Trekked over the Bay Bridge last week (that $4 toll, about to be $6, is gonna be the bank-account-death of me) and visited North Beach. The Coit Tower greeted me with open arms on this sparkly, cloudless, "summer" day. Hellooooo San Francisco!!!! Thank you for clearing up for five minutes. Appreciate it.
This particular trip was centered around getting my ass to Liguria Bakery before it closed. Why? Cause they shut down at 2pm OR whenever they run out of their focaccias. And from what I hear, they are known to sell out well before 2pm. What? Just for focaccia? For real?
Yes. For real. All for the love of the Limited Edition!
Nestled in the heart of North Beach, Liguria is right down the street from Tony's Pizzeria, and is in a heavily touristy area of the neighborhood. I showed up at 1pm, finally found a parking spot (nightmare), and practically ran over to the bakery. I got there and the door was unlocked. Hooray!
I walked in and the ladies behind the counter stopped their chatter. They, and a few friends sitting in chairs (probably their chairs) stared at me blankly. I was a foreigner who had just dared to step into their secret clubhouse. I was interrupting.
This reminded me of the same sort of treatment I got when walking into shops in Sicily, or small towns in Italy in general. It scares the hell out of me, but at the same time, I kinda love the silent, intimidating abuse.
I tried my best to act like I knew what I was doing. HA! I asked if they had any focaccias left. She said she only had garlic and pizza and raisin. I was more than a little bit scared of this lady, and had no time to calculate. Without hesitation, I said I would take all three. She said, 'Well, that makes it easy," and gave me a smile.
But where were the focaccias? They weren't lined up anywhere in the front. She walked into the dark dungeons of the back.
And she came out with these three HUGE PIECES of focaccia. No joke, the size of your head. Wait, no-- BIGGER than your head.
She stacked one on top of the other, masterfully wrapped them up in parchment paper, and tied it with a single piece of string. If this isn't old-school La Mamma Italiana style, I don't know what is.
The space is so super sparse, that it was almost as though they were getting ready to move out. Oh, but they've been here, in this exact spot, for nearly ONE HUNDRED YEARS, and they ain't going anywhere. The Bay Area needs its focaccieria, damn it!
Paper and string wrapping station.
The Menu. Yup, only focaccias here. It's a FOCACCIERIA! And cash only, foolios.
The lady and I are practically friends at this point (ok, not really, but she is nice to me), and I asked her how early they started making the focaccias. She said 1am on weekdays, 3am on weekends. Whoa. She said that the amount of focaccias they actually produce fluctuates day-to-day according to how many orders they have in, etc. Sounds pretty unpredictable, hence, closing time is never never static.
Alright, on to the focaccias. I brought them over to Yoko's where we were having a little potluck for a childhood friend of ours who was in town. I didn't feel like cooking, so this was the perfect thing to bring. There were large grease spots seeping through the paper. YES!
We put them in the oven to heat up. The entire house began to smell like garlic and bread!
Seriously, we all loved this and couldn't get enough. The consistency of the bread is unreal: it's at first crispy, then your teeth just sort of sink into a dense oblivion, and the flavors come out more as you chew. It tasted of freshly pressed olives and whatever sprinkling came on top.
My favorite was the raisin. The bursts of sweet grape were like rays of sunshine. The bread itself isn't sweet at all, so it's just a fantastic, simple combination of bread, olive oil, and raisins.
The pizza was unlike a usual pizza-- much lighter and cheeseless. It was awesome.
The origins of focaccia is very muddled according to Wiki (Roman? Etruscan?), but in reading this great article on Liguria Bakery, the founders emigrated from Genova in the beginning of the century. The focaccia is well-associated with "Ligurian" cuisine in Italy, where the region's capital is the port town of Genova.
The bakery is now still family-owned, run by the founder's grandson. It certainly has maintained its old-school Italy vibe, which I loved very much-- this is about as "historical" as it gets, around these parts. Same location for 100 years!
So now we know-- when in North Beach, visit Liguria. Take a deep breath, walk inside with confidence, and make small talk with the ladies like you're a part of the club. And get there before noon, just to be on the safe side.
1700 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA