Megan Gordon

Seasons eatings


A man hath no better thing under the sun than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry. — Ecclesiastes 8:15

Writing about Christmas treats and festive beverages is dangerous territory. Locals are adamant about their favorite spot to score an authentic stollen, the most buttery sugar cookie, or the strongest hot toddy. So while I won’t claim to offer the most exhaustive list, the following spots are sure to whisk you through the madness of the holiday season with some semblance of sanity and satiation.


While there’s something about this time of year that inspires me to break out my whisk and apron, I also love what our local bakers and pastry chefs produce. Whether you’re looking for a treat to go with your coffee or want to contribute to the holiday table this year, these folks have got you covered in the seasonal sweets department. Let’s face it — they do it better than most of us can anyway.


There’s something to be said about a simple piece of pie, and nobody does seasonal slices better than Mission Pie. For Thanksgiving, it will feature pumpkin, apple, pear/cranberry, walnut (much like pecan but made with a sister nut), and a vegan apple with brandied raisins ($3.50/piece). Mission Pie is adamant about getting its fruits and flowers from local farms, so it only uses what’s in season. Later in the winter, the Mission District destination will feature desserts made with winter fruits, like my favorite: the bright, sharp, citrusy Meyer lemon — perfect with a cup of hot tea.

2901 Mission, SF. (415) 282-1500,


If traditional pie isn’t your bag, pastry chef Elizabeth Faulkner is your gal. Leave it to her to take a seasonal dessert like pie or a simple holiday cookie and turn it upside down. This year, Faulkner is planning her usual butter and lard crust for Thanksgiving pies (mmm, lard) filled with innovative flavors like apple and cheddar or a bourbon chocolate pecan ($25–$28) as well as her infamous pumpkin sage cheesecake ($30). And of course, a holiday at Citizen Cake wouldn’t feel right without the gingerbread Joes and Janes ($4) in festive bikini attire.

399 Grove, SF. (415) 861-2228,


The leftovers — and the in-laws — have come and gone. Hallelujah. Now look forward to a wintry season hunkering down with a fruitcake. I know, I know, fruitcake’s got a bad rap. Are you scared of those plastic tubs of pseudo-fruit with sticky green cherries? Me too. But bakers who do traditional fruitcakes don’t touch those. Instead you’ll find a variety of boozy fruits, citrus, warm spices, and nuts. What’s not to like about that? Arizmendhi does one of the most popular fruitcakes in town ($12). It’s smaller than your average loaf and made with dried apricot, papaya, pineapple, currants, and cherries, along with healthy doses of brandy, spices, and citrus. Noe Valley Bakery also makes a much-loved fruitcake, specifically an iced German Christmas stollen ($21). Owner Michael Gasson has updated an old family recipe that includes housemade candied orange peel, toasted almonds, fresh ground nutmeg, and lots of brandy. Much like a fine wine, fruitcakes get better with time (which is one reason they were so popular in pre-refrigeration days), so Gasson starts making these treats early to allow the flavors to ripen and mellow. For all you fruitcake skeptics out there, this is the year — and these are the places.

Arizmendhi Bakery, 1331 Ninth Ave., SF. (415) 566-3117,; Noe Valley Bakery: 4073 24th St., SF. (415) 550-1405,


After I’ve won you over with the fruitcake, you must believe me when I sing the praises of Masse’s Pastries for the best bouche in the Bay. The bouche de noel (or yule log), a dessert traditionally served in France during the holidays, consists of a rolled cake in the shape of a log filled with buttercream and topped with ganache. Not only does Masse’s make the loveliest bouche around, it does three of them. The most popular is the traditional mocha with almond roulade and coffee buttercream. Next up is the black forest with Bavarian cream and kirsch (cherry liqueur). The third option is a simple lemon topped with Italian meringue and seasonal fruits. The owners decorate the festive cakes with New Zealand red currants, imported brandied cherries, and the highest quality shaved chocolate. Prices range from $38–$55 depending on flavor and size. Now comes the difficult part: how to decide between the three options. The good news? It offers mini bouches ($4.50), so you can taste before you invest.

1469 Shattuck Ave., Berk. (510) 649-1004,

Drink …

There’s no time like the holiday season to splurge a little on cocktails. Push the PBRs to the back of the fridge and treat yourself to a warm, wintry drink or festive liquor concoction. The following spots will ease you into the yuletide spirit in the most delicious way. Who wouldn’t drink to that?


After lugging around shopping bags, groceries, bikes — you name it — kick back a few hot-spiced buttered rums ($5.50) at Trad’r Sams. The historic tiki bar opened in 1941, and while the drinks aren’t top shelf, they’re strong and consistent, like most things from that era. For this classic cold-weather drink, Sam’s bartenders use a special batter with top-secret ingredients and mix it with a healthy serving of rum and hot water. The bar itself is a little odd, a little kitschy, and more dive than date spot, but proven mastery of this delightfully warming beverage outweighs all that.

6150 Geary, SF. (415) 221-0773


Another warm holiday beverage that’ll help chase away worries and strife: the house cappuccino ($6) at Tosca. In reality, this drink is nothing like a cappuccino. It’s a brandy and hot chocolate concoction layered into sweet little glasses, which seems to pair perfectly with the dimly-lighted bar, its cozy red vinyl booths, and the jukebox playing Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. The stiff drinks and unpretentious bartenders add to the charm. And lucky you! Tosca serves this signature cocktail year-round.

242 Columbus, SF. (415) 986-9651


Bartender Ismael Robles doesn’t just make great drinks — he invents them. Recently he’s been making the Velvet Hive ($10), a variation on the hot toddy that’s served cold. Robles’ version is made with honey vodka, clove and citrus liqueurs, fresh lemon juice, and allspice dram. Even though this drink isn’t heated, there’s nothing like notes of honey, clove, and allspice to warm you right up.

398 Hayes, SF. (415) 551-1590,

Luna Park

During the winter months, you can’t walk past Luna Park without noticing the enticing aroma of the warm mulled wine ($7) that’s always simmering in a crockpot this time of year. Made with red wine, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and orange peel, this aromatic delight is available Thanksgiving through New Year’s.

694 Valencia, SF. (415) 553-8584,

Be Merry

After you’ve had your fair share of hot buttered rum and gingerbread people, we’re betting that being merry won’t be far out of reach. But in case you need a little guidance, here’s our tip: grab a friend or loved one — or 10 — and introduce them to the delights mentioned above. The best way to guarantee good cheer is to spread it.

6 pop-up lunches


Blame the economy’s downturn. Or blame the Tamale Lady’s success. Whatever the reason, suddenly mobile food carts seem to be all the rage — and those that serve the midday (rather than midnight) crowd all the more so. But while the idea of the Crème Brulee Man and Magic Curry Cart has gone from experimental to expected, another nontraditional lunch option has bubbled to the surface: pop-ups and dining windows. These more stationary — yet equally delightful — options have been sneaking onto industrial loading docks or into neighborhood supermarkets, seducing customers with their unconventional locales and keeping their loyalty with indisputably good food.


Douglas Monsalud and his crew started serving "spontaneous, organic, covert nourishment" out of a loading dock less than nine months ago, and the Dogpatch lunch scene hasn’t been the same since. The weekday eatery features a thoughtful, rotating menu of inspired delights, always including a few sandwiches, a salad, a dessert (recent choices include bacon snickerdoodles and a nectarine/raspberry galette), and a housemade beverage (like honeydew/lime fresca or organic lemonade). Not only is everything delicious, most items are made from locally-grown ingredients. My favorite? Marin Sun Farms’ pork schnitzel sandwich with braised cabbage and pink lady apples, a butterscotch cookie, and organic strawberry soda with local seltzer.

Weekdays, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.; 958 Illinois, SF.


Leave it to the Bay Area to host a joint that pairs fried chicken and waffles with farm-fresh, organic ingredients. This offshoot of Farmer Brown draws the in-the-know lunch crowd down to SoMa for crispy fried poultry, creamy grits and cheddar, angel biscuits and gravy, and red velvet cupcakes. For you old-school beverage aficionados, they stock Dublin Doctor Pepper (the original Doctor Pepper from Texas, made with real cane sugar), Fitz’s cream sodas, and Faygo grape soda. After ordering from the little blue shuttered window, wait across the street on the funky concrete loading dock until you hear your name. Then, perched on milk crates with other soul-food seekers, you’ll get your Southern charm with SF values.

Mon.–Sat., 9 a.m.–3:30 p.m.; 360 Ritch, SF. (415) 777-2777,


Ian Begg and Ryan Maxey (formerly of Café Majestic) opened the door to Naked Lunch in mid-August. The sweet little annex to Enrico’s features a menu that changes almost daily, although the signature foie gras sandwich will probably remain a fixture (controversy or not). At $15, it’s outside my tax bracket, but the dried chorizo sandwich with bacon, d’anjou pear, pickled onion, and baby greens was pure perfection — the salt from the bacon balanced with the sweetness of the pear. Ian and Ryan have plans to open a gastropub. For now, I’m just happy they’re rockin’ the sandwich combinations each week.

Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; 504 Broadway, SF. (415) 577-4951,


American Box, brought to us by the folks at Fish and Farm (inside Hotel Mark Twain), offers more than simple sandwiches and beverages. From the now infamous Juicy Lucy’s cheeseburger box, served with local organic potato salad and secret sauce, to the Niman Ranch taco box with sweet and spicy slaw, chef Chad Newton’s Tenderloin pop-up cuisine is attracting curious foodies along with the neighborhood business crowd. Take your box to go or meander across the hotel lobby and enjoy a quiet spell in the dining room. There’s nothing like a very grown-up lunch box to put a smile on your face — even if Mom didn’t pack it for you.

Weekdays, 10:30 a.m.– 1:30 p.m.; 339 Taylor, SF. (415) 474-3474,


No one seems to mind squeezing into this hole-in-the-wall Tenderloin spot for an authentic $3 banh mi sandwich. It must be because of the sweet roasted pork on a chewy roll, served with pickled daikon, carrots, jalapenos, and cilantro. The two efficient women who run the counter aren’t messing around, though, so don’t hem and haw before you order — and don’t even think about making any special requests or alterations. Instead, quietly grab a pork bun or coconut dessert to accompany your sandwich and move along to make room for the next guy in line.

Mon.–Sat., 6 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sun., 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.; 560 Larkin, SF. (415) 474-5698


You tell me where in SF you can get an authentic po’boy with red beans and rice in the back of a dive bar, and I’ll buy you a beer. Really. Otherwise I’ll bet money the only place is at Jack’s Club, a neighborhood bar that’s already fab thanks to a pool table, a CD jukebox, and vintage pinball machines. But head to the back and you’ll find a little window that pumps out real Southern goodness to the San Francisco masses. The Debris sandwich (pulled roast with gravy) is my favorite, although the rustic gumbo with smoked sausage, seafood, and chicken is a close second.

Mon.–Tues, 11 a.m. –4 p.m.; Wed.–Fri., 11 a.m.– 8 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; 2545 24th St. (Inside Jack’s Club), SF. (415) 282-8906,

City spanks Power Exchange


"Power Exchange is currently closed due to unfair Fire Department restrictions," states the message on the telephone answering machine of the embattled sex club, which plans to open — and possibly reignite its battle with neighbors and city officials — as soon as this weekend, Oct. 11.

Owner Michael Powers had hoped to open Oct. 2 after being shut down for alleged Fire Code violations on Sept. 18, shortly after opening for business in its new home at 34 Mason St. in the Tenderloin. But things are taking longer than Powers expected after he failed another city inspection Oct. 1. The seemingly endless paperwork from the various city agencies and the bewildering bureaucratic process are causing Powers to lose money — and patience — with each passing weekend.

Power Exchange isn’t just a venerable sex club, it’s a popular gathering place for the transgender and BDSM communities and a hub for unfettered sexual fun of all types, drawing customers from all over the Bay Area. Yet along with its strong following, the club has garnered significant opposition that recently forced its closure.

For 13 years, business boomed at the previous location at 74 Otis St. But Powers’ landlord and business partner went into bankruptcy, so Powers tried to reopen on Gough Street. But the Brady Street Neighborhood Coalition mobilized an opposition campaign with flyers and phone calls and the lease was terminated. Powers says the closure wasn’t because of the neighbors, but because the area had undergone a zoning change, making it difficult to acquire necessary permits.

So Powers found the location at 34 Mason and claims he was told by the Planning Department that it had previously housed Crash nightclub with an assembly permit already in place, and that no conditional use permit hearings were required. As far as he knew, Power Exchange was good to go.

Then the San Francisco Chronicle starting agitating against Power Exchange, quoting opponents and linking the club’s opening to incidents at the Pink Diamond nightclub and Grand Liquor, two Tenderloin businesses plagued with violence and liquor license issues. In the Sept. 12 article, "Backlash Against Sex Club in Tenderloin," news columnist C.W. Nevius wrote, "The club’s workers just moved in, opened for business, and apparently assumed that no one would say a word. They are in for a surprise."

Yet a subsequent news article ("Sex Club’s Presence Raises Concern," Sept. 17) cited zoning administrator Lawrence Badiner from the Planning Department and Department of Public Health spokesperson Jim Soos as indicating Power Exchange was a legal use for the site. "Even though the club operates from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., it does not need an after-hours permit or a public hearing before the Entertainment Commission, nor does it need a permit from the health department because it does not sell food or alcohol or operate whirlpool tubs," reporter Meredith May wrote, although she indicated that city officials were looking for ways to heed the concerns of some neighbors and stop the club from opening.

Powers was preparing to open when he was told that the building did not, in fact, have a permit for assembly. Fire Department spokesperson Mindy Talmage claims, "Crash never obtained a permit to operate. Nothing. So they were in there illegally."

Fire Department inspector Kathy Harold met with Powers in early August and gave him a list of improvements to acquire the proper permit. He completed all but two, and had a work order for the remaining items. Harold told Powers they could issue a conditional use permit, allowing him to open.

Powers eagerly awaited Harold’s follow-up visit on Sept. 16 when she was to issue the conditional use permit. But Harold was, unexpectedly, joined by inspector Donal Duffy from the Building Department. Instead of a conditional use permit, Powers was issued a "cease all operations" citation.

"Apparently the Building Department had an issue with Powers. They never called to say they did everything on the list. Normally we could issue them a conditional public assembly permit. However, the Building Department issued a cease operations permit, and they supercede us. We can’t overrule that," Talmage said. So the party was over before it had much of a chance to begin.

A frustrated Powers went ahead and opened Sept. 18, but city officials showed up to shut it down. He’s convinced that this is about more than a few building improvements or filing a change of use document for the appropriate permit. "It’s not about whether that building is safe. It’s safe as safe can be right now," he claims.

Tenderloin Station Police Capt. Gary Jimenez disagrees. "We want to prevent them from opening up because the location is dangerous. It’s a fire hazard, we’re not sure the sprinkler system is hooked up, and they don’t have an occupancy permit from the Fire Department. Nor will they be able to get one until they clear the building inspector violations."

Yet city officials seemed OK with the club until neighbors and the Chronicle turned up the heat.

"The feeling most residents have is that they’re already dealing with significant crime and quality of life issues. This is the last thing that they wanted to move into this largely residential neighborhood," says Daniel Hurtado, executive director of the Central Market Community Benefit District.

Patrons say the discreet club has gotten a bum rap. "Power Exchange has always had good security, a good relationship with its neighbors and customers, an open-door policy on concerns, and a sense of giving back to the community," Dori, a longtime Power Exchange patron, told us.

Powers, who ran for mayor in 2007, remains defiant: "Currently I look like I’m closed down because I’m defying the law. The reality? You’re not going to prohibit me from being open because of paperwork. If I need to file a new document, fine. Let’s move on."

But after failing to get the green light during an Oct. 1 inspection, Powers is feeling frustrated. "The Planning Department, again, is doing their hocus-pocus over their interpretation of the business. If you’re going to say we’re not restrained from going in there, what does it matter what type of business we are? If Badiner would just say we’re not prohibiting them from opening, the Fire Department will let us kick the doors open."

Devoted patrons of Power Exchange echo this frustration. "We all want a safe club and appreciate the need for inspections related to safety and expect the city to work quickly and fairly with the PE to remedy any safety issues so it may reopen for business soon for me and the whole community," Robin said.

Powers describes his "complete and utter frustration with the finger pointing of the different bureaucracies" as maddening. But the ball is rolling. When they do reopen, it remains to be seen if residents of San Francisco — known to be open-minded and accepting — will allow Powers to just settle in. For now, neighborhood groups wait with watchful eyes as Power Exchange patrons prepare to play once again.