San Francisco is a brunch town through and through. And I'm always down for a nice eggs benedict or a stack of blueberry pancakes. But everyday can't be Sunday. Most of us have day jobs and can't lounge around cafes late into the afternoon hours. So here are a few of my favorite spots for quick, creative, inspiring breakfasts around the city. One is a bit gluttonous, the other earnestly healthy, and the last sloppy but satisfying. So while dining trends will always come and go, breakfast is staying put. Sometimes mom knew what she was talking about: it is the most important meal of the day.
The Good: Fraîche
I first stumbled across Fraîche while wandering around downtown Palo Alto. This was around the same time when frozen yogurt shops were opening on (seemingly) every street corner in San Francisco, and I’ll admit, I was one of the people in those long lines. But if you're like me, you're a little burned out on the tart treat and the neon décor. Fraîche is different. Trust me. The frozen yogurt has more of a creamy, subtly tart flavor than other competitors, they use organic Clover milk, and owner Patama Gur spent a long time perfecting her special blend of probiotic cultures--and it shows.
In addition to frozen yogurt, Fraîche also does a thick, housemade unfrozen 2% yogurt. When I first visited the shop on Fillmore recently, I ordered the frozen yogurt with pureed apricots and my friend opted for the unfrozen version with raspberries and peaches. I have to say, I had entrée envy. While mine was delicious, the unfrozen yogurt is unlike anything I've ever had. Think Greek yogurt on steroids. As we were leaving, I noticed the breakfast menu and their early morning hours, and vowed to come back for a quick and healthy breakfast before work.
You can get breakfast to eat-in or take-out. The menu is simple and centered around the unfrozen yogurt, fresh fruits, housemade granola, and steel-cut oats. I tried the Toasted Nut and Berry Sundae: yogurt with fresh berries, housemade granola, toasted almonds, and local wildflower honey ($5.50). The nice guy constructing my lovely "sundae" mentioned that the SF Chronicle Special has been the most popular, with steel-cut oatmeal and a choice of fresh yogurt and fruit and nut toppings ($5.95). And these aren't your average toppings. From bright pureed fruits and local honeys to shaved Callebaut chocolate to-order, the toppings are as conscious as the yogurt itself.
So after finishing the Nike Marathon recently and being told by many friends that I’d have to try and taper my ravenous appetite to account for the decrease in physical activity, I've tried to opt for breakfasts that don't include numerous pieces of toast or stacks of pancakes. And for that, Fraîche is here for me. With a cup of Blue Bottle coffee (they start serving the premium coffee next week) and a seat at one of the sleek wooden tables, experience morning the way it should be experienced: simple and thoughtful.
1910 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 7am-11 pm; Fri. 7am-12am;
Sat. 8:30am-12am; Sun. 8:30am-11pm
The "Bad": Dynamo Donuts
Nestled amongst the Mexican grocery stores and panaderia's on 24th St., sits Sara Spearin’s sweet little donut shop. It’s "bad" in the best possible way. There are a few critics who scoff at charging $3 for one donut. But the truth is, I'd pay $3 over and over for what Spearin and crew are doing in the Dynamo kitchen. It’s something that San Francisco has yet to see--an artisan, organic, awesome donut.
Before getting to the donuts, a quick aside: I was a vegetarian for almost fifteen years. About a year ago now, I started eating meat again. Once I decided to go for the gusto, something strange happened: I couldn't get enough bacon. And this was certainly fine timing, as bacon has become rather trendy in the last year or so. From bacon potato chips to bacon chocolate confections, it seems like the much-loved pork product is everywhere these days. So while I understand many folks are over the bacon-in-everything trend, I'm still on a bacon high.
I had my first bacon maple donut at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Or. I thought they were pretty good: the donut was light and airy (albeit quite large), the maple glaze rocked, and they put strips of real bacon on top. The bacon itself was a little weird and greasy, but I figured all bacon donuts were that way. Then, a few weeks ago, I went to Dynamo for the first time. Now I know: all bacon maple donuts are not created equal.
While it looks like a simple donut window from the street, there is an entrance leading to a huge open kitchen and a quaint seating area where couples sit with steaming cups of Four Barrel coffee and a donut or two. The buzz from the open kitchen is infectious: five women with cute vintage aprons are busily pumping out donuts while laughing and telling stories. They seem genuinely psyched to be there--and it shows in the product. The donuts themselves are special. For the most part, they’re cakey and have a bit of heft (think old-fashioned donuts of your childhood). I tried the chocolate saffron, which has a very light hint of citrus and a subtle warmth from the saffron. Next I moved on to the caramel del sel, flavored with nutmeg and topped with a caramel glaze and fleur de sel. Then I picked up a few of the apple bacon maple donuts to bring in to work. Unlike the one at Voodoo, the bacon was in small bits sprinkled on top of the donut and wasn’t at all greasy. And the little bits of apple are actually sautéed in bacon fat, resulting in a fabulous salty and sweet flavor. It really is the perfect donut. So with a motto of "EVERYDAY is bacon donut day!" there's not a place I'd rather frequent more at the moment. And even if you’re not a recovering vegetarian with a constant hankering for salty meats, there are many other well-crafted donuts to choose from.
The Ugly: Hazel's Kitchen
Hazel's Kitchen is very Potrero Hill. For those of you familiar with the neighborhood, I know you feel me. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, they do a lot of things right, but one of them isn’t necessarily speedy or efficient customer service. It's laid back, it’s independent, and they scoff a little if you try to pay with a credit card. Much like Farley's Coffee next door, I often get blank stares or confused looks when I ask a simple question.
But Hazel's is much loved as a little neighborhood lunch counter with great sandwiches and soups. And that they are. While they’re generally booming at lunch, not as many folks know that they do a really great breakfast burrito. Now I know some of you may be ready to stop reading right about now. I know--I get it. I have a strained relationship with the breakfast burrito as well. Sometimes they're not hot all the way through; sometimes they're soggy. There's nothing like cold, watery eggs to get you going in the morning. But Hazel's burritos are none of those things.
What Hazel's burritos are--the thing that places them in the ugly category--is deliciously messy. It's not a good choice for eating while walking to work or chowing down in the car. You must sit down with a stack of napkins (and a fork would be preferable) to enjoy a Hazels' breakfast burrito. Messiness aside, the nice thing about Hazel’s is the simplicity. The breakfast burrito has eggs, cheese, avocado, salsa and a choice of chorizo, ham, bacon or tofu ($6.95). The ratio of ingredients is perfect: not too much cheese or salsa--where many breakfast burritos fail. And I'm not sure how they get the burrito so delightfully hot without losing the integrity of the avocado, but after seventeen years in business, they obviously know what they’re doing.
Can you find a cheaper breakfast burrito over in the Mission? Sure. Can you find a more authentic, Mexican breakfast burrito? Absolutely. But I can't guarantee that it won’t be soggy, hot all the way through, or busting with fresh ingredients. You just can't help but fall a little bit in love with Hazel's pastel, vintage kitsch and the messy morning madness of the breakfast burrito. Dig in.
1319 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 8 am-4 pm; Sun. 8:30 am-4 pm
Featured Recipe: Fraîche's Spiced Yogurt Muffin
Owner Patama Gur says they bake these muffins each morning as they really typify what Fraîche does: provide customers healthy, delicious that don't sacrifice on taste. These muffins were developed for Fraîche by Batter Bakery, and use Fraîche's low-fat unfrozen yogurt and applesauce instead of a lot of butter and oils to create an amazing treat that is less than 100 calories.
2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cloves
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ cups. yogurt, room temperature
4 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla
(For the topping: 2 Tbsp. sugar + ¼ tsp. nutmeg)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Line 8 large or 14 to 16 standard muffin pans with paper muffin cups.
3. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.
4. In another small bowl, whisk eggs, yogurt, butter, applesauce, and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and mix together until just combined.
5. Scoop evenly into muffin cups and sprinkle with sugar nutmeg mixture.
6. Bake 18-20 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
Makes: 8 large or 14 standard-sized muffins