Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Station

I've had my eye on The Station, a coffee shop near the edge of North Beach and the Financial District, for quite some time.  Unlike most places in the FiDi, they are actually open on weekends.  And they serve Blue Bottle coffee.  Visiting has been on my todo list, but got bumped up when I saw they were running a promotion with PayPal: a free $10 credit if you paid with PayPal.  I've been using PayPal all around town lately, and I'm a huge fan of how easy it is for payments, so cashing in on this was a no brainer.

The coffee shop is a bit strange, in that it is a coffee shop, but also has a rotating selection of pop-up retail stores on the side.  On my first visit, there was a tiny pop up clothing store.  The Station is also a pick up spot for Thrive Juicery.  I didn't check any of that out, so I don't have any comments on it.
Large Windows.
The space has large windows, which let in lots of light.  The high ceilings add to it feeling very open and spacious.  The main seating area is made up of large communal tables, but there are 2-3 small tables, and a long counter along the windows with stools or standing space.
Outdoor Seating.
On the sidewalk outside are a few small tables.

The vibe is relaxed and friendly, and since they have free wifi, lots of people set up with laptops (no power plugs though, so people don't camp out for too long).  The music selection was interesting, and played at just the right volume to be enjoyed but not overwhelm conversations.

As I mentioned, the coffee is Blue Bottle, and they offer all standard drinks, along with pour overs and New Orleans style iced coffee.  Food choices are fairly limited to paninis along with baked goods from Goody Goodie, including muffins, scones, and cookies (which I've tried before).  Also available near the register are stroopwafels from Rip Van Wafel, which I've tried, unsuccessfully, in the past, and a decent selection of TCHO chocolate, a local SF chocolate maker, who I've also reviewed before.  They clearly embrace local connections.

The staff were friendly, and when I asked for an honest opinion on their decaf (since, so often it can be so awful), the guy taking my order told me that he had actually had it recently, and that it had more depth of flavor than most decaf.  He said he preferred the caffeinated coffee more, but that the decaf was good.

The only issue I had was paying on my first visit.  I used PayPal, which seemed flawless, I put in the tip amount, and even got the receipt on my phone, but the cashier came over a few minutes later and told me that it had crashed and not gone through, and asked for an alternate form of payment.  Since I had the confirmation through the PayPal app, and the e-mail receipt, this didn't seem quite right, but it was going to be free, so I didn't argue, and just paid cash too.  I logged into my account once I got home and saw that I had indeed been charged.  Hmm.  I believe him that it had crashed, but the payment surely had gone through.  On subsequent visits, PayPal worked with no problems.

Anyway, I enjoyed my time in the cafe, my drink, and some of the baked goods, so I'll be returning when I'm in the area.
Decaf Cortado. $3.25.
Normally I like a black americano, but since I was going for decaf, I played it safe, and had a drink with milk in it, which I knew would help mask any decaf funk.  I don't like a ton of milk in my drinks though, so I was happy to see that they even had a cortado listed on the menu.  So few places do!  When I ordered it, the guy taking my order even commented his approval of my order.

My name was quickly called out up at the espresso counter for me to come pick it up.  Very fast service!  The latte art left something to be desired.  A leaf?  Not really.  A blob.  But honestly, I didn't care.  The taste is what matters to me.

This was indeed a good decaf.  I've had the decaf at the Blue Bottle cafes directly many times, and they have never been this good.  I'd even kinda given up on getting decaf from Blue Bottle.  It did indeed have depth of flavor, no decaf "funk", and was even a bit caramely on the finish.  The foam was good, not burnt.

Very solid, and I'd get one again.
Pancetta Gruyere Brioche.  $4.
I also wanted a snack to go with my drink.  I'm totally not a sandwich girl, so the prepared foods section of the menu was entirely out, since it was all paninis.  Instead, I had to go for baked goods (a real hardship, I know), all made by Goody Goodie.

They had a few different muffins, croissants, and scones, none of which really looked appealing to me, as it was a bit later in the day, and those are breakfast items to me.  I usually like blueberry crumb muffins, which they had, but I wasn't feeling it.  They also had a ton of cookies, but I haven't loved Goody Goodie's cookies before, although I admit that is just a style preference thing.

They also had two brioches listed, one was the "brioche bomb", which I really wanted, a sweet roll with cinnamon, sugar, and a hint of orange, basically, a morning bun.  But alas, they were sold out.  So instead, I went for the savory one, a pancetta gruyere brioche roll.

When I ordered, the server asked if I'd like it heated up.  Yes!  A wonderful touch.
Inside the pancetta gruyere brioche.
The brioche took a lot longer to arrive than my drink.  I very slowly sipped on my cortado, wanting to have some of it with my treat, but it was getting cold fast.  I questioned my decision of asking for the brioche warmed up.

After what seemed like forever (but was probably only 5 minutes), my brioche arrived, delivered to my table.  It was worth the wait, and heating it up was definitely the way to go.

The outside was a bit crisp, the inside delightfully moist and doughy.  In between the folds of dough was gruyere, which got even more melty and awesome due to being warmed up, and bits of pancetta.  The pancetta was the only disappointing part: the bits were soggy and very fatty, not crisp, and not flavorful.  There wasn't much of it, which would have made me sad, but instead made me glad, since I didn't like it.  I didn't like chewing on bits of flabby fat.  Along with the pancetta were pockets of incredibly zesty black pepper, which added wonderful bursts of flavor.

This thing was good, but I felt it needed ... something.  I honestly don't know what though.  A bit plain to just eat on its own, I wanted something to dunk it in.  Or an egg on the side.  Or ... something.  But I did love the flavor of the dough, the texture, and everything but the pancetta.  I'm not really sure why it was called a brioche however.  It seemed like more of a biscuit.  Maybe it had a lot of egg inside the dough?  It didn't have the classic lightness of brioche, nor the shine on the outside.

I liked it, but I don't think I'd get it again unless I was really wanting something savory.  Next time, I hope they have the brioche bomb!  $4 is a bit high for just a baked good, but for a savory snack, it wasn't bad.
Banana Chocolate Scone.  $3.
On my second visit, I was determined to finally get the brioche bomb, but, it was again sold out when I arrived at 10am.  Doh!  Either everyone else really loves these things, or The Station really doesn't stock enough of them.

I was really at a loss for what to get instead.  I still didn't want a croissant, and the muffins didn't look great.  So I went for a scone, which is always a risky choice.  Scones rarely are what I want them to be.  Often they are super dry, too cakey, or too oily.

But this scone was a pleasant surprise.  It was quite good.  The base consistency was the most impressive part, it was just the right level of crumbly, not dry, nor moist.  It had a slight tang to it, and wasn't oily.  The banana aspect was what I was most unsure about, as I've never had a banana scone before, but it basically tasted like banana bread, but as a biscuit, if you can imagine that.  It also had plenty of tiny little chocolate chips and large crunchy sugar crystals on top.  Quite enjoyable.

But after a couple bites, I thought it would be better warm, so I asked to have it warmed up (which was not offered when I ordered it, unlike the savory brioche).  I was warned that the chocolate might melt, which I said was perfectly fine.

It returned to me a few minutes later, warm.  I liked it better this way, as it got slightly more moist inside, slightly more crisp outside.  It was good both ways though.

$3 for a scone seems perfectly reasonable.  If I were back at The Station and was in the mood for a scone, I'd get this again, a very solid choice.
Vegan Bran Muffin. $3.50.
Another Sunday morning, another visit to the Station.  Again, I was eager to get a brioche bomb, and again, they were sold out at 10am when I arrived, 1 hour into service.  I'm fairly convinced at this point that they must get all their baked goods for the weekend in on Saturdays (which also makes sense since Goody Goodie, their baked goods supplier, isn't open on Sundays either), and they just never have brioche bombs left.

I was very tempted to get the scone again, since I liked it on my previous visit, but I recalled the cashier last time telling me that he really recommended the bran muffin.  I was skeptical then, and picked the scone, but this time I asked the woman taking my order about the bran muffin.  Her face lit up and she said she loved it, that it reminded her of bread pudding.  That is all it took to sell me, as I LOVE bread pudding.

She put my muffin on a plate, and was ready to hand it over at room temperature, but I asked if she could warm it up.  On my other visits they had offered to heat up the baked goods, so I was surprised to have to ask for it this time, particularly because bread pudding is an item that is often served warm, right?

Anyway.  First, I keep calling it a "muffin", because that is what the sign said.  Did this look like a muffin?  Um, no.  It was rectangular, not round.  While it had a "wrapper", it was unlike any muffin wrapper I've ever encountered before.  Muffin was certainly a strange term for it, but I figured it would still taste like a classic bran muffin.

It did not.  The form factor was more appropriate for a cake, and, the taste was far more like a cake.  It did have a hearty bran flavor, but it was really, really sweet.  Too sweet for me for a breakfast item, or at least, a breakfast item when I was wanting a bran muffin.  It was loaded with shredded carrot, which was good, but it was also loaded with golden raisins.  Soo many raisins.  They were juicy and plump, and I have nothing against raisins, but they were very sweet, and the quantity made the whole muffin-cake very sweet.  I'm pretty sure there was a lot of additional sweetness in there as well, it tasted somewhat like molasses, or I can imagine that it used applesauce, since it was a vegan item.

Anyway, I wasn't ever able to get over the sweetness.  It was very moist.  I enjoyed it warm.  The bran was nice.  But ... it was just too much like a cake.  Except, who eats a bran cake?  I always love slathering my mom's strawberry jam on bran muffins, the strawberry and bran combination is one I really like, but there is no way I could have added more sweetness to this.  I pondered what would have been successful as a pairing.  Since it was so cake-like, it almost seemed like you could serve it warm, like a cake or bread pudding, with ice cream.  But ... again, bran cake?  That didn't seem quite right.  I also considered some sort of savory whipped topping, like a whipped crème fraîche perhaps?  I'm just not sure.

Too sweet for a muffin, too bran-y for a cake, this item just didn't make sense.  I won't get another.
Brioche Bomb.  $3.75.
Finally, when I was about to give up all hope, they had the brioche bomb!

Sadly ... it really wasn't good.  I had heard great things about it, a brioche cinnamon roll with cinnamon, sugar, and a hint of orange.  It sounded like a morning bun, but with brioche.  Sure, I had hyped this thing quite a bit as they never had it when I visited before, but, even without hype, it really didn't live up at all.

The dough was the same as in the pancetta gruyere roll, which I again fail to really see why they call it a brioche, it wasn't at all fluffy or rich tasting.  It was really, really dry.  So the dough, dry and boring.  But a cinnamon roll item should be about the filling anyway, right? This was rolled with cinnamon and sugar, but the layer was so thin that I could barely taste it.  It certainly wasn't ooey-gooey.  There wasn't any additional topping on top.

Really, this was just a dried out roll that happened to have a tiny bit of cinnamon and sugar in it.  It wasn't satisfying in any way.  I obviously won't be getting this again.  $3.75 was a fairly standard price for an item this size.
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