A Thank You Note to a Mug of Love

More than Just a Mug

To you, dear Arbor Vitae mug, I say:

Thank you. Thank you for being the physical icon all these years representing that unforgettable senior year, proving that there is love, good people and good heart everywhere, regardless of how alone you are. It was 1999 and I moved for the fourth time in four years, putting me in a suburban High School of 1200+ knowing no one. The few friends I made at school were, well, awful. My pseudo boyfriend was a total pot-head, and my pseudo good girlfriend was too. I think they probably slept together also, although I didn’t feel the need to know that at the time. Long story short, I was incredibly disengaged, depressed, and hated every moment of school that year. So, I did what any lonely, closeted-queer, foodie would do: I got a job at the one local coffee house.
Arbor Vitae Java & Juice, on the Riverwalk, in Downtown Naperville.

Naperville is a fairly average, wealthy, suburban community. The crime-rate is low, the golf-club is packed and there’s a quaint “downtown district.” Arbor Vitae was located in such place.

I can’t decide what was more of a magnet, the coffee-gelato shakes they sold or the rainbow sticker in the window — both being unique to Naperville. I applied for the barista job and got it a week later.

What happened over the next 10 months saved me in more ways than one. I worked with a very kind boy, whom I later asked to my senior prom. We dated for a few weeks until I carelessly threw myself at the hot straight girl who we also worked with (sidenote: takes a long time to learn that lesson). I also got my first punch on my fag-hag card. The mid-thirties blonde gay boy we worked with took me to a Donna Summer concert in a gorgeous park and we drank boxed wine on our blanket. It was so fabulous. The Arbor Vitae staff was a motley crew of suburban outcasts that took care of each other and thank god they took me into their tribe.

The current status of Arbor Vitae can be summed up to this: fuck the suburbanites’ appetite for Starbucks. Yes, Arbor Vitae couldn’t compete with its corporate neighbor and closed approximately two years ago. My heart sank when I heard the news. I wrote the owners a letter, similar to this one now, sharing how much the place meant to me. I got no response, but am proud to say the mug and its fractured handle has been with me ever since.

Cafe St. Jorge: Nicest in the Mission

Super BagelSignStumptown

 

 

 

 

 

First off, yay, Cafe St. Jorge has Stumptown Coffee! A beloved Portland (and New York and Los Angeles) favorite. That’s definitely what tipped me off to this place being legit.

Cafe St. Jorge Pros and LowsNow the other great features of this place:
The food is excellent cafe fare; definitely a great breakfast or lunch option. They’re dubbed ‘Portuguese’ food, although, the menu seems pretty straight-forward American-cafe. I say that knowing full well someone who has actually been to Portugal could call me out. Whatever you call it, I’d love to try nearly everything on their list. I had an awesome smoothie, veggie bagel and my partner had a nice quiche.

Speaking of nice, the staff? Was so nice! Sure, I went there when they were less than a month old; however, it’s hard to imagine any of the girls I dealt with could be rude.

Why not to go there? Do laptoppers or families of 10+ annoy you? The place is pretty big and has free WiFi so both contingents were strongly represented. They have a ‘kids corner’ with toys so obviously market themselves as family friendly and wow, did that memo get out. During my brief 30 minute visit, there were four strollers and I think two separate a family reunions of a dozen each. They took up 90 percent of the seats. When a laptopper walked in the door after them, she promptly turned around and left. I don’t blame her. It’s easy to see both sides of this often urban problem. You need somewhere to go – the group, the lone lady, whoever you are. It’s nice when City businesses realize this and pick a more narrow demographic. I’ve said it before, and I will again. If you do just about anything well in this town, they’ll come. You don’t need to be everything to everyone and Cafe St. Jorge, I think is trying to do that. Perhaps that was just that one Sunday morning. I’d love to go back and hope to again soon.

Drip’d Coffee: Sunset’s Best Coffee Bar

SignagePour OverCounter

 

 

 

 

Drip’d Coffee is a Sunset blessing. The Inner Sunset headquarters, aka, 9th Avenue and Irving Street definitely has coffee options – Starbucks, the Beanery, Martha & Brothers; however until Drip’d opened, there wasn’t a coffee house/cafe that had really good beans (sorry Beanery, I’m just not a fan. I’ve tried your coffee a lot. Same with Martha & Brothers). Nopalito does pour-over from Blue Bottle and Park Chow’s beans are local and delicious (Thanksgiving Coffee, and I’ve gone there a few times just for a cup to-go) but both those options are bit cumbersome if you just want coffee to-go.

Drip'd Coffee Pros and LowsDrip’d does have its challenges – there aren’t any chairs (huge bummer) and it’s inside another retail space that’s a bit unique.You have to walk through a bulk-hygiene product retailer to get to their little counter. How on earth a business survives by offering bulk soap and lotion alone baffles me, but I’m happy to walk through it to get an awesome cup of pour-over Sightglass if I’m around! The guys who own it are super nice and organic Straus Milk only adds to the quality of it all.

Oh, Hi Beautiful Bolinas

I’m attached. There. I said it. And sometimes it happens faster and easier than others. This time, my love is a beach town, population 1,600 (although that number feels like an over estimate of about 1,200).

One of my favorite people took me there (hi, Jen!) for the first time a year or so ago. We’ve gone surfing a few times since, and its simplicity and beauty are a cure-all for many ills. Are there good waves? Not really. Is it warm? Nope. Is the beach pretty? Sure, but pretty rocky. What about food/drink/lodging? Not much of that here either. It’s a tiny beach town. There’s a post office, a hardware store, a natural foods store and the ‘fancy restaurant.’ I think there’s a bar, but last we went, I recall the owners changing hands. The most important place to the appropriate Bolinas experience is 2 Mile Surf Shop. You can get in and out with a board, boots, wetsuit in about 20 minutes for $50. Not too high of a ticket price for an afternoon in the ocean amongst the Northern California landscape. And being about 90 minutes from my front door, the travel cost is super do-able on a City girl like me.

And many afternoons being on a board in the Pacific Ocean is all you need to remember how beautiful life can be, no matter what problems may be waiting for you back on the land.

galette 88: FiDi Cute Crepe Lunch

Four Barrel and applesSimple MessageOutside
galette 88 gets easily classified into the category of, I went there once, I likely never will again, but I liked it enough to blog about.

galette 88 Pros and LowsIt’s only open for a tight lunch shift Monday-Friday in the Financial District and I don’t work there. So, yeah, my crepes and coffee were a distant memory. Nonetheless, if I had the option to lunch there, I would. Often. It’s a lovely cafe with monster windows, Aspen tree trunks, giant benches and top-notch buckwheat crepes of all varieties. Put a mixed green salad and a mug of Four Barrel next to me and you’ve got me nailed. Consider that as close to cafe bliss as you can get. They also rent out their space, which makes excellence sense. The kitchen could handle a pop-up, not to mention the capacity is generous for City size.

Sweet Woodruff: Neighborhood Cafe Perfected

Salad FTWOutsideLolvey Florals
Oh, I miss Sweet Woodruff and I only went once; is that possible? It’s such a charming spot. Perfect for solo, urban dining, for lunch, brunch (weekends) or dinner. The food is top-shelf quality, the people are sweet, the space is small but not a closet and you’re not going to drop half your pay check there. I’d LOVE to go for brunch but can only comment on the dinner. Sweet Woodruff Pros and LowsIt opened right as I was leaving the neighborhood and even though I was broke as ever, heartbroken as could be, I knew it would soften me slightly to go. I had a divine, seasonal little gem salad and lamb stew. I probably got one of their cookies although I have no photo evidence to prove it. If you can – do go, but don’t go with a vegetarian or more than one other. And if you make brunch, brag about it to me so I can live vicariously through it.

Judahlicious: Sunset Vegan Heaven

Raw Vegan FlavorOutsideCounter

 

 

 

 

Judahlicious is very important to me. The Sunset is very important to me. But Judahlicious? Is unforgettable. Not due to the stellar juices, the “heart of darkness” coffee or cashew-based sauces, but because I was there when I received a very important phone call that was another crucial point along my second-life path.

My landlord called me to tell me I got my studio after my divorce. It was a sunny afternoon. I was alone then, like I am now, and like I am when I am often at Judahlicous. There have been many of Sunday mornings at that cafe, sucking down the hot coffee, waiting for my Acai bowl (they’re amazing), reading Twitter, and remembering that I can be here, in this City, in a happy, healthy cafe, with or without a partner. After 12 years with someone, it’s incredibly hopeful and crucial to have these moments. Because of its place on my life-journey, I also love bringing important people here – including my new girlfriend (BIG YAY!). That’s an epic other story, so for now, heartbreak and romance aside, I’ll explain its pros, cons and idiosyncrasies like any good food-blogger should.

Judalicious Pros and LowsSo why should you go to said cafe? Your own healing process will guide you to the right places at the right times, no question, however, even if you’re not in a place of pain, come here for the Acai bowl – I get the Jungle Style raw version. It’s huge, creamy with berry Acai, and super crunchy with spiced house-made granola. Pair that with their strong, deep coffee and you’ll be convinced your hangover can be cured with health-food. The waffle is equally as delicious, as is the Nahbo Taco and Dahnu Wrap.

And why shouldn’t you go? It’s not cheap. Spending more than $20 on a meal there can easily happen. It’s also not big. They don’t have any private tables inside. I’d guess the indoor seating capacity at 14 and once a mom, her stroller and her kids occupy one of the community tables, the space is more or less spoken for. They’re also kind of bad at maintaining anything beyond the counter. The food/drinks are consistently perfect, but they’re often out of coffee, or water, or water cups or numerous other things on the serve-yourself station.

Let’s just say half the time I get my coffee down the street at Trouble. No complaints!

Square Meals Batter Bakery: A Lovely Deli Cafe

BrunchedMenuCoffeeing

 

 

 

 

 

Square Meals and Batter Bakery are a unique venture. They existed independently without a cafe space for before fusing together approximately two years ago to open the space on Polk Street. They’re still separate, (different names, different marketing), but the bottom line is that you can get a lovely meal in a cute space no matter if it’s breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.

Square Meals attempts to capitalize on urbanites’ needs for good quality locally-produced meals but who don’t have the time nor space to make it themselves. They started solely as delivery service and currently push that and their take-out; however, I’ve never used them for such things. My demographic is different. I more often than not seek and enjoy spaces where you can actually (gasp) stay, with or without company. And being a total sugar-carb addict, I’ve followed Batter Bakery and let myself get a cookie from her tiny pick up window down in the Financial District once.

Needless to say, I was elated when this place opened up while I was living in the neighborhood.

Last I checked about a year ago, Russian Hill residents haven’t gotten obsessed with this place nearly as much as say, La Boulange down the street. I can’t imagine why not – it’s awesome. Great coffee (Sightglass), a killer baked-things selection (including cupcakes, scones, granola) and delicious egg-and-vegetable main courses (for brunch). Recommended by me unless you’re with more than two or three people – place isn’t huge – and if you’re hoping to spend less than $15 a person.

Special Xtra: High Brow Coffee Alley

DrippedThe Good KindMenu

Special Xtra is one of a few fine coffee pocket windows this City has. It’s not a pop-up; these things stick around. You can’t go inside; but it doesn’t have wheels either. I like them. Hayes Valley has two (Ritual and Blue Bottle), and Special Xtra has a brother counter on the other side of SoMa, Cento – although they just upgraded their spot a bit. You can walk IN to Cento, although don’t get too cozy; they’re no chairs.

Special Xtra has the bare bones – good Blue Bottle pour over, excellent cold-press coffee, a mean espresso machine (La Marzocco – standard top-quality) and a few cookies from Goodie Goodie. That’s all folks. No flavors. No blenders. No cash accepted. And good luck giving someone directions there if they’re directionally challenged.

Bar Agricole: Awesome in Everything

MenuAmazing LayersGorgeous
Let’s start with the hours of Bar Agricole. Their website, nor Yelp! really cover them accurately. I called and talked to one of them moments ago, so my little ‘Quick Guide’ below should be accurate.

Perhaps you’re now thinking, Really? They’re open at 10a Monday – Saturday? That’s what the guy on the phone said… I remember when the announcement came over the blogs that they were doing a coffee service durning the week. YAY! I thought. Give me any reason at all to hang out in that epic interior and I will. Put a mug of French Press Four Barrel ($2) and shoot me; that’s pretty much as good as gorgeous coffee gets. However; a little thing called reality prevents me from chillaxing amongst the award-winning beauty most days. Oh, yah, it’s that thing called a job and very fortunately I have one (thank God). I’d rather that than the free-time, no question.

So yes; they have Four Barrel coffee and espresso after 10a Monday through Saturday, and of course during their luxurious brunch service on Sundays. If you’re a fancy-food person – book a reservation and go. I’ve been a few times and would recommend their brunch over their dinner any day. And if you drink, all the better. Their cocktails are divine. Dinner? Meh. It’s beautiful, but their menu is tiny as are the portions. Last time I was there for dinner, my pescetarian-best-friend immediately asked the server, “Where’s the rest of it?” She’s sassy, but had a point.

Another Cafe: A Fave Russian Hill Version

Bicycle CoffeeAnother Cafe
Number One: I’m Alive! Sort of. I’m currently suffering through my first cold of 2013. (Side-rant. Wouldn’t that be amazing if I didn’t get sick for the rest of the year?!)

Number Two: I still give a sh*t about coffee in this town!

Now onto this place…

Another Cafe is pretty perfect as far as coffeeshops in the City go. It’s huge, clean, has decent snacks, owned by two super nice guys and is open late. And they have Bicycle Coffee! I have yet to see many, if any, other shops in town use them – it’s an impressive operation, roasting only organic, fair-trade beans, then delivering them to accounts via bicycle. I think I met one of the guys behind the beans while he sampled coffee at Whole Foods. Of course he was nice too – nearly all coffee roasting guys are. Yes, the girls are too; however, for this write up, none are directly involved that I’m aware (maybe one bakes the bagels?).

Anyway, go to Another Cafe, drink good coffee and be merry. I’m working on the latter of the two for sure and if I’m ever on Pine St. and Leavenworth again in the morning, I’ll for sure cover all three.

McEvoy Ranch: Work Getaway Thankful

Let me begin with the obvious. Umm, wow; I haven’t posted a blog in s i x long (very long) months. Why the silence? It’s much too complicated to address at this time. But yes, she has a name. Perhaps at some point I’ll have the heart stamina to publish in some way shape and form the stories upon stories that have reminded me just how crippling love can be.

But until that point, I need to stick to something simple, something familiar, something I know I’m good at: appreciating the hell out of nature and the artisan food industry.

This entry highlights the magic of McEvoy Ranch, a 550-acre ranch of stunning countryside. The ranch’s main trade is producing top-tier olive products, ranging from extra-virgin olive oil to bath products. The estate also is home to some of the most jaw-dropping organic gardens, greenhouses, and villas I’ve come across. Oh, and, yah, that bright red piano in one of the meeting rooms? Was Elton John’s.

What on earth was I doing there this time yesterday? My beloved-employer, Chronicle Books, a community of people I grow to love more and more, is owned by the McEvoys, and thus, we had the lovely opportunity to have our work retreat there. The day was spent dreaming big, eating too many carbs, soaking up the pristine surroundings, and saying a lot of ‘wows.’

The take-away? While my personal life can surely get complicated at times, the serene beauty of the trees, paired with a re-newed commitment to do my job as best I can, are two simple truths I was meant to remember.

 

Cheers to You, Sutro Tower

 

 

 

 

If this City hasn’t been dubbed the ‘City of Views’ by now, it should be. And I can take the credit.

They’re everywhere – hard to avoid, really. Even on my fairly-flat MUNI ride in and out of the Sunset, they pop up – little windows into perspective – allowing you, the viewer to look inside yourself a little more by absorbing the City scape around you.

And the Sutro Tower is one of our SF’s best. The radio tower ejects out of Twin Peaks, giving the residents a friendly iconic touchstone, often orientating yourself to the rest of the landscape. While living in the Tenderloin, I grew used to the view west, seeing its silhouette at sunset often. Now it it’s due east and I often see its top half engulfed in the Sunset’s romantic fog.

I have yet to actually touch the tower, one of my many to-dos to check off someday, but I have made my way up to Twin Peaks a few times. I recently rented a car and shuttled a best friend up there. Luckily the day was clear and the City sprawled out of the car’s windows just as I’d hoped.

Some of Many Neighborhood Hidden Stairs

When driving up there you can’t park – likely a good thing, since it’d just end up clogged with cars but it does mean you have to be a bit more savvy at planning your view stops.

If walking – there are a few bus routes that get you close enough (here’s Yelp‘s help for that) and you get to snake through the Upper Market/Noe neighborhood on the way down.

Overall, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

And as a bonus, here are some lovely time-lapse videos celebrating the tower’s iconic beauty. Enjoy!