Weir cooking in the neighborhood

Joanne Weir's cooking shows on PBS are filmed in her home kitchen on Pine Street.

Joanne Weir’s cooking shows on PBS are filmed in her home kitchen near Fillmore.

NEIGHBORHOOD CELEBRITY CHEF and cooking teacher Joanne Weir is launching a new public television series — her eighth — focusing on complete menus from fresh, local ingredients. “Joanne Weir Gets Fresh,” like her two most recent series, “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Class” and “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Confidence,” will be filmed partly in the neighborhood.

“Many people don’t realize that kitchen is my home kitchen studio right here in the neighborhood,” she says. “For a few years, I shot in the studio at KQED and, though I liked it, I love being in my own kitchen. When I open a drawer, I know what I’m going to find inside. And if we run out of something, we can always run over to Mollie Stone’s or Whole Foods.”

In the new series, she will also step out of the kitchen to spots in Northern California and beyond searching for fresh ingredients, exploring organic tomato farms and walnut orchards, visiting fig growers and cheese producers — even fishing in Alaska. Using seasonings from Spice Ace, the neighborhood’s spice emporium, the show’s menus will be inspired by the farmers, butchers, fishermen and cheese makers featured along the way.

As in her previous shows, she will be joined in her kitchen by special guests, including several principal dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. For the broadcast schedule, visit her site.

5 Fillmore favorites

OUT & ABOUT | FAITH WHEELER

It comes as no surprise that San Francisco has the most restaurants per capita — about 39.5 per 10,000 households, according to the U.S. census. No other city comes close. New York is fourth.

As a result, we’ve become restaurant news junkies, always trying to keep up with the hottest new places rather than honoring old favorites. Restaurant-going has become as much about fashion as Fillmore’s many boutiques, with diners vying for boasting rights on the reservations they’ve snagged.

As a restaurant consultant for more than 25 years, I am often asked where to eat. First I list all of the newest, toughest reservations. Then I send them to the neighborhood — because strong signature items will always persevere, and we have in our midst some timeless go-to dishes that can easily keep pace with any new arrival.

To that end, here are five of my favorite tastes at local spots. They never disappoint — and are very likely still to be on the menu when you look for them next time.

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Millard’s took Fillmore dining upscale

Behind the counter at Millard's, which had one of Fillmore's first espresso machines.

Behind the counter at Millard’s, which had one of Fillmore’s first espresso machines.

LOCAL HISTORY | THOMAS REYNOLDS

Helen Brackley and Craig Silvestri were just another young neighborhood couple with dreams of starting their own restaurant.

“We both loved to cook,” says Silvestri. “So we just decided we’d open a little place with a limited menu and do crepes.”

But first they had to find a good location. It was a more innocent time — San Francisco in the mid-1970s — so they started sending out letters to different cafes and restaurants asking if the owners might be interested in selling or retiring.

“We looked all over,” Silvestri says, “in different neighborhoods and even up in St. Helena.”

They lived a few doors up Clay Street from Fillmore. One of the people who responded to their letters owned the Hob Nob cafe at 2197 Fillmore, a tiny sliver of a place that for decades was next door to the Clay Theater, which they could see from their front steps.

“The Hob Nob was pretty funky,” Silvestri remembers. “It had been there a long time and was not a very active place.”

The Hob Nob stood for decades by the Clay Theater in a sliver of a space.

Millard’s took over the Hob Nob cafe, which stood for decades next door to the Clay Theater.

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Another meeting place disappears

TULLY’S COFFEE has closed, leaving the corner of Fillmore and Jackson without a coffeehouse for the first time in decades. Filmmaker Erika Tetur chronicles the final days.

Nick’s still got it

Photograph of Nick Nickolas by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Nick Nickolas by Daniel Bahmani

NICK NICKOLAS got his first restaurant job in Oakland in 1955 at a very fine restaurant called Villa de la Paix. He went on to a six-decade career in which he opened more than 30 restaurants nationwide — most notably his Nick’s Fishmarkets in Honolulu, Beverly Hills, Chicago, Miami and other cities. Then he came home to the Bay Area and retired.

Or so he thought.

“So I’m back in the Bay Area,” says Nickolas, “and my nephew asks me to come over and take a look at his operation,” Dino & Santino’s, the neighborhood pizza joint at Fillmore and California owned by longtime local Dino Stavrakikis. “Before I realize it, three years have passed and I’m still coming over.”

Uncle Nick, as he’s become known to Dino’s regulars, has brought a touch of the big-time to the neighborhood, with his flashy clothes, toothy smile and smooth manner.

“Sometimes you can’t get enough of this business,” he says. “When it becomes a big part of your life it’s no longer work, but a way for you to express a love of hospitality.”

Family-friendly Dino’s is a considerable contrast to the high-flying restaurants Nickolas ran for most of his career.

“My restaurants were mainly white tablecloth with tuxedoed waiters — fancy and expensive,” he says. “But price doesn’t change hospitality. If you spend $10 or $10,000, the hospitality should not change.”

Dino was already in the process of remodeling and upgrading his corner spot at the heart of the neighborhood, and his Uncle Nick helped him up his game.

“There’s a new menu and new decor,” says Nickolas, “but the same good food and the same attitude. Dino and Santino’s fits into the Fillmore in a unique way — and it’s one of the few remaining family-run businesses.”

He adds: “Food is not what the guests remember, but the way they were treated. A good waiter can save a mediocre meal, but bad hospitality can sink the entire experience altogether. Were you greeted properly? Were you seated in a timely fashion? Were you thanked on the way out? If you were, the food tasted better — period.”

Dino is not the only old friend Nickolas has reconnected with since he came back home to the Bay Area. Through Facebook, he also got back in touch with Judy Steinberg, a friend he met for the first time in 1968. Their initial romance turned into a friendship that lasted on and off for 45 years. Now it’s back on again, and they are engaged — and working together on a website and a new book they’re calling Sexy at 70: It’s Never Too Late! (The Judy and Nick Story).

Read more: “Sexy at 70

Hip ice cream shop on the way

smitten

 

By Chris Barnett

SMITTEN, a made-to-order ice cream venture that opened its first shop in a converted shipping container in Hayes Valley, is scooping up the small space recently vacated by Copynet at 2404 California Street.

Copynet relocated to 2174 Sutter Street  at the end of September as its 20-year lease was about to expire and the rent was to increase by $4,000 a month.

Selling just four to six flavors of ice cream at any one time, Smitten’s founder, Robyn Sue Fisher, is in the final stages of signing a lease with the landlord, Russell Flynn of Flynn Investments. The longtime San Francisco property investor owns the venerable Preston Apartments on the corner of Fillmore and California, which includes six street-level storefronts.

Flynn hoped to rent the 960-square-foot storefront on California Street to Wells Fargo Bank as a limited service branch filled with automated teller machines. Wells Fargo, which theoretically could easily pay the $10 to $12 per square foot asking price for monthly rent, is in a dispute with the city over claims its two ATMs embedded in the exterior wall of the bank building facing California Street violate local disability codes because the sidewalk is too steep.

But the deal fell through.

Flynn said he approached First Republic, his longtime bank, with a similar offer but was turned down.

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Happier hour on Fillmore

elite

SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT

A fresh wave of happiness is flooding Fillmore as boulevard bars and restaurants are pouring newly discounted drinks and offering bargain-priced appetizers during afternoon happy hours. Some thirst parlors are more generous than others.

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The last great saloonlord

Photograph of Perry Butler by Susie Biehler

Photograph of Perry Butler by Susie Biehler

By Chris Barnett

DID YOU HEAR the one about the architect in a cab on Union Street who realized he was short of money? “Pull over at Perry’s; they’ll cash a check,” he told the cabbie. “Wait here,” he said to his date. “I’ll be right out.”

As he walked in, barkeep Michael McCourt yelled “Hey Russ, the usual?” and poured him a stiff one. Another regular came over. “Hey Russ, good to see you. Let me buy you a drink.” Another pal waved from down the bar. “Next one’s on me.”

Ten years later, the architect, Russell Gifford, was perched on his favorite stool at Perry’s and his date from that night walked in the door. He saw her in the backbar mirror, turned around and cracked: “I thought I told you to wait in the cab.”

The top bartenders in town — who worked at Perry’s at some point in their careers — are still telling that one. Yet this month on the 45th anniversary of the Union Street thirst parlor and restaurant bearing his name, you would never hear that tale told by the proprietor, Perry Butler. He’s too much of a gentleman.

In a city where barrooms have morphed from brawling whiskey and beer joints in canvas tents to temples staffed by high priests of the shot glass who dub themselves cocktailians and mixologists, Perry’s on Union stands alone as San Francisco’s last great saloon.

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Shell station may lose garage

The Shell station and garage at California and Steiner Streets.

The Shell station and garage at the corner of California and Steiner Streets.

PLANS HAVE BEEN UNVEILED to demolish the Shell station at 2501 California Street and replace it with a new high-end convenience store called Loop.

Loop is the next evolution in service station retail,” said Nick Goyal, one of California’s largest operators of Shell service stations, who now controls the local station and more than 100 others. During the past year he has opened six Loop stores at Shell stations in the Bay Area, with more on the way.

Loop stores offer groceries and fresh foods along with wine, espresso, smoothies, frozen yogurt, sushi and a soup and salad bar. “It will change your expectation of what you can purchase at your next fill-up,” Goyal said.

Shell Auto Repair would be eliminated and the fuel pumps reconfigured and rebuilt, if the project is approved by the city.

EARLIER: “50 years at the Shell station

Spice Ace makes the neighborhood tastier

Photograph of Spice Ace by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Spice Ace by Daniel Bahmani

FIRST PERSON | Arthur Stone

ROAMING THE NEIGHBORHOOD as a boy in the 1940s, I searched for small critters to join the ranks of the quacking, barking and croaking things my mother barely tolerated in her home.

Today my nose leads the way as I wander about gathering things for our evening meal. My wife marvels at her good fortune to have a husband who cooks — who actually loves to cook. Even the postal carrier has been spotted at the door slot, enjoying an olfactory break.

Before Spice Ace moved in around the corner at 1821 Steiner Street, I was more of a beans and weenies guy, but always wanting a tastier meal. (I did manage to get my wife’s attention with my mother’s salmon croquettes, however.) An enticing sign finally led me in the direction of the new neighborhood spice shop.

The go-to guy there, Ed, loves Mexican flavors; I want the oxtail dishes of my childhood. Out of that discussion came the idea of oxtail chili. My first attempt was too salty. Ed suggested I throw in a potato. Bingo — it worked.

I’ve gone into the shop several times to ask technical cooking questions. Spice Ace owner Olivia has explained how to use canola oil safely. Aces Louise and Susan seem to read my mind as I enter the store, handing me just the spices I need.

Dinnertime is the best time of the day in our home. My wife is a sucker for salmon, and I am still a sucker for oxtail chili. Do we still have beans and weenies? You bet. But these days, I add a neighborhood touch: Spice Ace’s barbecue seasoning.

EARLIER: “Marco Polo comes to the Fillmore