Friday, May 1, 2009

Dottie's True Blue Cafe, San Francisco CA

The reviews of Dottie’s True Blue Cafe run the gamut – from Overrated, “Lemming,” and Boring to Amazing, Delicious, and Interesting - and everywhere in between. Having experienced a pricey (but worthwhile) dinner the night before at Manresa and staying less than 0.5 miles from Dottie’s I figured what better opportunity to see if the small café lived up to the hype. With an aggressive day’s agenda planned to include a walk from Dottie’s to (and across) the Golden Gate Bridge on this given Friday followed by a drive to Yountville I knew I didn’t want to wait 2 hours in line so a game plan was formulated. Alarm at 5:00, lifting in the gym till 6:30, shower and walk to Dottie’s in order to arrive by 7:15 and ideally get in for the first seating. They say that failing to prepare is preparing to fail and thankfully my plan worked – when I arrived at the small café there was only one other person waiting….less than 30 minutes later when the doors opened there were at least 40 people waiting.

Chatting with people in line was a blast, albeit not as much fun as I had the following day at Brenda’s, and I imagine that during longer lines people are equally friendly. Finally the doors opened and walking in I was immediately impressed by the small/homey appearance of the restaurant – It looked like a 50’s kitchen with a single large stove, huge/ancient fridge, and bar with about 12 tables plus knick-knacks galore. Taking a seat at the bar in order to watch their legendary grill-man’s skills I quickly noted the white-board featuring the daily specials, the black board stating baked goods, and the laminated menu with “the standards.” Already starving from a workout and planning at least a 10 mile walk I knew I could handle a good bit of carbs and planned accordingly – though I admit my plan was a little too aggressive and caught up to me by day’s end.

Servers were awesome and coffee (black with sweetener only by request) was refilled so rapidly I actually had to request he slow down so I could match sweetener with refills. Although very fast paced (turnover is clearly key in a place so busy) the servers were also wonderful in explaining what items could be ordered as half-orders in order to experience the most variety possible. Despite changing my order thrice my server was very patient and even offered to take my picture at the bar when he noted my photographing the food and restaurant. In addition to the great service, the grill man was also excellent in interacting with customers while literally preparing 6 egg dishes, 6 pancakes, an order of French toast, hashed browns, and doling out baked goods at once – amazing.

My first dish was a must the second I saw it on the menu –griddled jalapeno cornbread with pepper preserves. Being from the Midwest – a land where barbeque and southern seem to dominate our regional cuisine - I must admit I’ve had a lot of cornbread and Dottie’s was decidedly the best I’ve had outside of a bacon-fat fried version experienced on a trip to Dallas a few years ago. Buttery and flavorful with just a hint of heat the jelly was remarkable for its sweetness and how it actually peaked the corn in the bread moreso than the jalapeno! Crusty outside, soft inside – great start.

My second dish, just because I love pancakes, was a single whole wheat buttermilk pancakes spiced with ginger and cinnamon. While good, I must admit the cake was a little thin and lacked overall fluffiness (especially compared to Griddle Café in LA and absolutely mind-melting pancake I had the following day at Canteen) but the ginger flavor was sublime and beautifully complimented the REAL (rare, it seems, in California) maple syrup.

Dish three, my “main” I guess you could say, was one of the daily specials – Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread French Toast with Maple Syrup. Imagine the Homer Simpson drooling sound – now imagine me doing that – literally from the point I saw the bread guy cut four thick slices off the loaf of homemade bread, dredge them in cream and eggs, and slap them down on the grill. When delivered the slices were perfectly browned with a chewy/bready “American” French toast interior and crispy exterior – not the custard-esque texture of French/English French Toast – and the incredible punch pumpkin and nutmeg overwhelmed the senses like a crispy pumpkin pie. Mild hints of chocolate chips interspersed added another layer of flavor. Superb – great ingredients and expert grill skills - ::drool sound::

Not overly full but certainly not hungry I decided to end my meal with baked goods to go - as much as I love pumpkin, my love for sweet potatoes is certainly greater and there was no way I was walking out on Sweet Potato Chocolate Coffee Cake – little did I realize that my $4.50 was going to garner me a slice that weighed nearly a pound – or that it was to be covered with cinnamon crème anglaise! Packed carefully in foil my server chuckled and said “I bet you’re not going to eat that for at least a few hours – but do you want a fork?” “Absolutely” I responded and as much as I’d like to pretend I waited a few hours, I can’t – it was about 45 minutes – and the cake was the best part of the meal! Dense yet moist, savory and sweet without being “sugary”, dense chunks of gnache – possibly the best coffee cake I’ve ever tasted. For posterity I finished the second half in the middle of the Bridge.

Having been to some of America’s most famed breakfast joints – The Griddle in LA, Bongo Room in Chicago, Norma’s in NYC, Bouchon and Tableau in Vegas – I can without a doubt say that Dottie’s is not overrated to me. Would I wait 2+ hours for a table – certainly not, but I wouldn’t wait that long anywhere. While pricey I felt Dottie’s food was every bit worth the price and for someone who almost never goes to the same place twice, I’d put Dottie’s on my list for every subsequent trip to San Francisco. With an ever changing menu, fantastic service, a wonderful grill man, and food that absolutely wows my advice is go, and go early.

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