Good Food in the Microhood: A Bite Before Rainbow

Sharon and Jeff stave off impulse snackie purchases at Rainbow Grocery by exploring the neighborhood-in search of good food.

A hidden gem of a café sits demurely across across from Best Buy, on Harrison near 14th Street.

Jeff Jacoby (sound) Rainbow and Goody Goodie at 14th & Harrison

Over the years Jeff and I have learned that the best way to reduce impulse purchases at the grocery store is to never shop on an empty stomach. But because it’s not always possible to eat before shopping, it’s paramount to identify those perfect places to grab a bite nearby. When we moved to San Francisco in 2006 we had to start from scratch, setting up all of the basic essentials needed for life in a new place. This list of resources included important things, like figuring out where we’d live, whom we’d see for medical checkups, where we would get our health-food groceries, and (near the top of the list) where we could grab that emergency, healthy bite before shopping for food.  Through advance research I’d found that there were then three  Whole Foods Markets in San Francisco. But there was no way that I could have imagined a place like the Rainbow Grocery Cooperative.

San Franciscan old-timers are often jaded about Rainbow, complaining about the prices or how long it takes to shop there, but to these east coast transplants, it’s just simply amazing. I’ve belonged to a number of co-ops and CSAs, and have entered almost every health food store that I’ve ever passed, but I’ve never seen a store as vast and varied-and stocked to the rafters with countless varieties of lovely organic produce-as Rainbow. Ah the produce! The first time our friend Gary brought us there I actually fought back tears. It was more than just the amazing selection of organic fruits and veggies, the stunning scale of the store, or the huge range of herbs and teas. What overwhelmed me most was that Rainbow represents a city that is quirky-foodie-healthy enough to demand and sustain aisles of bulk food stocked with items like wheat-free organic tamari, teechino and umeboshi plum paste.

Rainbow Grocery Coop produce isle has an astounding selection of gorgeous, fresh, (often local) organic fruits and veggies (FYI: the “Cooperative” means that Rainbow is cooperatively owned by its workers-it’s not a food co-op that offers discount to volunteers in exchange for work).

Like many of us in the south quadrant of the city, I now get most of my organic (or local spray–free) produce from the Saturday Alemany Farmers Market. However this doesn’t negate the necessity for regular pilgrimages to Rainbow for specialty produce, restocking bulk foods, teas, TP and sundries, and maybe even a treat or two.

Those treats do really add up though, and the hungrier we are, the more treats seem to make it into the cart. Unfortunately, one thing Rainbow doesn’t have is a salad bar/hot table (like Whole Foods does), so we still needed to find a place to eat before shopping. The microhood that runs along 14th street between Rainbow on Folsom Street and the Best Buy on Harrison Street had a few stores, two evening “fine dining”  restaurants and, recently, the diner-like Cafe Zazo. But given my no-dairy, no-meat, non-deep fry restrictions, none of these options fulfilled my quest for a nearby, healthy-ish bite. Then, just as I’d about given up the search, the perfect spot magically materialized.

14th Street (behind Rainbow) runs between Folsom Street and Harrison Street.

Last November, without any fanfare (or even signage), a little cafe then-called Star Stream opened its doors at 1830 Harrison. The now-renamed Goody Goodie Cream & Sugar Cafe and Dessert Salon (referred to in this article as “Goody Goodie Cafe”) has a somewhat better visibility (signage), expanded days of operation (currently from 7:30am to 5pm Monday through Friday, and Saturdays from 9am to 2pm), and continues to turn out what might be my favorite pizza-anywhere.

I’m originally from NYC where pizzas literally bend from the weight of the cheese. Unfortunately I can no longer eat cheese, so NYC street pizzas are out. In the 24 years before we moved to San Francisco, Jeff and I lived near New Haven, CT-which swears to have invented the pizza. New Haven is famous for its fabulous white clam pizzas (no cheese or sauce, just olive oil and fresh clams charred in a brick oven), and I was a little worried that moving west would mean that I would have to live without great pizza.

Thankfully, decades ago Berkeley chef Alice Waters reinvigorated the concept of pizzas with thinner crusts topped with fresh arugula and other goodies. Chef Remi descends from this lineage, having been hired straight out of culinary school by star chefs Jeremy Tower (whose first culinary job in 1972 was at Chez Panisse) and Emily Luchetti to work at the then-famous SF restaurant  Stars.

At Goody Goodie Cafe, Chef Remi has created a pizza with perhaps the lightest, most heavenly crust I’ve ever tasted. It is almost paper thin and baked to perfection. I’ve gotten the “verde” pizza a number of times and have never been disappointed. The verde consists of thinly sliced roasted potatoes, pesto, pine nuts, a farm egg in the middle-all topped with arugula and a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. If you’re vegan, ask them to make it without the cheese and egg (the pesto is vegan). Don’t eat gluten? Then opt for the exquisite house salad, piled high with arugula, roasted potatoes, pickled carrots, and topped with a memorable tart-yet-slightly-sweet dressing. Depending on our hunger level Jeff and I will share one of the above or order both. They also make a wonderful whole grain bread, so I keep wanting to try the fresh farm egg salad sandwich with a side salad, but I never seem to be willing to forgo the pizza or the house salad. Since I can’t eat dairy and don’t drink coffee, we’ve not ordered the famous (and apparently loved) waffles served with a shot of Blue Bottle Coffee espresso. In addition to Blue Bottle (regular and decaf), they also have a lovely selection off 5 Mountains Heirloom Organic Teas. The food is fresh and local, with prices ranging from about $3.50 (for waffle or side salad) to $12 for a loaded pizza.

Blue Bottle Coffee, waffles (with Blue Bottle Coffee) and daily specials are also available.

As we’ve both settled in to life in San Francisco, it’s become clear that the famous high-end restaurants are not what make this such an exciting city for food. The amazing thing about San Francisco food is these small, unpretentious places like Goody Goodie Cafe, where locals can get the best in reasonably priced and simply prepared, good food. But even more important than forming the basis of the eating scene in San Francisco, these small neighborhood restaurants help to establish and define this city’s vibrant microhoods.

Although Goody Goodie Cafe has solved the “don’t shop on an empty stomach” problem, it’s created an entirely new dilemma. Now scheduling our trips to Rainbow hinges on whether we have  enough time to first stop at Goody Goodie Cafe for lunch.

So many meals, so little time”¦

P.S. If reading about delicious food inspires you to help low-income food entrepreneurs become economically self-sufficient, please consider making a donation to the Mission non-profit La Cocina. La Cocina focuses primarily on helping women from communities of color and immigrant communities do what they love to do, while contributing to a vibrant economy.

As much as we still love Goody Goodie, something new in the neighborhood required checking out-and it’s not just one place, it’s a whole cluster of new places-or rather, a cluster of food trucks.

Since I don’t eat meat, dairy, or deep fry, generally food trucks aren’t usually a draw for me. Add to that the lines for food, derth of comfy places to sit, and lack of nearby clean bathrooms-and “street food” is normally an experience I pass up. Until now.

Just across Division Street and a bit east from Rainbow, there is a new space where foodies have begun to congregate. We’ve been watching the construction and the signs going up. Then we recently found ourselves heading to Rainbow on a day too windy to sit outside at GoodyGoodie, so we decided to just walk over the check out the new SOMA StrEAT Food Park. (In case you’re as mystified about the name as I was: HINT->see the EAT in the Str EAT?)

Right off the bat we were concerned that the location (just under the highways and next to the speeding Division traffic) was going to be too noisy and hectic. However, the designers did a really good job making this area feel a world away from the hustle and bustle nearby. With lots of tables and different seating areas (many sheltered from the wind), it became immediately clear that this is not your average street food.

In fact, it turns out that, being San Francisco, we found plenty of healthy eats.

The dairy-free polenta at the Raavling truck spoke to me. What I got was a wonderful, fresh, vegan polenta baked with tomato sauce, olive oil, and served with a small spinach salad for (I’m not kidding) $4.00 at Raavling (thurs, sat, sun). Jeff got one of the Sunrise Deli’s “Best Bay Area Falafel” wraps, and it was good.

Oh lest I forget: they even have a building with clean bathrooms

Next time perhaps I’ll get to the fresh whole wheat pasta (they’re adding gluten-free soon)-but there’s also the other vendors serving organic Vietnamese , or EireTrea for Irish/Eritrean veggies (really). And of course the trucks change regularly, resulting in different combinations of foods at all times. We’ll just never get to try everything that looks good, especially because there still is Goody Goodie.

So many meals, so little time.
P.S. FYI Goody Goodie now only serves pizza Wednesday through Saturday

 Mission District, pizza

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