Food trucks and craft beer converge at Eat Real

The Eat Real Festival in Oakland celebrates (primarily) regional, sustainable food, much of it dispensed from the food trucks that have become a ubiquitous highlight of our Bay Area culinary landscape. Now in its third year, Eat Real, held last weekend, continues to get bigger and better. More than 100,000 people were expected to flock to Jack London Square to enjoy small plates of food from nearly 100 vendors. Live music and food demonstrations entertained the throng as people lined up for buns from Chairman Bao, pork on flat bread from Chop Bar, lobster rolls from Sam’s Chowdermobile, paella from Gerard’s and a lot more.
Beer from local breweries was also featured in a “beer shed” with craft beer from the East Bay (Pyramid, Trumer Pils, Pacific Coast, Linden Street, Triple Rock, Drakes, Ale Industries, Black Diamond); the north (Lagunitas, Anderson Valley, Bear Republic, Iron Springs, Marin Brewing, North Coast, Eel River); San Francisco (21st Amendment, Social Kitchen & Brewery, ThirstyBear, Beach Chalet, Speakeasy, Magnolia, Anchor); and Sacramento (Ordonata, Rubicon).
In addition, the beer shed featured guest brewers like Brian Thorsen from Drakes, who was pouring the San Leandro brewery’s excellent 1500 pale ale. Other standouts included Ordonata’s delicious saison, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale, which was perfect for the warm weather.
Despite the abundance of food and beer, enjoying them together can be a challenge at Eat Real, with food and beer seldom located in the same vicinity. The lines (especially for beer) are prohibitively long and seats can be hard to come by. I did manage one tasty pairing, however, matching 21st Amendment’s Back in Black with a delicious dark chocolate brownie. 21A’s black IPA is more toasty and malty than it is IPA bitter, and was a perfect complement to the brownie.
Eat Real Festival founder Anya Fernald has tapped into the rich vein of our local food culture, and the annual late-summer event reminds us just how lucky we are to share in the Bay Area’s bounty of craft beer and fantastic food. You can read Fernald’s food manifesto here.

Super Duper and Scrimshaw celebrate the all-American burger

Burgers don’t need to be too complicated, but over the past few years, the humble hamburger has become a cause celebre. It’s not enough anymore for a burger to be just a meat patty with melted cheese, lettuce and tomato. Celebrity chef Hubert Keller is one of the drivers of this gourmet burger band wagon and his Burger Bars tout “The Ultimate Burger Experience” in St. Louis, Las Vegas and San Francisco. For a mere $60, you can bite into his top of the line chef’s burger, called “The Rossini.” The Kobe beef burger buffa is topped with sautéed foie gras, shaved truffles and Madeira sauce on an onion bun. Skinny fries are included.
Keller is not alone in instigating burger inflation, and restaurants all over the city now feature burgers in the $13 range, topped with bacon, avocado and Point Reyes Blue Cheese. Some of them are very good, like the burger at The Broken Record ($10), with a bacon-infused patty. Nopa also makes a fantastic grass-fed burger ($13), and the burgers at brewpub 21st Amendment are reliable and hearty before a game or event.
But sometimes you just want a simple burger with some crispy fries. Refusing to buckle to burger mania, Rosamunde, next to the Toronado on Haight Street, cooks an excellent burger on Tuesdays for a mere $6. And despite its name, Super Duper Burger in the Castro makes a reasonably priced burger that will satisfy your craving without causing undue harm to either your wallet or your cholesterol count.
Super Duper’s burgers are more reminiscent of In ‘N Out Burger than Burger Bar, but that’s not necessarily a negative. They’re ample and not too greasy, and the fries are skinny and crispy. The servers are efficient and friendly, and would rather call your order by name than by a number. A Niman Ranch burger will set you back $3.75 and a cheeseburger is $4.25 (add $2 each for a double). Fries are $2.25 and milkshakes and ice cream are also available.

Super Duper Burger also has something you’ll never find at In ‘N Out: a couple of well-selected beer taps. Granted, the beer variety isn’t as extensive as Burger Bar’s, but the light, refreshing North Coast Scrimshaw pilsner and the piney Racer 5 IPA from Bear Republic are more than adequate. You can eat inside the cozy restaurant or, on a sunny day, sit at an outdoor table.
Whether you’re in a blue state or red state, conservative or liberal, evangelical or atheist, burgers are as American as the 4th of July, diners and barbecues, and it’s no wonder they are such a great match with American ales and lagers. Unlike mass-market American beers, which only add cold and wet, American craft beers like Scrimshaw and Racer 5 offset the savory umami flavors in the burger.
As Super Duper Burger demonstrates, you don’t need truffles on your burger or extreme beers to appreciate this quintessentially American experience.

Super Duper Burger
2304 Market St
(between 16th St & Noe St)
San Francisco, CA 94114
Neighborhood: Castro
(415) 558-8123

Beer and coffee to face the daily grind at Epicenter Café

Epicenter Café has something for almost every denizen of SOMA. Nomadic nerds can park their laptop with a free wi-fi connection. People who crave some of the best coffee in the city can sip perfectly made espressos, cappuccinos and macchiatos properly served in thick ceramic cups. And for a light meal, Epicenter offers wine and food, like homemade hummus and soups, empanadas and other tasty bites. Epicenter is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even beer lovers will find joy at this cozy café on Harrison, around the corner from Whole Foods.

The emphasis at Epicenter is clearly on the coffee: “We take our coffee seriously and hope to show you just how great it can be.”, which evaluates gourmet coffee houses in San Francisco, says Epicenter serves the second-best espresso in San Francisco, just behind Blue Bottle. Coffeeratings compares espressos from all over the city, and I can attest that Epicenter pulls a great shot (I chose a macchiato rather than the straight espresso that Coffeeratings evaluates, and it was delicious). Great coffee starts with quality beans, and Epicenter’s coffee is sourced from one of the best providers in the Bay Area, Barefoot Coffee Roasters in Santa Clara. The baristas are friendly, skillful and artistic, and according to Coffeeratings, have no qualms about tossing a shot that doesn’t meet their high standards. Even in a neighborhood like SOMA, which is virtually soaked in coffee, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better espresso than Epicenter’s
Like tasting beer and wine, coffee tasting has come a long way in the past few years, and Coffeeratings does a good job keeping up with the evolving San Francisco coffee scene. Tasting coffee (called “cupping”) has a lot in common with tasting wine and beer, and according to Greg Sherwin at Coffeeratings, coffee has more than 1,500 aromatic and flavor components, compared with about 200 for wine. More than 1,000 flavor elements have been identified in beer; they’re categorized on a beer flavor wheel.

Happy hour (Monday-Friday from 5-8 p.m.) is a good opportunity to sample some of the many flavors Epicenter Café has to offer. Although the sunny café doesn’t have any beers on tap, it has some intriguing brews in bottles. On a recent visit, I sampled the house-made hummus, with pita and slices of cucumber and tomato, matched with two very simpatico beers: Allagash White, a Belgian-style wit, and North Coast Pranqster, a strong Belgian pale ale. Although both of these beers are made in the U.S., they are very tasty and faithful versions of the Belgian styles. The hazy, golden Pranqster is complex and spicy and tastes a little of coriander, with a slightly sweet finish. It’s also fairly potent, at 7.6% abv, so you might save it for the end of the day. Allagash White, cloudy and pale yellow, is also subtly spicy with coriander and has a hint of lemon. Both were well-matched with the fresh hummus and veggies. A perfectly made macchiato was the ideal punctuation on a light late lunch.
There’s no lack of coffee houses in the South of Market, but Epicenter Café is a standout for its superb coffee and its selection of light dishes and good bottled beer.

Epicenter Café
764 Harrison St
(between 4th St & Lapu St)
San Francisco, CA 94107
Neighborhood: SOMA
(415) 543-5436

Festina Peche at Anchor & Hope: summer in the city

San Francisco never experiences warm summers like other parts of the country—or even other parts of the Bay Area. But we still enjoy summer beers. Darker beers, like porters and stouts, might be cozy and warm for long winter nights, but the lazy summer days cry out for effervescent, citrusy Belgian- and German-style wheat beers, and lagers. Hefeweizens like Sierra Nevada’s seasonal Kellerweis are refreshing whether you’re trying to beat the heat in Gilroy or bundled in a sweater on the foggy coastside.
Weissbiers with a hint of fruit seem to be on the upswing during the summer, and 21st Amendment sells a lot of cans of its signature Watermelon Wheat. A number of American brewers are also making Kolsch, a German ale once only made in Köln. It’s pale gold, crisp, faintly fruity, delicate and refreshing, with a little pucker at the finish.
American brewers have also picked up on Berliner Weiss, a German wheat beer style that has fallen out of favor from the days when it was the most popular alcoholic beverage in Berlin. Today, only a couple of German breweries still make this refreshing style, which gets its tartness from lactobacillus yeast. German beer purity laws forbid adding flavorings to beer during the brewing process, so Germans are fond of adding a shot of fruit syrup or woodruff. It’s also common for Germans to sip their Berliner Weiss from a straw. Neither the straw nor the syrup are necessary and only add some unnecessary sweetness to the otherwise grapefruity beer.
Delaware-based Dogfish Head makes a unique version of Berliner Weiss called Festina Peche. Unlike in Germany, Festina Peche is brewed with peaches but it isn’t a sweet, fruity beer. The peach comes across mostly in the aroma, while the flavor is tart and refreshing. It’s also a well-balanced beer that’s very good with lighter summer dishes that might benefit from a little blast of citrusy acidity. When they reviewed Festina Peche last year on Beer Advocate, the Alstrom brothers wrote, “This beer is a call to the entire brewing industry not to jump on every bandwagon that comes through town. Do something different.”
Anchor & Hope on Minna recently featured Festina Peche on draft, and I decided to pair it with the restaurant’s delicious fish tacos: two soft little corn tortillas topped with crispy lightly fried fish and a spicy salsa. Anchor & Hope served the Festina Peche in a wine glass, but I think Dogfish Head’s effervescent Berliner Weiss is a better match with the tacos than a still white wine or even champagne. The tart Festina Peche resonated with the salsa and was like an extra squeeze of lemon on the delicate fish.

Anchor & Hope, which opened in 2008, is the third restaurant by brothers Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal and their partner, Doug Washington, following Town Hall (2003) and Salt House (2006). Anchor & Hope has become a popular destination for downtown office workers during lunch and dinner, and for its excellent happy hour specials, like a chef’s selection of oysters for $1 each, fish tacos and shrimp fritters, as well as beer and wine specials.
Despite the stainless steel that gives the restaurant an urban ambience, the bright room has a lot of warmth, which was enhanced by Tom McDermott playing New Orleans style on the piano that Anchor & Hope brought in for the occasion. McDermott was recently featured on HBO’s post-Katrina series Treme.
Enjoying the fish tacos with the fresh Festina Peche while listening to McDermott play Professor Longhair on the piano was like taking a mini vacation from bustling downtown San Francisco. I for one hope the piano, and music in general, becomes a regular fixture at this downtown oasis.

Anchor & Hope
83 Minna St
(between 2nd St & Shaw Aly)
San Francisco, CA 94105
Neighborhood: SOMA
(415) 501-9100