Monday, July 03, 2017

Starter Bakery @ Farley's Coffeehouse

It is rare that I venture to Portero Hill, but, I like to seek out new coffee shops and use them as a reason to travel somewhere off my normal path.  Farley's is an institution there.  (To be totally truthful, I did go to Farley's once before, years ago, while waiting (and waiting, and waiting) to be seated at Plow (just a block away) for brunch.  Somewhere in our hours of waiting we decided that we needed caffeine sooner, and I recall stumbling into Farley's for coffee.  But I don't remember much else, except, that while Plow's lemon ricotta pancakes were good, they certainly weren't worth that ordeal.  This was long before I wrote a blog, or obsessively took photos of my food, so, sorry, no more details on any of that.)

Anyway, back to Farley's.  Many consider it one of the first “third-wave” coffeehouses.  They feature De La Paz coffee, baked goods from Starter Bakery (a VERY import detail), and ice cream from Three Twins.  I think they also serve sandwiches and salads, but those items are rarely what I'm seeking out.  They also have two locations in Oakland that I believe are bigger than the SF outpost.

The Setting

Besides the quality sourcing, Farley's is no cookie-cutter coffee shop.  There are a number of unique aspects to it.
Parklet
The first striking thing about Farley's is the parket outside.  I read that one of their Oakland locations also has a parklet, the first one to be built in Oakland.

The fake turf area has real tables and chairs, and seemingly even table service, but is quite small, and was full the entire time I was there.  Others, myself included, just found places to perch elsewhere, on the planter boxes, on little benches.  A very vibrant scene, and, the most interesting thing to me was the diversity of clientele.  Young and old, some friends catching up over coffee, others having business meetings, plenty just out with their dogs.  So many dogs.
Magazine Stand.
The inside area includes more tables, again, fully occupied, with most patrons working away on their laptops.  Free wifi certainly encouraged this behavior.

Interestingly, a fair large portion of the small shop is dedicated to magazines.  I think they sell them?  Maybe they are trying to get people to disconnect from the electronics a bit ...
Bathroom Walls.
I don't normally review bathrooms, but, uh, this one was unique.  First, to get to it, you had to go up some stairs, through an area that looked like customers shouldn't be wandering, past a water heater, and finally up another small set of stairs.  The walls were all covered in blackboard, and there was a bucket of chalk provided to decorate.  And decorate people did.
Pastries!
But the reason I was at Farley's was not for the ambiance, nor the coffee even.  It was for the baked goods, because I know they order their baked goods from Starter Bakery, and Starter Bakery is GOOD.  Starter Bakery is also located in Oakland, so I haven't actually been to the bakery, but many cafes around San Francisco offer their items.  I've reviewed Starter Bakery before when I covered the baked goods from Philz, including, the iconic kouign amann.

On the day of my first visit, the pastry case wasn't exactly overflowing.

There were no muffins, although the chalkboard sign listed fruit and bran muffins.  Same with danishes, the promised cream cheese or fruit delights were no where to be seen.

For scones, there were only ginger scones, although the sign informed me that they also carry bacon & cheddar, fruit, and veggie scones.  Only almond croissants remained, although plain, chocolate, ham & cheese, and spinach & feta are normally available.

There were a few quickbreads, cookies, brownies, and oats & fruit bars (which they had samples of too).  A couple quiches and empanadas too.

But none of this mattered, as they had one item, not listed on the sign anywhere, that caught my eye the moment I walked in.  A single kouign-amann!  The line was long, and I was prayed that no one else would claim it.  A famed Starter Bakery kouign-amann!  The first time I had one, I dubbed it, "one of the best pastries I've ever had".  I needed another.
Starter Bakery Kouign-Amann.  $4.25.
"Starter's award-winning specialty, Kouign-Amann, is an indulgent French pastry that
is similar to a croissant—but so much more. The rich treat is made by rolling out and folding together layers upon layers of dough with salted butter and sugar, then baking it in a butter-and-sugar-lined pan, resulting in an incredibly rich, sweet-and-salty experience."

First, if you have never had a kouign-amann, you should just drop everything you are doing and go get one.  And then I'll scold you, as I told you the same thing when I reviewed the Kouign-Amann dessert at Clio in Boston (you should also go there, if you are ever in Boston, one of my top meals of 2013!) and when I reviewed my first Starter Bakery kouign-amann from Philz .

Since I've reviewed the basics of a kouign-amann before, and Starter Bakery's specifically, I'll skip that this time around and just sum it up: when a kouign-amann is well prepared, it is a thing of wonder.

And this one was.  It was deeply caramelized and crispy on the outside.  Yet flaky and delicate, composed of so many layers.  Moist on the inside.

The size isn't huge.  It almost looks a bit petite even.  But a few bites in, and you realize that even if you think you want it to be bigger, that would be a very, very bad idea.  It is hard to resist just biting in and devouring the entire thing in a few bites, but, I do love pulling it apart, layer by layer.

Seriously, kouign-amann is one of the very best pastries out there, and, I eat a LOT of pastries!

The price was $4.25, which seems a bit steep, but, I know they are labor intensive.  If you get one from Starter Bakery directly they are $4.
Farley's Coffeehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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