It’s easy to get spoiled in this city. To have these amazing food days, where every meal is something you can’t get anywhere else. Pick up a maple-bacon apple fritter with your Four Barrel coffee on the way to work. Duck into the alley around the corner to grab a fried chicken po-boy from Little Skillet in Soma for lunch. If you can’t be bothered to cook some of the perfect produce delivered to your door for dinner, well, then call Mission Chinese Food and they’ll bring some sizzling cumin lamb ribs or slow-cooked char siu pork belly to you instead.
And that’s just three options among many. In San Francisco, every meal is an opportunity to have something incredible, something you’ve never had before. And it doesn’t even have to be high-end or high-priced. A slice from Arinell’s, Bahn Mi from Saigon Sandwich. Even an It’s-It can turn an average food day into something outstanding.
That’s why it’s even more shitty when you have a really bad meal. And even worse when it’s brunch.
Brunch is a venerable institution in this city, and for good reason. This being such an indulgent town, there’s no more of an indulgent meal than brunch. It starts late, it’s relaxed, it’s savory and it’s sweet and it’s anything you want. Just let Sunday linger on for a lot longer. The mimosas are bottomless and there’s always bacon for the taking. No one makes excuses for their orders. Have the hollandaise, get another bloody mary. Whatever it takes to shake off Saturday’s hangover and stave off Monday’s arrival. Enjoy yourself, it’s brunch.
It’s Greg’s last weekend in the city. He’s off to Chicago, and because I know I’m not going to see him for awhile, I suggest brunch. We made plans via text message at 2 in the morning. This is our exchange:
I get there on time and walk in to a different brunch scene than I’m used to. There were dreadlocks. There was an earnest DJ dropping phat beatz. There was tribal art. Maybe I’m in the wrong place. Maybe Greg knows something I don’t. It’s his last weekend in the city, his last brunch even. I suck it up and decide to play nice.
I sit down and wait while the very, very nice waitress plies me with water and offers me a menu. I can’t stifle laughing anymore. And I know that if Greg was in fact out drinking last night, there’s no way his hangover is going to be cured with the “durty 30-pulled BBQ seitan” served with “kosha dill pickles” or the “fo sho-Korean pancakes with broccoli, scallions and Kim Chi. Served with vegetable tempura. fo real.” Fo real indeed.
All I can do it wait. Wait for him to get there and to blink first.
He arrives. With friends. Two of whom are genuinely enthusiastic about eating here AGAIN, and another who has just arrived from Brooklyn on Wednesday. This will be his first San Francisco brunch. I am embarrassed for the city.
But again, I’m trying really, really hard to play nice. To be affable and to go along with the crowd. Sure, I might agree too enthusiastically when someone suggests the music might be too loud and yes, I also noticed that there’s no soap in the bathroom but ok, sure, I will have the Jesus, Joseph and Mary “Shiitake and trumpet mushrooms with barley, butternut squash and garlic puree, garlic kale with caramelized shallots, and avocado on homemade flatbread. s’alright”
My waiting for Greg and crew is compounded by more waiting for our food. We take in the crowd, and the crowd gives us a lot to look at. Beyond the expected dreadlocks, there are a whole host of burners and SF hippies in various stages of drapey undress. There’s a pair of jeans so tattered they’re a stiff breeze away from being turned into shorts. There are tribal-inspired turtle tattoos and layers on layers of faded tank tops. It’s not even fun to make fun of them. It’s like shooting tempeh in a barrel.
The waiting continues for almost an hour and a half. I consider running around the corner for a taco. I mean, I very seriously consider this. And then something else happened. I actually began craving the food I had ordered. I was there, wanting barley and yams. I wondered if this was an actual tactic of theirs.
It came. Finally, and as expected, it was as terrible as it sounded. It lacked butter and flavor and bacon and everything that makes brunch good. I assaulted my doughy flatbread for as long as I could until I just gave up, realizing it wasn’t going to make this hunger, the hunger I still had after eating 90% of my meal, go away.
All I wanted to do was not be in there anymore.
After three hours and ingesting no more than 250 calories, I finally escaped. It was odd, because the ostensible point of being all vegan and hippied out is to feel bliss and good all the time, but the only palpable thing I felt (besides hunger) was ire. I was mad I had squandered a good brunch, that Greg’s last one was so bad and his friend’s was such a poor, clichéd introduction to the city.
It was a beautiful San Francisco day, and all I had eyes for in the mission was every good treat it had to offer me. It was like the vegan experience had been a taste-depravation tank and all I wanted to taste was everything. We took off in the direction of Bi-Rite. Determined, focused and hungry.