My famished stomach seems to be crying out for one thing only: greasy food and tons of it. One would think that after years of cruising down the foamy highway of malted barley and hops, I would be a seasoned veteran of knowing when to call it a night, but unfortunately I let those last couple pints get the best of me and now I’m paying for it. Zombified, and lacking any proper nutrients to make a conscious decision, I’m in hasty recovery mode, so my wife and I jump in the first cab we manage to flag down and zip over to Boogaloos, our tried-and-true brunch spot. When we get there, I let out a groan when I spot the substantial horde of brunchers circling the joint, but decide to brave the storm knowing that heavenly treats await just beyond those doors. One thing I have learned: If the wait is long, then the food is most definitely worth it.
The crisp winds and ashen skies blanketing the Mission echo how I’m feeling at the moment, and my lack of desire to engage in conversation with friends is constantly being interrupted by a nagging impulse to check that my name hasn’t been scratched off the long list. As one group after the next gets led in, the waiter returns to the list and flips though it casually in an annoying manner that makes me want to throw the clipboard in the street. A surfer-looking guy and his girlfriend make out and grope each other; and as I watch them intently, my stomach starts to churn and I feel as if I want to barf all over them.
After roughly an hour, we’re finally crammed into a booth and I immediately order a Coca-Cola, pounding it the second it hits the table to take the edge off the boisterous chatter and clanging of utensils resonating throughout the place. My whopping plate of soy beef hash and rye toast arrives rather briskly, and as the first few mouthfuls I inhale soak into the depths of my stomach, I realize that my pit stop in hell was indeed a temporary one, and that brunching was just what the doctor ordered.
Brunch had been foreign to me until eight years ago when I relocated from the seedy burbs of Cleveland, Ohio, to beautiful San Francisco. Before I voyaged out West, my early-day dining options were watching truck drivers scarf down all-you-can-eat Grand Slam breakfasts at Denny’s or eating at a mom-and-pop greasy spoon, if I was lucky. For vegetarians who grew up in the Midwest like myself, a breakfast menu can be somewhat depressing, especially if you’re not a fan of eggs. I quickly learned, however, in the bustling epicenter and fine dining establishments such as San Francisco, the sky is the limit, and weekends here are a boon for the brunch-deprived.
There’s a dish and a destination to suit even the fussiest of palates. Long gone are the somber days of staring down at the plates of plain ol’ pancakes, stale waffles or burnt toast, and mediocre diner coffee. If your heart desires, you can mix and match your favorite foods like grilled polenta and apple-smoked bacon, Mexican scramble with tilapia, or even post-breakfast fare like a quarter-pound burger and a beer. For me, I’m fanging for a tasty tofu scramble smothered in a spicy coat of salsa ranchero and topped off with soyrizo, guacamole, and veggies. I’ll also take a heaping mound of savory home fries, an order of veggie sausage links, and a bottomless mimosa to wash it all down, please.
While most of us may take this luxury for granted, keep in mind that some parts of the country are still coming to terms with the concept of brunch. After eight years in San Francisco, I’ve come to learn that brunching is much more about the experience than the actual food. It’s so decadent to roll out of bed in the early afternoon and shovel down a bunch of carbs and protein while knocking back a brew and sharing conversation with friends that you rarely have time to see during the weekday grind.
I decided to further investigate this weekend phenomenon. After a hectic workweek, it’s my reward for making it through the drama. If only every day could start with brunch.
A charming quality I’ve discovered with brunching spots in San Francisco is that they all have their own ambience to offer. Like I said before, try eating at Denny's for 18 years of your life. Coming to San Francisco was like discovering the fountain of youth with its quaint outdoor seating and swanky vibes. Take Zazie for example, a bistro that's nestled in quiet Cole Valley where I had the pleasure of dropping in on a sunny Saturday morning for some of the most delicious French toast I've ever wolfed down.
Upon arrival, I'm greeted by a mob of yuppie types and Marina folk, which heavily deviates from the swarm of hipsters, skaters, metalheads, bicyclists, and Burning Man junkies that pack into Boogaloos’ tight quarters like sardines. There are women in spring dresses rocking strollers back and forth, gabbing about their trips to the wine country; men in polos and khakis talking amongst their pals about who’s going to win the Giants game, and then there’s me: covered in tattoos and wearing a tight pair of pants, trying to feel like I’m just another average joe in the hungry crowd.
I anticipate another long wait, so I trot down to a café to get a lemonade and bran muffin, but by the time I return, the maître d' is yelling out my reservation. My wife and I opt for the outdoor seating and are whisked through the comfy, French bistro-style interior to a patio replete with creeping foliage and just the right amount of shade and sun. We sit at a bench that’s draped with an umbrella canopy, and I can't shake the feeling that I'm in someone's backyard on a summery day. Once our drinks arrive – my wife’s is a currant-flavored mimosa; mine a frosted glass of Anchor Steam – I select the French Toast Tahiti as my main course, which is two slices of challah spread thick with walnut paste and topped with caramelized banana. I also order a bowl of home fries with fat garlic cloves soaked in olive oil. By the time I’m halfway through my meal, I’m already regretting my pre-brunch snack, but am enjoying the calming patio atmosphere.
The girl at the table next to us is cracking on to her friend about how her boyfriend’s alcoholic mother is cool to hang out with only when she’s not drinking. I give my wife a look that says “Wow,” and we both snicker. It seems that the brunching experience gives way to conversation that you would share with your psychologist – where you can catch up on someone’s most private details, whether they should quit their day job or who they went home with the night before. It can be a little too much info at times, but I’ve learned that it comes with the territory, and it all adds to a memorable experience.
Another surprise that I stumbled upon late one morning while trekking through the high hills of the Tendernob is farm:table. It updates its menu daily on Twitter, which I found to be a tad bothersome considering I don’t tweet. I don’t even own a cell phone. I decided to give the place a try because my wife told me she had heard great things about it. Minimalist and a bit snug, farm:table is the size of someone’s living room with one communal table. I can’t seem to find a menu, and then all of a sudden realize that it’s chalked up on the wall, and the person behind the corner is erasing it as I try to read it.
As the portions aren’t huge and the fare tends toward an array of sweet pastries and coffee options, it’s the kind of spot to pop in and grab a light morning bite. My curiosity is leaning toward its signature toast, but I decide to snack on a bowl of homemade cereal with yogurt and a cup of its finest 1950’s French press. We eschew the table inside for the outdoor seating, but by the time we get there, all of the seats have been filled, so we stand and eat and watch the local foot traffic of young college-somethings and transients plod through the neighborhood. After a couple stands up to leave, my wife and I immediately make way for their bench and plop down, even though the table is still littered with remnants of their breakfast.
As I’m sitting there, I’m thinking that it’s weird that the heart of the Tenderloin is just a left turn down the block. Like Boogaloos and Zazie, my experience at farm:table can be summed up in long waits for seating, but quick, effective service.
Yeah, I know I’m jumping on the brunch bandwagon later than most. In fact, some people are so ahead of me that they’ve started the latest craze – brunching backlash. A memorable brunch bashing article that surfaced on Gawker.com described brunch as “a bastard” and “a poisonous freak,” and went on to say that brunching’s “sole appeal comes from its combination of the most fat-laden lunch and breakfast dishes.” My response? Throw in a beer, a couple of friends, and bring it on.
In the mood for some zesty bites after a late start? Boogaloos specializes in classic American breakfast and lunch staples with a south of the border slant. It also has plenty of veggie and vegan options for those who are a little more guarded with their diets. Snazz it up a bit at Zazie with eggs Florentine and a flavored mimosa. A tad pricey, but the hefty portions definitely make up for it. If you’re on the go and looking for a quick bite, farm:table is your place. It’s a great spot to pop in to before work or while on lunch break with daily soup and sandwich specials. So stop hitting snooze, climb out of bed, and start your day.