Butter & Crumble, San Francisco
After being furloughed during the early days of shelter-in-place, Chef Sophie Smith thought she would pass the time by baking cakes for fun.
Little did she know that it would turn into a sweet new business that set her on an entirely new career path.
As she started baking cakes for her nascent Butter & Crumble, she wondered if anyone in the world would want an entire cake while stuck at home.
Turns out loads of people did.
She now runs her baking business out of bar in the Marina District of San Francisco that has a full-fledged kitchen. That’s where customers can pick up their pre-ordered cakes, too.
On an outing to San Francisco recently, I decided to to try one, myself.
The lofty, 4-inch-tall, 6-inch-diameter, three-layer cakes can serve 8 easily. They are priced at $45 on up, depending upon the flavor. There are usually at least nine different ones available, including Lemon Ricotta Pistachio, Chocolate Ganache Toffee, and Chai Creme Brulee.
I went with the Cinnamon Brown Butter Almond ($48). Styled after the “naked cakes” made famous by Milk Bar, Smith’s creations also sport unfrosted sides that reveal every layer clearly.
There are three layers of browned butter cake, deeply golden in color, with a very moist, compact crumb. This is not light, fluffy cake, but possessed of some sturdiness to stand up to its accoutrements.
As the bakery’s name implies, there is crumble involved in every cake. Specifically, a layer of crunchiness that adds a wonderful textural contrast to the softness of the cake. In this case, it’s cinnamon almond crumble that’s kind of like a cross between granola and streusel. It gets strewn over each layer of cake that’s slathered with whipped almond cream. Smooth cinnamon buttercream finishes the whole shebang.
Taken all together, it tastes like the best oatmeal-almond cookie.
It’s buttery, nutty, and full of cinnamon warmth. Putting it plainly: I couldn’t stop eating it.
Smith trained as a savory cook, so she takes pains to not make her cakes achingly sweet, and it shows.
She also offers a box of two or four mini cakes ($24 to $48), if you want to indulge in more than one cake flavor. Vegan versions of the cakes are also available. She’s even done wedding cakes.
Every now and then, she also offers bagels ($15 for 6) and cinnamon-crumble rolls ($18 for 3), which sell out just like that. Follow the Butter & Crumble Instagram to get wind of new products.
Pro Tip: Find out more about Smith’s fascinating journey from savory chef to pastry chef to start her own business at age 23 in my story in the Nob Hill Gazette.
Palm City, San Francisco
A wine shop that makes some of the most incredible sandwiches you’ll ever sink your teeth into?
That’s indeed what Palm City in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset truly is.
For months, friends who live in or nearer to the city than I do, were rhapsodizing about the huge hoagies served here.
I finally had a chance to get a few to-go. They completely lived up to all the praise I’d heard and read, too.
Palm City had the misfortune to open just days after the pandemic hit. Before that, it also found itself at the center of a zoning battle, as some neighbors objected to the former corner store transforming into a restaurant with a beer and wine license.
I wonder if those neighbors are secretly rejoicing now that they lost, as I bet anyone would be happy to have a thoughtful, family-owned business like this in their hood.
The owners are husband-and-wife Dennis Cantwell and Monica Wong. She’s worked the front of the house at San Francisco’s A16 and the departed Bar Agricole, while he is the former wine director of Nopa in San Francisco. The chef and sandwich savant is Melissa McGrath, a former Nopa sous chef, who has brought her Philly roots to bear on the humble sandwich.
The results are sandwiches that were well worth driving an hour to get my hands on.
I’ve read accounts that some folks think the hoagies were larger when Palm City was take-out only. (It’s now open for inside dining with proof of vaccination. There are also a couple tables on the sidewalk.) But for the life of me, I can’t imagine anyone quibbling with the size of these things. They are monstrous — 9 inches long and about 1 pound, 10 ounces each.
Five different ones are available at any one time, each served on a Rosalind Bakery roll. Among the signatures is the Italian American ($16) that’s drenched in olive oil-red vinegar dressing, making it deliciously messy and satisfying with the yielding sesame-flecked roll soaking up every drop. Within are layers and layers of mortadella, mozzarella, finocchinoa, spicy nduja aioli, and arugula that gets showered with parmesan. It’s Italian cold cuts meets Italian salad, all in a roll.
The Roast Pork ($16) encompasses very thin slices of the most tender pork shoulder roasted with herbs paired with the bitter bite of broccoli raab. What a genius combination! Bright, piquant pickled cherry pepper aioli gets layered on, along with Point Reyes Toma cheese and provolone for milky richness. It’s like sitting down to Sunday supper in sandwich form.
The Roasted Cauliflower ($15) is abundant with crisp-tender florets, raw carrots, avocado, fried shallots, and a sweet-sour-spicy profile that gives it an addictive Italian-Vietnamese sensibility.
Pro-Tip: Folks may waltz into Palm City for the sandwiches. But don’t forget about the nicely curated wines, available by the glass if you’re dining on the premises or in bottles to take home.
Do make it a complete meal, too, with dessert. It may be listed on the menu as a Blueberry Hand Pie ($8), but this is no expected turnover. Instead, it’s an actual mini pie in its own aluminum pan. It stars a tumble of jammy blueberries topped with a thin layer of streusel, all in a proper flaky crust.
The Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie ($2.50) is chewy with big puddles of dark chocolate within, along with a nice scattering of sea salt over top.