FOOD

Where ghosts, gold & hipster coffee collide

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After 17 years spent living in San Francisco, I still find tiny slivers of pure paradise tucked around corners and nestled between buildings, just waiting to be discovered. This week found me uncovering one of these hidden gems in one of my very, very favorite slices of the city. I’ve always known it as the “antique district,” though technically it’s the “Jackson Square Historic District.” It’s part nostalgia for me recalling a previous life spent doing some work in this part of town and partially appeals to my personal aesthetic.  Jackson Square is rich in history, coming to life during the Gold and Silver eras in San Francisco.  It retains most original buildings of the 1850s and 1860s and immediately transports one back to that time for a moment.

Mr. City Mouse recently opened office space in the antique district and I was lucky enough to join him for a coffee one morning. Truth be told, the uber-hipster coffee options are plentiful in this neighborhood. And he literally went down a quick list, debating options, “…the organic café is pretty great or the coffee truck always has amazing coffee…wait!  I know exactly where we should go….” And he led me down a street, around a corner and then abruptly, turned in the middle of the block and walked me through a wrought iron gate spanning two brick buildings. What appeared before me, made my skin tingle. It reminded me of Europe. It was hidden. It was intimate. It was old and new all at once and was ringed on all sides by small office spaces, housing start ups and funds and firms. There was a quiet, almost silent, desperately throbbing energy to the space.  This was Jackson Place and the home of the Jackson Place Cafe.

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It’s billed as …”one of San Francisco’s best kept secrets.”  And I would agree.  It’s idyllic. While sipping a piping hot espresso, one is shadowed by wrought iron railings and twinkly lights. The bricks, climb high above the trees, chipped and uneven, beautiful in their asymmetry with grays and burnt orange, faded to almost white in places.  Flickering gas lamps strain to cast their glow amidst the bright sky, which filters down through the towering buildings.  Strangely, the city ambience largely dissipates in this oasis and one is left listening to a soft music soundtrack of I’m sure, whatever Pandora station was chosen to set the mood by the barista. On my visit it sounded like the selected station may have been “John Mellencamp.”

20150417_092922_resizedIt’s here that one can grab a specialty coffee, made with care at the window. The Jackson Square cafe serves a limited menu of coffees, breakfast and lunches to go: High in quality.  Artisanal.  Expensive. Delicious.

20150417_092005_resizedI do love history and sitting in the plaza, I could almost feel the energy of a long-lost century and evoke a vision.  If only these bricks could whisper their secrets from the past…. I’ve got to think that the energy and pulsating drive of the Gold rush pushes up and through the toes of those now innovating in industry within these walls. The ghosts wander about here, I’m sure, in their tattered clothes and bottomless shoes abandoning boats and salty oceans for dusty hills, under a blazing California sky, searching for sparkle among the rock.  And now I’ve discovered this, too: a bit of brilliance hidden among the concrete.

A few fun facts about the Jackson Square Historic District:

-It’s one of the oldest commercial districts in San Francisco

-It retains almost all original commercial buildings from the 1850s and 1860s

-It recalls the Gold and Silver era

-The waterline previously bordered this district and it partially sits on landfill

-Some of that landfill is made up a hulls of ships, abandoned in the rush to the Gold county

-Now it’s home to interior designers, law firms, creative agencies and architects, to name a few and has undergone a bit of a renaissance of late

I’m very much personally inspired by this space and will be making regular pilgrimages here when I want to breathe in the history of the city and enjoy a perfect cup of coffee.  It’s worth a stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.

http://www.jacksonplacecafe.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Square,_San_Francisco

The CPMC “Celebration Dinner.” Aka, my hamburger journey: SIR-MIX-ALOT to Spruce

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I come from a long line of burger and fry fans, on both sides, but particularly on my mom’s side. The genetic code is strong in this area. I fondly recall that nearly every time my brother and I would stay with my grandpa (maternal) for a weekend while my parents were out-of-town, we’d inevitably end up at one of the great Seattle burger, fry and shake establishments. And for my grandpa, I believe, that was his definition of “dining out.”

The places I recall visiting with the most frequency include Burgermaster http://www.burgermaster.biz/, the Seattle classic, Kidd Valley http://www.kiddvalley.com/ and the incomparable, Dick’s http://www.ddir.com/. Dicks: equally enjoyable at 1:00pm and 1:00am, as anyone that went to college anywhere in Seattle knows well. And, for those of you not from Seattle, Dick’s Drive Thru is enshrined for all of eternity in the SIR-MIX-ALOT classic, Posse on Broadway. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/sirmixalot/posseonbroadway.html

“Dick’s is the place where the crew hang out-
the SWASS like to play, and the rich flaunt clout-
posse to the burger stand, so big we walk in two’s-
we’re gettin’ dirty looks, from those other sucka crews-“

Word.

But I digress…..Even with this strong and early training in the art of savoring a delicious burger, hot off the grill, I, truth be told, now see a burger as a pretty good excuse to devour the accompaniments: fries with ketchup and a milk shake or an icy cold diet coke. And, 99% of the time, you’ll find me ordering a veggie burger, in the case that I’m out with folks for “burgers.”

With this declaration comes one exception, The Great Spruce Burger. This is top of mind now, considering  our recent hospital stay.  Let me explain.

At the hospital where we’ve delivered our children, there’s a very nice tradition wherein you are provided a “celebration dinner” on your last night’s stay at the hospital for both you and your spouse. They provide linens, and from a special menu provided, you choose your meal. The idea is that you and your spouse, enjoy a memorable last night in the hospital with your new, little offspring before journeying home the next morning. Again, it’s a sweet and personal gesture and one in which they take great pride.

A few weeks before we were due with #1, I met a friend of a friend and had an off-chance, random conversation with her at a barbecue. She passed along one of the best pieces of baby advice that I had been given at the time and to this day have ever been given. “Don’t order the celebration dinner,” she whispered conciliatory. “We ordered the steak dinner with our first and it was what you imagined, Hospital Steak. In fact, my husband wasn’t even sure if was beef.” I grimaced. I’m a bit skittish about ANY suspect meat and if given the choice would become a full-fledged vegetarian versus having to face down any slightly suspect meat product on a regular basis. She then shared her secret. “Instead, we ordered take-out burgers and fries from Spruce!”

Immediately, I grasped the brilliance of this concept.  At that point, I didn’t even realize you could order any take-out from Spruce, admittedly, a high-end eatery.

As background, Spruce is a Presidio Heights establishment which has earned a Michelin star, hosts famous clientele (we saw Robin Williams on our first outing, RIP) and is definitely in a category of fine dining or special occasion. With that being said, the bar, although swanky, is replete with tasty nibbles, at a lower price point, perfect for a weeknight date-night (including said burger).

And so, when our #1 was born, we politely declined the celebration dinner at the hospital. This was admittedly and unfortunately, a little awkward since the nurses do make such a big deal of it, starting from about the time your little bundle pops out. “Don’t forget the celebration dinner(!!),” we heard over and over.

Once, we politely bowed out of the dinner, our plan was in place. My husband strode in with champagne and our Spruce burgers and fries and we thoroughly enjoyed a gratifying and savory treat after what had been a frenetic few days of labor and delivery.

So, what makes this meal so memorable? Well, to start, the fries are in another category of fry altogether and the secret, we found out, upon inquiring, is that they are fried in….. duck fat! This may not sound obviously appealing; believe me. It is. Perfectly crunchy on the outside and pillowy on the inside, it imparts such a deliciously fried flavor that you really don’t need sauce of any kind to top it off.

The burger is served on a self-described “English muffin” which it really isn’t. At least it doesn’t resemble the variety that I’m used to slinging out regularly with peanut butter and honey to my little crew at home. Instead, it’s some sort of crispy, buttery flaky goodness that holds the impressively seasoned and thick patty of beef together. Served with homemade, perfectly cured and thinly sliced pickles, special sauce, slices of thick tomato, onion and picked red onions, the burger is left open for you to determine which combo of toppings to add at your heart’s content. It goes without saying, this is not a light meal. However, after a protracted delivery process and with a couple of sleep deprived nights already under your belt, it really hits the spot.

And so, for us, this has become the new tradition. With #2, we, again, danced around the celebration dinner with hospital staff and ordered our Spruce Burgers. And it was repeated a third time with our newest addition a few weeks ago.

So, for any of you that may be having children now or in the future, somewhere around the North part of the city, you may want to consider crafting your own “celebration dinner” from the menu at Spruce or any of the number of other great local take-out spots. It may be more of the celebration that you’re looking for, or just a way to craft a sweet and personal memory of what is a very special time with your new little family.

Until next time,

The City Mouse

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