It’s a sweet and tangy neighborhood

spiceace

WHEN PERUSING THE floor-to-ceiling offerings at Spice Ace at 1821 Steiner Street, don’t overlook the one inspired by and named for your own front yard: Pacific Heights Blend. Its complex citrusy Asian flavoring comes from a mélange of the unexpected: lemon, ginger, orange, coriander, garlic, Aji Amarillo, chives and cardamom.

Sales associates at the spice emporium wax rhapsodic about its dual sweet and tangy qualities, its lingering ginger notes and its unique ability to brighten chicken, fish and vegetables. “It’s particularly good on broccoli,” claims one. “If you weren’t a fan of broccoli and you put some Pacific Heights Blend on it, you’d come away loving broccoli.”

Another attests the spicy blend was prompted by the flavors of the Pacific Ocean, with a nod to the historical context of the Barbary Coast.

But Spice Ace co-owner Olivia Dillon reveals that the true inspiration for the blend came considerably closer to home. “For many years, my mother (and best friend) and I lived in a penthouse in Pacific Heights with unobstructed views of the bay from almost every room,” Dillon recalls. “We had many wonderful dinners with friends and family over the years, enjoying great food as well as the view of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

And thus was born and named “Pacific Heights Blend.”

Last call at the Elite

The Elite Cafe closed on Easter Sunday and will remain dark while new owners take over.

The Elite Cafe closed on March 27 and will remain dark while new owners take over.

By THOMAS REYNOLDS

Stop by the Elite Cafe on a Wednesday night in early March to meet a friend for a drink and the bartender asks: “Have you heard? The Elite’s been sold.”

It’s a shock. For 35 years a mainstay on Fillmore Street, its classic neon sign a beacon at the heart of the neighborhood, the Elite looks like a place that has always been there — and for nearly a century, it has. It opened in its Art Deco splendor in 1928 as the Lincoln Grill. In 1932, during the dry years of Prohibition, it became the Asia Cafe, which is what the neon sign spelled out for the next half century. It became the Elite Cafe in 1981.

Peter Snyderman took over a decade ago, after swearing he would never run another restaurant when he closed the Alta Plaza at Fillmore and Clay. “You don’t get an opportunity to own a place like the Elite very often,” he reminisces before heading in for the final brunch on Easter Sunday, March 27. “But I realized it was time to let someone else breathe new life into the Elite.”

The new owners will keep the name and the look and the New Orleans flavor, he promises. “It’s not part of the deal, but it’s part of the understanding,” Snyderman says. New owner Andy Chun, a rising restaurateur, confirms much will stay the same.

“It just means so much to so many people,” Chun says. “When an opportunity came up to do something with the Elite, we wanted to keep it the Elite and make it the best it can be.”

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The experiment is over at the Academy

Nicholas Pallone was the new chef masterminding Academy Bar and Kitchen.

Nick Pallone was the chef behind the Academy Bar and Kitchen. Photo by Marc Gamboa.

PIZZA IS BACK. The rebirth of long-running Pizza Inferno as the Academy Bar and Kitchen — with former Florio chef Nick Pallone bringing a more adventurous dining experience to the corner of Fillmore and Sutter — is over. Though the Academy name will remain, Pallone is gone and the previous menu consisting mostly of Neapolitan pizzas has returned.

“I regret to inform you that my time at Academy Bar and Kitchen has come to an end,” Pallone said in a Facebook post. “Due to logistical constraints, my partners and I have come to the conclusion that it is best to go our separate ways.”

Pallone and owner Peter Fogel reportedly tusseled over whether pizza should be offered at the Academy and it disappeared from the revamped menu. Then last weekend the restaurant closed, less than six months after its debut, with a sign in the window citing “restaurant maintenance and upgrades.”

By the end of the week the old pizza menu had returned.

EARLIER: “Pallone’s passion will rule the menu

Elite Cafe is sold

After the rain, brunch at the Elite Cafe, on Sunday morning, March 6.

After the rain, a line was waiting for brunch at the Elite Cafe on Sunday morning, March 6.

THE ELITE CAFE, the bustling Art Deco period piece at 2049 Fillmore Street, has been sold.

Peter Snyderman, a Fillmore veteran who has run the restaurant for the past decade, is handing over the reins to a new group headed by Andy Chun, who created the Press Club near Union Square and more recently reinvigorated Schroeder’s in the Financial District. Among the investors is Rick Howard, who owns Harry’s on Fillmore.

The liquor license transfer was filed March 9. The Elite’s staff was told the night before that March 27 will be their last day.

EARLIER: “The Elite Cafe, aging gracefully

‘We’re old school’

Photographs of Jackson Fillmore at 2506 Fillmore Street by Marc Gamboa

Photographs of Jackson Fillmore at 2506 Fillmore Street by Marc Gamboa

Q & A | FAITH WHEELER

Rare is the restaurant in San Francisco still going strong after 30 years. But Jackson Fillmore — the beloved, quintessential neighborhood Italian spot at 2506 Fillmore, now under new ownership — remains noticeably unchanged. That’s thanks to the brother-sister duo Kelly and Casey Sullivan, lifelong family friends of original owner Jack Krietzman. Kelly Sullivan remembers coming to the restaurant the year it opened when she was a 4-year-old and eating cold zabaglione.

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Blue Bottle still coming to Fillmore

AFTER CONSTRUCTION started and then stopped, neighbors began to wonder if Blue Bottle Coffee was backing out of its plans for a new outpost on the shuttered Tully’s corner at Fillmore and Jackson.

Not so. It’s still on.

The new coffee shop started before Blue Bottle announced it was merging with Tartine Bakery. A combination of the two in the pair of storefronts at the top of Fillmore seemed like a terrific addition to the neighborhood.

The merger was later called off, but Blue Bottle applied on January 27 for a building permit for “tenant improvements for new coffee cafe in existing coffee cafe space” valued at $200,000. Blue Bottle got permission earlier to combine the former Tully’s and Juicy News storefronts.

“Blue Bottle Coffee is still forging ahead to open at this location and the cafe is progressing nicely,” says Defne Crow, a spokesperson for Blue Bottle. “We are very excited to open our doors later this year.”

Bagels with a side of history

WISE SONS Bagel & Bakery opened its doors at 1520 Fillmore on February 26 and enthusiastic crowds were waiting. Again there is an authentic Jewish bakery in a neighborhood where many were located a century ago, when the Fillmore was home to a large Jewish community.

San Francisco muralist Amos Goldbaum captured the era in a mural on the north wall after Wise Sons co-owner Evan Bloom told him about the neighborhood’s Jewish heritage.

Says Goldbaum: “I researched historic photos and found some that included street cars and the iconic metal arches over each intersection, which were erected by the Fillmore merchants, many of them Jewish, to promote business. They were eventually removed to use as scrap metal for World War II. I wanted to add more to the street scene, so I also looked at historic photos of the Lower East Side, Jewish mecca and birthplace of my late grandfather. I was happy to find pictures of pushcart vendors selling challa, pickles and, of course, bagels. The resulting scene is Lower East Side on Fillmore, an amalgam of New York street life and San Francisco streetscape.”

WALKING TOUR: “Jews of the Fillmore

Doubling down with Black Bark

Photograph of Black Bark chef David Lawrence by Daniel Bahmani

Black Bark chef David Lawrence: “We might as well go for it.”

By BARBARA KATE REPA

When David Lawrence and Monetta White announced plans to open their high end but homey restaurant, 1300 on Fillmore, eight years ago, friends cautioned against it. “They said, ‘You’re going down to lower Fillmore? Are you nuts?’ ” says White, whose mother and grandmother both grew up in the neighborhood.

But soon after the doors opened, the joint was jumping, fueled by foot traffic brought in by the adjacent Yoshi’s restaurant and jazz club. The club was part of the Fillmore Heritage Center — a 240,000-square-foot mixed-use complex that included Yoshi’s, 1300 on Fillmore and a nonprofit art gallery, with 80 condominiums rising above — all constructed in an ambitious attempt to revitalize Fillmore south of Geary.

For a few years, the $75 million bet seemed to pay off, as the new businesses and residents brought a vibrancy, unity and goodwill to the nascent jazz district, along with new patrons and customers. Then suddenly things changed. Fingers pointed at various culprits: a lagging economy, changing neighborhood demographics, bad management, the new SF Jazz Center in the Civic Center. The Lush Life Gallery closed first. Then Yoshi’s declared bankruptcy. An attempt to revive the club as The Addition quickly failed. For the last year, it has sat empty — an eerily silent space nearly a block long. Many people assumed 1300 on Fillmore was no longer in business, either.

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Wise Sons is coming, but not yet

The cafe is delayed, but Wise Sons Bagel is already baking at 1520 Fillmore (right).

The cafe is still to come, but Wise Sons Bagel is already baking at 1520 Fillmore (right).

By CHRIS BARNETT

The Wise Sons had planned to open their new bagelry at 1520 Fillmore in December, but it didn’t happen. Now it looks as if Wise Sons Bagel won’t woo the schmear set for another two months at least.

“If I were a betting man — and I’m not — I’d say two months into 2016, possibly longer,” says co-owner Evan Bloom. “We haven’t even created our bagel yet.”

But they’re already baking in their Fillmore location. The ovens are fired up, with bakers working two shifts pumping out rugelach and Wise Sons’ signature chocolate babka dessert for their deli on 24th Street in the Mission, a cafe in the Contemporary Jewish Museum and a Ferry Building outpost staffed three days a week.

“We want to open, but we don’t want to rush it,” says Bloom. “Right now we’re trying to find good people to mix the dough, bake the bread, interface with customers, toast the bagels, mix the coffee — and get our power upgraded. We’re still trying to figure the store layout while getting the bagels rolling. We haven’t even settled on the coffee supplier yet.”

But the fundamentals are in place. The long, narrow 2,000-square-foot space with 30-foot ceilings, previously occupied by Sushi Boom, will be mostly a bagel bakery, but it will also have cafe seating for 12 to 16 in the front, including a stand-up bar, and — they hope — sidewalk seating.

Customers may be schmoozing, but they won’t be noshing on the monstrous pastrami or corned beef sandwiches slathered in mustard or other deli fare served at the 24th Street mothership.

“We’ll be more of a grab-and-go shop and less of a hangout,” Bloom says. “You’ll be able to pick up a pound of pastrami, or lox and pickles, and take it all home. We just don’t make the sandwich.”

The pressure is on. The New York Times ran a long feature story in its Sunday magazine headlined “Why Is It So Hard to Get a Great Bagel in California?” that raised hopes for a bagel from Wise Sons. Bloom and co-owner Leo Beckerman also had a cameo appearance in Deli Man, the hit indie documentary love story on the slow but steady demise nationwide of real honest-to-God Jewish delis. Wise Sons was the only deli in the Bay Area included.

Deli Man definitely helped us,” Bloom says, “and we do get recognized — which is so ridiculous — but people trickle in because of it.”

A fire wiped out their new Mission commissary, delaying plans to add bagels. Now, on Fillmore, they’re hoping to bring back some of the flavor from the days a century ago when this was a Jewish neighborhood.

The Fillmore was mostly a Jewish neighborhood circa 1900, a legacy Wise Sons will honor.

The Fillmore was mostly a Jewish neighborhood circa 1900, a legacy Wise Sons will honor.

“We’re going to keep it simple,” says Bloom, “with just five types — a plain, an ‘everything,’ sesame seed, poppy seed and salt. It’ll be a good old-fashioned bagel starting with quality ingredients, with no additives, no extenders. It’ll be boiled with a good, crunchy chew on the outside and a soft interior with a good ratio of texture and flavor.”

Until then, the two pals and business partners who both went to UC-Berkeley have plenty of schlepping to get the doors open. And they’re keeping busy clarifying what Wise Sons is all about.

“We’ve been called Jewish fusion,” Bloom says. “We’re really Jewish soul food.”

Uncle Nick takes charge at Dino’s

Photograph of Nick Nickolas by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Nick Nickolas by Daniel Bahmani

By CHRIS BARNETT

Nick Nickolas could be the poster boy for a happy retirement. A tanned 78-year-old who looks and sounds 20 years younger, he built and ran a fine dining empire of 30 restaurants that stretched from Honolulu to Miami, is madly in love with his new fiancee and has all his hair and his buttons.

But he simply can’t stop working.

For the last four years, Nickolas has been managing, maitre’d-ing, setting and bussing tables at Dino & Santino’s at Fillmore and California, spelling his nephew, Dino Stavrakikis, on Thursdays and Saturdays so the single-dad owner could have time with his young son, Santino.

Now, with Santino turning 5 and heading to kindergarten, Dino might be expected to spend more time at his pizza palace, with his Uncle Nick backing off to take a cruise for two and play couples golf. But Nickolas isn’t one to sit on the sidelines.

In fact, he is taking the reins of the 28-year-old restaurant and ramping up to five days a week. Stavrakikis has given him carte blanche to change the menu, with some exceptions: Uncle Nick can’t touch “Mama’s meatballs or her spinach pie,” he says, or a few other house signature items.

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