By Carlyle Coash
It’s happening again. I’m thinking of popovers.
It all started a few years back. A friend of mine was taking me out to breakfast in San Francisco.
“You’ll like this place, it hasn’t burned down in awhile!”
Not the sell one usually wants before eating, but I was willing to give it a try. He was taking me to the Cliff House, a historical eatery that sits on the Western most edge of San Francisco, perched high on a rocky cliff overlooking Ocean Beach, the Pacific Ocean and the channel that leads under the Golden Gate Bridge.
When I say perched, I mean it. The only thing separating the restaurant with the surf below is a little bit of sturdy rock.
The Cliff House has been on the same spot, in one form or another, for over 150 years. It was once part of the Sutro Baths, a massive indoor salt-water public bath. The baths are long since gone, but you can still see the foundations of the majestic buildings that housed them. They are part of an historic area named Land’s End.
The Cliff House also had the distinct habit of burning down, and so over the years it has had several incarnations. It even survived the great San Francisco earthquake in 1906, only to burn down about a year later after a complete remodel. In 1970 it was completely renovated and the building has remained in its current form until today.
Now, although my friend told me a great deal about the history, he forgot one crucial element. The popovers. Simple enough mistake perhaps, with all the flashy fire tales, but a crazy one once you’ve had a taste of them. Included with breakfast or brunch, they come out hot and brimming in a basket with butter and jam. Steamy popover goodness that can make you forget that you actually ordered a proper meal. It is not uncommon to eat several without realizing it, which does not bode well for having room for any other culinary delights. Although they are mostly air, with a little substance mixed in, add touch of butter and a swath of jam and they can make your whole day.
So can the rest of the Cliff House. It is in a stunning location. Each of the three restaurants (visit the Bistro for the popovers) boasts big picture windows that look out over the Pacific and down the great stretch of sand known as Ocean Beach. As you dine you can watch the surfers brave the rip tides and take in the vista that stretches for miles.
Around the walls of the Bistro, the faces of famous movie stars peer back from signed headshots left over the years. If you survive the popovers, the rest of the meal is good too. Try the Farmer’s Breakfast Scramble, which consists of eggs, cheese, veggies and a little ham, with fruit and sourdough toast. The crab cakes are pretty tasty as well, if that’s more your style.
Like many times before, I find myself at the Cliff House, thanking my friend for introducing me those many years ago. Popover in hand, I’m ready for that simple delight once again. Mmmmm. This must be heaven. Or at least a good replacement until the real one comes along.
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