My father just visited and it reminded me of a post I’ve been pondering for a while. This one is completely dedicated to him and the [very pleasant] childhood memories I have of his influence on my eating habits. Dad, I will always be proud to credit your for my joyous propensity to eat shit.
I grew up in a restaurant family. My grandparents and their siblings, my parents and extended family were mostly in the business. I was surrounded by food all of the time. In New Jersey in the 70s there wasn’t much more than diners, greasy spoons, coffee shops and luncheonettes. One could debate the actual classifications of our restaurants (as my father and I did this weekend) but they’re all really just variations on similar themes.
We’re talking breakfasts of bacon, eggs, pancakes, sausages, hash browns, omelets – and, because were close to Philly, scrapple and creamed-chipped-beef. For lunch it was soups, sandwiches with house-roasted turkey and corned-beef, meatloaf, steak-fries, beef stew, spaghetti & meatballs, pies, ice cream and milkshakes. Needless to say, I wasn’t exposed to many vegetables or healthy meals in my youth.
The other factor that influenced my love of all-things-crap was growing up at the Jersey shore. The staple of our diet was the sub (please don’t call it a hoagie, grinder or other such abomination). We ate subs. Serious subs. The “regular” or “italian” sub was a concoction of assorted deli meats, including mortadella, salami, ham, capicola and provolone cheese – slathered in oil and vinegar and stuffed into a hollowed out Formica Brother’s Roll (it has to be this bread – nothing else will do). There was also great meatball, cheesesteak and tuna versions. A “half-a-sub” was about 12″ – not the healthiest proportions or ingredients. But so fucking good!
The Zolot men are lucky, beyond compare. We are graced with a metabolism that allows us to consume ungodly quantities without gaining an ounce of fat until we hit 40 and even then it’s just plain unfair what we can get away with into our 70s. This leads to many interesting habits formed over a lifetime of indulgence. My son is clearly following in our footsteps as he consumes three breakfasts daily and remains a bean pole. This explains how things go even more awry. But I digress, so back to the tales…
I first started to notice my father’s monstrous appetite at a young age when, at any dinner table, plates would be shifted in his direction at the end of the meal. Anything not consumed by anyone present would be devoured and treasured by this champion eater. He’d laugh and joke as he consumed everything we’d leave behind. There were times where you’d have to protect your plate because he would be eyeing something across the table (before you were finished) that appealed to him, a defense you’d be smart to practice even today in his presence.
I started to come into my own as our family began taking regular trips to Boston to visit relatives. Here, our prized site was Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall. This was the holy grail of food courts in the country at the time. And we would eat our way from end to end. We’d order everything from pizza to sausage and peppers to seafood to bbq and on and on. My goal was to keep up with Dad. It was our bonding moment. We did well. I grew into a champion myself.
Fast forward. I am 43 years old and I still crave the foods of my childhood. So much so that I almost feel like I lead a secret life. Even the people that know me the best don’t quite understand the depth of my compulsion towards these sorts of foods. When I was working a job that required me to travel around all of the neighborhoods in San Francisco to call upon clients, I had a mental map of the places, these special places, that satisfy my deepest cravings. I’d relish the opportunity to visit my most miserable Pacific Heights clients because of the opportunities that bordered me by both north and south. The rare call in the Mission led me into serious naughtiness. Even today, my girlfriend lives just off Polk Street and I can do some serious damage within two blocks…
With all of this buried deep inside me, it is time that I expose my inner-map and share the wonders of shitty eating in our wonderful town. As it is past midnight when I write this, I will start with the obvious. When inspiration brings me to add to the list, I will update. Certainly bookmark if you share my obsession. And if you don’t, please refrain from judgement, as I am merely a product of my genetic disposition and environment. Thanks Dad!
Bob’s Donuts – Since I am sitting a block away and can smell the frying of the apple fritter [in my mind at least] let’s start here. This is old school donuting. Nothing fancy, but seriously good. The above mentioned fritter, the crumb, the buttermilk. Try those first.
Miller’s East Coast Deli – A 1/2 block in the other direction. Here you can do damage with Matzoh Ball soup, latkes and blintzes, but what moves me to post is the breakfast sandwich. A bagel (flown in from NYC), egg and cheese with bacon or ham? Get the eggs fried so the yolks ooze onto the bread. This is the closest you’ll find to the real deal.
The Cheesesteak Shop – This small chain (my outlet is on Divis) brings everything in from Philly. But you have to know how to order. Get the meal deal with steak fries (curly fries are for girls) and make sure to get the extra meat (they tend to be weak on it with a regular order – that’s the big difference in making this authentic). Don’t forget to order TastyKakes for dessert – my favorites being Butterscotch Crimpets (my father too) and Peanut butter KandyCakes.
Lucca Deli – The one in the Marina, not on Valencia. Big difference. Here you get deviled eggs. Crazy good potato salad – I’m serious you MUST try this stuff. Try a mortadella sandwich on acme sweet with imported provolone and olive oil and vinegar. Maybe a side of their meat ravioli (eaten cold with your sandwich).
Molinari Deli – Molinari lacks in the deli case compared to Lucca in my opinion. But not to be outdone they’e got a chicken cutlet that makes me do backflips. I’ll eat them plain, but to really go for it is to get a chicken parm sandwich. Get extra sauce so you can dip. I dare you to grab a cannoli from Stella Pastry up the street. I’m not dicking around here, people.
Gaspare’s – So, while we’re talking chicken parm, there isn’t a better one on the west coast. Or a better lasagna or veal milanese. All of them are heart stoppers. But you also come for the pizza. You knew that. It’s the most satisfying non-neapolitan pie in the city. Order it with pepperoni for sure, but if you’re me, you might add meatballs AND sausage.
Russian Bakery – Did you think you’d leave Geary & 19th (just next door to Gaspare’s) without some treats to take home? How about Russian meat-stuffed donuts, also known as piroshki? They also do them with cheese. Or maybe some blintzes, or pastry of all sorts. I couldn’t tell you the names, but the thing with the poppy seeds and the napoleon-type thing. Sublime.
Flower Market Cafe – You didn’t think there were diners in San Francisco that come close to New Jersey. Well, you’re right. But I do enjoy the [lack of] ambiance and [lack of] charm of the Flower Market cafe. And the food actually isn’t so bad. I come for the corned-beef hash. It’s old school. So not fancy. Smothered in ketchup.
Pork Store Cafe – The most satisfying breakfast for me is at this Mission or Haight eatery. I ignore the entire menu in favor of bacon, eggs and hash browns (yes, real greasy crispy HBs) and a biscuit with a side of sausage gravy. You try this and tell me your day won’t include a nap and a serious bout of deep moral regret. And smiles.
St. Francis Fountain – milkshakes & french fries. Nuff said.
Hamburgers – That’s right, it’s the name of the place. 737 Bridgeway in Sausalito. I will drive across the bridge regularly for these puppies. A rotisserie grill, spinning perfect, unfancy burgers with crinkle-cut french fries. Call your order in ahead. The line can get insane in the summer.
Da’Beef – I love a proper Chicago dog. If you don’t know what this means, you might not get it. For those who do, there are two places I know of to get them. This cart keeps sporadic hours on the corner of 7th and Folsom. It’s worth tracking them down. Their italian beef isn’t bad either.
Moishe’s Pippic – If you want a more regular shot at the Chicago Dog, this Hayes Valley gem does them perfect. Plus you can get a mean Matzoh Ball soup, corned beef, pastrami, chopped liver and brisket (on fridays) sandwich. Plus Abel and Joe and two of the most affable people you’ll meet.
Gorilla BBQ – Drive down to Pacifica so you can eat solid BBQ out of a train caboose. The novelty is fun, but the food isn’t so shabby.
Memphis Minnies – But if you’re looking for decent BBQ in the city, Minnies is my pick. I like the unencumbered meat and their sauce choices. The mac and cheese is respectable.
Ok, you’ve got a great start here. More to come soon, I promise. And show me some love if you like these. I want to hear your favorites.
Arinell is what a New York slice of pizza should be (on Valencia St). It’s greasy, it’s big, it comes with tattoos, meth heads and a ton of funk. And they’ve got a proper slice of Sicilian. That is real east-coast.
McDonalds – I’m gonna go out on a limb here. Piss off some people. But at breakfast time, the unholiest of chains has the deal of deals on a satisfying tidbit. The dollar menu. Hash browns and Sausage McMuffin or Sausage Biscuit $2.17 with tax – yes I know that. There, I said it. I do this sometimes and I’m tired of hiding it. And it’s really fucking satisfying in a way for which I should be locked up. Sue me. Take away my foodie creds. You’re all snobs anyway.
Speaking of satisfying, I have to mention, with no apparent benefit to anyone, that I tried to most amazing breakfast burrito last year at my friend’s annual party in Paso Robles and I cannot wait to have it again this year. The crazy woman who made these put eggs, sausage, crispy hash browns, bits of biscuits and sausage gravy in a burrito. Never had better.
Ketch Joanne – I failed to get enough deep fried action for you. And for that, I’m headed down to Pillar Point Harbor, right where I get my crabs off the boat. Fish and chips, fried shrimp – anything fried is good here, and also clam chowder. Run down, down home, home style – all good.
Tu Lan – Continuing with fried, their fried spring rolls are nom nom times nom nom. Sure, get some ginger chicken or other such nonsense, but a proper Vietnamese spring roll (done with lettuce, noodles, carrots, sweet sauce, mint) is a thing of epic beauty. Plus it’s 6th Street. And if something is going down, it’s going down on 6th Street.