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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Golden Coffee Shop

First of all, in my fantasy I'm rich.

In most people's fantasies they're rich, even I suppose in the fantasies of rich people. Nevertheless, I have money. Not a crazy amount. Certainly not so much that I blow it on the obvious trappings of wealth – flashy cars, expensive clothes, first class seating.

Wait. Okay, I'll take first class...because I'll be flying to Europe a lot.

Still, got money, got a nice secluded farmhouse in the country with animals, a greenhouse, a garden, a cement pond, and a large barn that has lots of power tools, a built-in darkroom, and industrial kitchen staging area with walk-in cooler. But I divide my time between town and country, and in town I own a cute little restaurant in which I happily serve my friends and regulars simple, basic, food – usually with a twist, such as real country ham biscuits or Bruce's home-cured, smoked pastrami with my homemade sauerkraut Reuben sandwiches.

I envision that restaurant looking exactly like the Golden Coffee Shop on Leavenworth and Sutter. In fact, that restaurant is the Golden Coffee Shop.

And even though I'd be rich, I wouldn't retouch a ratty stool or posh up a single thing in this place. Don't fix it if it ain't broke, and if it is, that's okay – your customers will appreciate the broke factor just as much as I do. The fixtures and interiors in this place are perfect just the way they are. And if I saw someone even touch those wonderful stools with a redesigning eye, they would come back with a bloody nub for a hand.

But I don't want to mislead you: nothing is broken about the Golden Coffee Shop. This place runs with the utmost efficiency. The service is quicker at the counter than at the tables, but it's all friendly and that counts for a heckuva lot. Actually, most of the service is done at the counter which is one of the few I've seen in San Francisco (other than the one at the Silver Crest) still in that beautiful, classic horseshoe shape. In fact, the counter is really the centerpiece from which all life revolves around in this beautifully preserved coffee shop.

Like most coffee shops, it's only open for breakfast and lunch and closes at 4 PM. I learned that the hard way one night when, after a long walk after work, I discovered that the Golden was closed. Not only Golden, but both Han's - located directly across the street - and the Taylor Street Coffee Shop (all owned and operated by Asian immigrants) were closed. Though I was disapointed, I was pleased to learn that almost all Coffee Shops, with very few exceptions, keep these hours – and that was like solving another piece of the "what is a coffee shop?" puzzle.

The menu at the Golden features the standards for a typical San Francisco Coffee Shop: eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes and waffles, a pancake sandwich (what the hell?), omelets, sandwiches and burgers, and last but not least – Chinese food. In noticing the menu, Bruce pointed out that there were none of the typical, and humorous, misspellings and bizarre word reversals one often sees on Chinese restaurant menus. But then, this place looks like it's had a long time to work out the obvious kinks.

What I like about places like this – these old American coffee shops with a Chinese influence – is that the level of quality the Chinese food is on never really rises above the level of the American food, which is to say good, but never knocking-your-socks-off great.

And really, I may be steering you in the wrong direction when I mention that a coffee shop also serves Chinese food because rarely will you see fried rice and chow mein served like this in China, or so I've read. To be more precise, this is Chinese-American/American food – which is a common trait among so many of these great little coffee shops that it's what led me to do this series in the first place.

I'll have to try the Chinese food later, but for now Bruce and I stuck with the traditional American breakfast – him with an omelet and I with a waffle and sausages.

At first glance, I've had these sausages before; hard, flavorless, and just gross. However, despite appearances these sausages were tender, juicy, and spicy; the only exception is that they could've been a little larger. The waffle wasn't any different than what I've had a million times before in other coffee shops and diners, but in it's own predictable way, that's not such a bad thing. Part of the whole experience and reputation of these culinary institutions depends on reliability. This is, after all, what the masses want, what they've come to expect, and yes, even demand.

Bruce's omelet was the real stand-apart winner here. His avocado, cheese, and onion omelet was "surprisingly good". The eggs were fresh-tasting and, even though it was the mass-produced, pre-sliced block of Jack, the cheese tasted and worked well with the other ingredients. I didn't ask him how his hashbrowns were, but they looked perfect and likely tasted like hashbrowns are suppose to taste – fully cooked, crispy, and with that delicious fried potato flavor.

Okay, the hashbrowns were Golden.

But so was the weather that day, which perfectly matched our experience at this first class coffee shop – one that, hopefully, is a long, long way from it's golden years.



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