taste of this dish will change your mind.

Traditional Italian eggplant parmigiana with smoked vegan mozzarella, nicknamed “Melanzana alla Parmigiana”. Photo by Cassia Pollock.

Their homemade ravioli filled with truffle and wild mushroom sauce, known as “Ravioli Boscaiola”, followed closely. The mushrooms are juicy and tender, and the ravioli are homemade without any animal products. The sauce blends the rich creamy flavor of wild mushrooms with satisfying noodles.

Homemade ‘Boscaiola Ravioli’ filled with truffle and wild mushroom sauce. Photo by Cassia Pollock.

All vegans looking for the classic sausage lasagna will find equal satisfaction in their “Lasagna Romagnola”. The vegan sausage has reached the flavor of real meat, or as close as humanly possible. It looks, tastes and satisfies Italian lasagna cravings, whatever your dietary preferences.

The classic vegan Italian sausage lasagna known as “Lasagne romagnola” is sprinkled with vegan parmigiano. Photo by Cassia Pollock.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for vegans will be saving room for dessert. Our favorite was the pistachio ice cream which will transport foodies to another world of creamy ice cream. The flavor is deeply pleasing to the senses. It doesn’t matter if you’re lactose intolerant, because they do it dairy-free. Chocolate connoisseurs should also try their vegan Gelato Tartufo – an Italian dark cocoa gelato stuffed with caramel chocolate.

A wine glass filled to the brim with delicious vegan “Gelato Pistacchio”. Photo by Cassia Pollock.

On top of that, you can’t miss their unique vegan tiramisu. It is covered with a special pastry cream, sprinkled with chocolate shavings. Just wait to discover the crispy, squishy espresso cake hidden inside.

“I’m the only one making vegan tiramisu in all of California, so it’s a big challenge…Everything is a challenge,” Pietro told The San Diego Times.

The Gallo brothers have clearly taken up this challenge. They use simple ingredients like tomato sauce, Italian olive oil and garlic. Pietro explained that there are separate equipment facilities for vegan cooks and regular cooks to avoid cross-contamination of ingredients.

‘Fritto Italia’ – eggplant meatballs served with rapini, vegan sausage and breaded potato croquettes. Photo by Cassia Pollock.

“Being vegan was important to me,” Pietro said. “I couldn’t work in a company where there is only meat and cheese.”

His hard work to create a vegan menu has paid off for the Gallo brothers, with vegan customers accounting for 30% of the restaurant’s overall revenue since Civico 1845 opened in July 2015.

“The first client we had was a vegan,” Pietro told The Times of San Diego.

“We are only one or two restaurants in the whole country with Italian vegans. It is a rare option. Our cuisine is very authentic — first of all, because we are Italian — 100%,” said Pietro.

The place is a rare treasure for vegans and non-vegans, as well as anyone with various dietary restrictions. Pietro makes his own egg- and dairy-free pasta, taking inspiration from his mother’s healthy cooking.

A look at Civico 1845 from the outside. Photo by Cassia Pollock.

“Authentic Italian food is very healthy,” Pietro said. “Our mom raised us with always healthy foods like beans, vegetables, seafood. We only ate cheese once a week.

Pietro says they import all of their important ingredients from Italy, including salt, olive oil and wine.

“There is no compromise. We use Italian recipes and it’s very healthy,” noted Pietro proudly.

Altogether, Civico 1845 offers a happy and inclusive dining experience for all of San Diego that caters to a wide range of dietary needs. The biggest challenge foodies and vegans will face at this Italian restaurant is to limit themselves to a few dishes, when there are too many delicious dishes to choose from.