You see a line of people at the bank, cringe and remember, “Oh yeah, it’s payday.” You see lines of junior highers at the movie theater and wonder whether maybe this was the time you should have tried out Fandango. But when you regularly see a line spilling out the door of a bakery, you know it’s got to be good.
Tartine bakery in San Francisco is that good. Located at 18th and Guerrero in the Mission District, Tartine is one local joint that regularly sees a line of loyal customers eagerly waiting to buy a loaf of the country bread or sit in for a coffee and croissant.
When I visited Tartine bakery last Sunday afternoon with Marisa, we were lucky to have beaten the dinner crowd. We still had to wait in line, but that gave us time to eye the many pastries in the case. Would it be a frangipane tart, with a glossy almond center and powder sugar-dusted rim? Or a generous slice of coconut cake, big flakes of coconut clinging to the white frosting? Brioche bread pudding with peaches and plums? An éclair? Yes it had to be the éclair. Who could resist a vanilla custard filled pastry painted with a swath of decadent chocolate? Still, there was no stopping at the éclairs: a couple of coconut macaroons would seal the deal.
This was dinner, though, and we knew better than to try to subsist on sweets. The solution: split one of the many pressed sandwiches. With names like Idiazabal & Membrillo and Croque Monsieur (don’t worry-they have descriptions), choosing your entrée can be tough. Good thing Marisa had her eyes set on a spicy turkey sandwich with spinach pesto. Splitting a sandwich and a pastry was a great way to enjoy both Tartine’s sweet and savory offerings. And of course I needed a cappuccino to accompany my coconut macaroon and éclair.
While Tartine is open in the morning, the 5pm release of freshly baked bread reels in a whole new crowd of devotees. We were there an hour early, but the server offered to reserve a loaf of the walnut bread for me to take home.
Marisa snatched a much-coveted table in the crowded room, where customers sit elbow-to-elbow talking, reading and writing while digging into a bowl of Valrhona chocolate pudding or slicing into a wedge of quiche.
Our coconut macaroons made nice appetizers while we waited for our sandwich. The golden crust was not only eye-pleasing but had a nice bite. No sandy texture in these macaroons-just pure coconut goodness.
When the monstrous sandwich arrived we were glad we decided to split it. Its crispy exterior was complemented by melted cheese layered between slices of spicy turkey. The mellow yet complex spinach pesto pulled together the sandwich, creating a flavor extravaganza.
Lastly, the éclair. The pastry shell held its structure with the custard filling and was not at all spongy or soggy as éclairs sometimes tend to be. The filling, pure white except for vanilla flecks, was a far cry from the yellow custard that masquerades as vanilla. Top it off with a liberal cloak of chocolate and you have a lovely finish to any meal.
By the time we had admiring and eating our eclair, the line was out the door, and though we could have stayed longer, it was time to let someone else have our table. I returned to the counter to claim my loaf of walnut bread, still warm in its brown paper bag. We were leaving the bakery but the feasting was to continue.
Wondering how you too can enjoy Tartine? Their website has it all-hours, location, menus and bios of the husband-wife team that run the place.