Back in the late 90's, long before wood ovens and baking school, when I was part of the whole High Tech Internet thing, I attended a conference in the heart of San Francisco, at the luxurious Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. The fanciest hotel in the fanciest neighbourhood in an amazing city. So fancy, in fact, that a bowl of oatmeal in the hotel restaurant cost $21, which was as good an excuse as any to walk around and find something more reasonable to eat. After a few hours of spiralling around Nob Hill, I stumbled across a tiny place that still occupies dear place in my heart all these years later.
Caffe Puccini is an oh so tiny coffee shop in North Beach. Tiny, but with a big heart. Six tables, no more. A display case. Big windows looking out onto the busy, narrow street. And loud, robust opera music playing from the jukebox. I was in heaven.
For the rest of the week, I got up extra early and was out of the Fairmont by 5:30AM. I slowly made my way down the hill, through steamy Chinatown where the grocers processed deliveries right on the sidewalk, past the mystical, magical City Lights bookstore (thank goodness it didn't open for a few more hours or I'd never make it back), alongside Washington Square park where locals did Tai Chi or stretched out before a jog along the bay, to Puccini's. I got there just as they opened and ordered my usual combo. A small latte and a bear claw. Then I'd sit by the window, listen to Pavorotti, watch the neighbourhood wake up and dream about living there.
North Beach is only a 20 minute walk from Nob Hill, but at the same time it's an entire world away. Nob Hill is about Big Money. Old Money. Money, Money, Money. $20 oatmeal and million dollar deals. The Crocker Bank and Wells Fargo. North Beach is about tiny coffee shops, art shows in the park, controversial books and subversive ideas. And (to me, at least) Bear Claws.
A Bear Claw in the morning is a magical thing. Paired with espresso, it's transcendental. Light, flaky croissant dough with almond cream baked in the middle and sliced almonds on top. Dusted in icing sugar, as if you wouldn't make enough of a mess with the flaky pastry. Cute little toes that you can pull apart to share or just gnaw off one at a time. Here in the land of Tim Hortons you can forget that pastries don't have to be heavy. They can be light and flaky and airy but packed full of flavour. You can go for a walk after eating one, not for a nap. And in the beauty of San Francisco in November, a Bear Claw and latte is perfection.
For years now, people have asked me "so when did you know you wanted to open a bakery?" I've never really had a good answer. I can't seem to remember an exact time or place. I certainly can't remember what got me started on this sourdough bread adventure. But the more I think about it, I'm sure those mornings at Puccini's was where a very, very early seed was planted. Sitting by the window, watching the locals come in for a paper and a coffee, squeezing every last second of joy out of the morning before hiking back up the hills to the Fairmont and the first speaker of the day. I have no idea what the conference was about any more, but ever since I wanted to share the happiness I felt at Puccini's with my friends in Regina.
So you can imagine how exciting it is to tell you that at Orange Boot Bakery, we now offer a range of fresh baked, hand made, real butter croissants and danishes every morning. Including, of course, Bear Claws. Light, flaky, buttery and every bit as tasty as I remember from my time in San Francisco. I really think you're going to like them.
Photo of Puccini's by Craig Lee