Conjuring up nostalgia for California and the best, upscale restaurant of my youth, I often look back on the many memories I’ve had here, before I moved to New York and went from taking visitors to this old haunt to being the visitor anxiously awaiting a window seat and salivating over the foggy views.
It’s a beautiful, clear day and for once the fog isn’t clamoring to be noticed on this particular San Francisco afternoon. I walked the few, gritty blocks past numerous taco stops and pawn shops admiring how little looks different to me. It seems all I ever hear about is how much the city has changed since I left. Nostalgic-gawking aside, I had a mission in The Mission: to find, consume, and document a popular, breakfast-themed muffin.
The second I walked into Craftsman & Wolves, I felt out of place in my colorful scarf and work-appropriate pencil skirt—it's a hipster haven. Even though the windows were open letting the bright sun in, the small dark space felt like a loft. Housing a couple rows of communal benches, a trove of “found” coffee cups each mismatched, and every patron and counter-person was sporting a black beanie as if it were a requirement to get in the door. After throwing my unhip shame away as quickly as it materialized, I gaped at the brioche loaves covered in strawberry powder and the almond joy eclairs behind the glass until I spotted it. Sitting small and unassuming on a wooden plank was a muffin much less opulent than the pastries and cakes surrounding it.
The Rebel Within is everything you didn’t know you needed in a compact, morning muffin but completely redefined -- unrecognizable from the rubbery, bland Egg McMuffins of my youth. Once I ordered ‘The Rebel’ not trying to hide my huge, hungry grin, the girl behind the counter grabbed it with a pair of tongs and shoved my prize into the oven to warm through as she rang me up.
Within minutes, a beautiful, bloated sausage muffin with Asiago cheese and green onions sat in front of me alongside a tiny vial of Tabasco-flavored salt. If I hadn’t already known what delicious treasure lurked inside, it would have sounded good enough as is. However, upon first cut, a soft cooked egg oozed a flood of warm yolk onto my plate. Although it is still only a muffin, The Rebel Within is not the type of quick breakfast many would opt to consume in a car or on the run; the messy afterglow requires it to be a series of bites worthy of sitting down to savor.
On the way back towards the train, I accidentally walked through an active movie set and not half a block later was yelled at by a homeless man in gibberish and I smiled. As comforting as my Rebel was to eat, it heightened the feeling of comfort that San Francisco always provides me, no matter how many storefronts change their names.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of custard-filled doughnuts, jam-packed pastries, and sweet cheese-stuffed croissants. During rare childhood trips to Tan’s Donuts after church, I often chose a treat based on the amount of oozing and not the number of sprinkles. When it comes to sweets, any drive to eat daintily is swiftly banished from my thoughts.
On a work trip to San Francisco, I indulged in a famous, Beard Papa cream puff one morning as a silly, saccharine reward for a long week. Beard Papa is a popular, Japanese bakery chain that has been scattering its locations across the United States to the thankful grins of pastry cream lovers everywhere. Their bright yellow shops with blue lettering and the cartoon face of a friendly, beanie-wearing, bearded old man beckon you inside the small shop.
After you scan the limited menu and choose your puff destiny, you stand with your fellow patrons watch eagerly while large, airy, golden shells are filled in front of you by hand. Each puff is gently pumped full with a cold mixture of vanilla pastry cream and whipped cream (or chocolate, coffee, or caramel flavors available the day I visited).
Finally, your puff is dusted liberally with powdered sugar before being handed over gently in a wax paper bag. The presentation alone dares you to dive into your powdered puff with childlike glee, but I resisted. As I walked out into the bright sunlight looking for a place to sit in the courtyard, I held the Beard Papa bag between my palms like a delicate orb of glass that I dared not break.