Hang out with your neighbors at Cafe Ariana

Enjoying some sun at Cafe Ariana's outdoor seating

Cafe Ariana is the definition of a neighborhood cafe, an unpretentious but cozy place to grab something to eat, a coffee, meet a few of your neighbors and catch some sun sitting outside. You could even attend an AA meeting or do some community organizing, if you were so inclined.

Cafe Ariana’s owner, Bill, has been living on that block of Geary between Hyde and Larkin for a few years. One day about a year and a half ago, when the Mexican restaurant next door to his place went out of business, he knew he wanted to do something with the space. At the time he was working in IT, but was tired of being in an office and felt like he needed a change. Bill says he wanted to do something for the community, but the community ended up helping him a lot.

Bill, the owner of Cafe Ariana

Cafe Ariana has a few tables downstairs, an internet corner with one computer and some outdoor seating. Then there’s a meeting room upstairs that hosts AA meetings four times a day, six times per week, as well as the Tenderloin Neighborhood Association monthly meetings, some transgender association meetings, and more. Bill says when he opened the cafe he wanted it to be always open for the neighborhood and the community. That’s part of the reason why he doesn’t have a website and doesn’t do any kind of social media advertising. He wants people to come to his cafe through word of mouth and return because they feel at home there. And although the place is filled with regulars who know each other and keep a steady supply of inside jokes, the first time I went there I did indeed feel welcomed by all. Also, I want to notch some bonus points for the dog-friendly attitude (not that I have one, I just like meeting some).

Cafe Ariana is very dog-friendly

On the food front, Cafe Ariana has a large menu that can probably accommodate anyone’s taste, most of it made in-house by his wife or himself. Bill says he’s really been trying to have more fresh, local and organic ingredients in his menu, but since he’s open every day from 8am-8pm it’s hard to get everything from farmers markets as he’d prefer. The various bagel options are the most popular items, and for lunch people love his falafel wrap. They also have other Mediterranean food options such as shawarma wraps, but also many other things like a few soups, salads, sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, cookies, cakes and even Turkish delights (I love them!). As you can see here, the menu seems to keep growing every day:

The gigantic menu

And best of all, Cafe Ariana’s prices are very affordable. Also, it’s open every day from 8am-8pm, with Saturday evening as a community music night. So if you haven’t been to Cafe Ariana, go check it out and catch up on all your neighborhood gossip while eating one of their delicious falafels. When I asked for a testimonials, a retired teacher who apparently who goes every day to get a slice of cheesecake told me: “this damned cake is so good I would keep coming here even if Bill didn’t give me free coffee sometimes”.

The upstairs meeting room, where daily AA meetings take place

West Coast carpentry goes East

A few months back, we profiled the furniture of das form bureau and the Tenderlocal behind it, Oliver. Well, for the better part of the last few months, he’s been out in New York City, helping coffeeshop, The Queens Kickshaw build up. Thankfully, they opened just before our visit to NYC, so naturally we had to go check out their offer, as well as Oliver’s handiwork.

As you can see in the shot above, as well as more on The Queens Kickshaw Facebook page, they’ve taken an old space in Astoria and turned it in to what we deem “industrial comfort”, a look we quite enjoy and was masterminded by EcoSystems. A great many items, such as the coffee pour over bar were fabricated in Oliver’s workshop here and then shipped back East for installation. But, he was also on hand to re-purpose the building, adding all kinds of touches including shelves that would withstand a San Francisco earthquake.

But how is the Kickshaw? Awesome. Ben (who lived in San Francisco prior to defecting to a real city) and Jen have created a really great spot with a cozy vibe and a gourmet grilled cheese menu that’s delicious, in addition to solid coffee and beers. In short, a neighborhood spot that anyone from San Francisco who for some reason finds themselves in Astoria, will most likely want to visit and feast upon. Our thanks to the owners who treated us fantastically even before we mentioned that we came to snoop on what Oliver had been doing.

Jebena Coffeeshop expands to Gelato & Crepes

A Jebena is a pot used to brew coffee in the Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Eastern Sudanese traditional coffee ceremony (pictured here with some Cezve to make Turkish coffee). But Jebena is also one of the coffee shops we like to frequent in the neighborhood, located at the corner of Geary and Polk, and of course one that offers coffee brewed in a jebena (if I’m not mistaken, it’s the only place in San Francisco that has it) as well as in a cezve Turkish-style.

Seeing how hot it was today, I decided to have lunch outdoors while getting a bit of color on my indoorsy pasty legs. And since Jebena has plenty of outdoor seating on top of serving Barefoot coffee, that’s where I headed with a book and camera in tow (people watching is also a big perk of outdoor seating in the TL). Once there, I ordered a chicken and pesto sandwich which comes with a side salad (pictured here) and couldn’t resist the calling of the gelato bar.

Although I’ve been to Jebena few times, it was the first time I met owner Ahmed and so I was able to catch up with him on his grand plans for the two-in-one space. Although Jebena’s gelato extension has been in the works and more or less functioning for several months now, Ahmed has made it nicer for the spring, for example adding an art exhibit by beloved mural artist Dray. And he has hired a French crêpe master to manage the gelato space (which is next door to the coffeeshop proper, connected through a passageway in the back).

Unfortunately, Jebena’s gelato signs keep getting stolen, so it’s not immediately visible from the street that there’s a gelateria in the back of the coffeeshop. Since there aren’t really any places to enjoy gelato or ice-cream for that matter in the Tenderloin (Joey’s on O’Farrell is the only one that comes to mind), I’m sure word of mouth will take its course.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, their most popular item in the menu are the free-range hard-boiled eggs from the HOC Farmers’ Market that they sell for $.85 a piece. But their food offerings are much more extensive. In case you haven’t been to Jebena yet, here’s a quick reminder of what they have: bagels, eggs, salads healthy sandwiches on different types of bread (whole wheat, sourdough or baguette) such as Reuben and tuna champagne, crêpes such as a Norwegian one with smoked salmon and an Andalusian one with avocado, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese. And in the sweet department: more crêpe options such as lemon butter, banana caramel, strawberries and cream, as well as a whole bunch of cakes and cookies (including some Middle Eastern ones they get from a friend of the family). And of course, gelato!

For the coffee geeks it’s worth noting that they now have a rewards program (similar to that at farm:table). Oh, and they close at 9pm! So if you’re in need of some breeze while enjoying some gelato and an espresso, people-watching, and not seeing the 19 bus pass the whole time you’re there, head to Jebena.

Little Bird in the Chron

Today, former “conservative suburban twit“, C.W. Nevius wrote up an article in his column about Little Bird vs. David Overdorf. Haven’t heard of Overdorf before? He makes outdoor seating permits a jaunty experience and you should get acquainted:

Overdorf, who did not reply to interview requests, is a familiar name to DPW. He’s made many public complaints, including a recent dustup over a mural on Polk Street. Ron Case, chairman of the Lower Polk Neighbors, says a meeting to consider the mural was going along nicely until Overdorf, a former member of the organization, “just went off.”

He does indeed live in the neighborhood on Hyde between Post & Geary and it appears he’s been going around for some time, being a menace to just about any new, well, anything in the neighborhood solely for the sake of being contrary. Why, as one commenter put it, he hasn’t been labeled a “spurious litigant” by the city and rightly ignored is beyond me. Wait, no it’s not. This is San Francisco and we all have a voice no matter how full of nuts that voice may be.

Regardless, it’s good to see Little Bird getting some coverage over this as Chelsea and Dave have dealt with a lot of crap for something that should be pretty simple.

New Hooker’s hours and the “nutasty”

What’s worth a decent mention at Hooker’s Sweet Treats is that their hours have now shifted up to being open both Saturday and Sunday from 10-2. This may be due to customer nudging or just that, as we saw when there, that weekends are indeed mighty busy. Mondays are now the day of the shutters though.

But, beyond this, there are more Hooker good news: David has been messing around with tossing together three kinds of nuts, a slathering of caramel, and a base of chocolate to create the new treat you see above. While they’ll set you back $2 apiece, my lord damn these “nutasty” little sweets are fantastic, although I’m sure that a much more profane name will emerge in time.

Do you like outdoor seating?

Whether it’s a feeling of hopelessness, lack of actual work/reason to be, or the fact that in truth, you have little effect on the things that actually matter in this town, the NIMBY bomb has blown up lately. This example as well as this one are just a few articles of many which show that yes, one person can make a difference; if being a massive pain in the ass to everyone else is somehow making a difference.

Perhaps it’s out of the illusion of power that it generates or something else relating to a hatred of humanity in general, but one person has been blocking the outdoor seating application for Little Bird Coffeehouse for the last six months. One. Person. This lone voice in a sea of nearly 30,000 people that comprise this neighborhood is not representative nor is there any basis for this person (who doesn’t even live on the same street) to fight this application other than the fact they feel like fighting it and want to be contrary. At least that’s my guess, because who doesn’t like outdoor seating on a sunny day, especially on that block of Geary? (pictured above, sans outdoor seating)

So, much like the issue revolving around the parklet for farm:table, which by the way got approved and should be out very soon, we ask that you drop in to Little Bird to sign a petition to allow the permit process its due course. Or download it, sign it, and send it to them. (Let us emphasize that, as is often the case in this situations, the outdoor seating application was compliant with the city’s regulations and thus was approved by the planning commission.) The public hearing is Wednesday, March 2nd at City Hall, room 400 at 9:00 AM for those who can attend and are willing to show their support in person.

Disclaimer: We realize that, based on our last Little Bird article, it might not be the #1 spot of some of our readers, but we ask you to sign if for no other reason than to turn back this irrational tide of NIMBY bullshit and bring about some normality that doesn’t revolve around one squeaky wheel getting the grease. Also, some of you might be happy to learn that we have an article on Cafe Ariana coming up in the next days.

The First Tenderloin Coffee Crawl

Yes, you’ve read that correctly: there’s a Tenderloin Coffee Crawl coming up on Saturday! And not just any coffee, but fancy, specialty coffee from local roasters. It’s technically a Tenderloin and Nob Hill coffee crawl, but it just sounds so much more badass to leave the Nob Hill out (sorry, Contraband, first permit hell and now this…).

The coffee fest is organized by a hard-core coffee geek (dare we say bean nerd?) and farm:table co-owner Shannon, who can spend hours talking about the perfect cup of coffee. Try him, you’ll see. Besides farm:table, who will represent Verve, participating coffee shops include: Hooker’s Sweet Treats, representing Sightglass, Little Bird representing Ritual and De la Paz, Contraband, representing their own brand, AND with a surprise pop-up coffee kiosk (that sadly doesn’t include humin jumping out of a bush in a bear suit) over at the Bamboo Bike Studio serving another popular San Francisco third-wave coffee roaster which most of you can probably guess, but don’t spoil the ending for everyone else in the theater, okay?

There will be cuppings and demonstrations, as well as some general socializing–geekery and Loinster-ery, from 2 to 5pm, and afterward the presumably very wired party will continue at Koko Cocktails, where they’ll will serve a special Revolver coffee cocktail to wrap up the event (heads up: don’t swallow the booze beans).

For details about the participating businesses and a map, click here. Also RSVP if you know, you want at the Facebook page.

The beautiful flyer is the work of TenderNob designer and farm:table regular Jason Permenter, whom we’ll hopefully see on Saturday leaving his farm:table comfort zone.

The “new” Little Bird Coffeehouse

We reviewed Little Bird Coffeehouse when it had been barely open for a couple of days, last July (what can we say, we love getting you the scoop). Back then they were focusing on solid coffee, didn’t have any food except for donuts from Bob’s, and were still finding their footing in the business. Since then, we’ve been to Little Bird quite a few times and have seen it go through a number of changes, slowly turning into a neighborhood favorite with a unique character and menu. So, it’s time we write an update about it.

The picture above shows how Little Bird looked when we first visited, right after it had opened. Below is how it looks now:

As you can see, now they have artwork on the walls. This is because since last October they’ve been hosting monthly art shows, like this one we mentioned earlier by SFAI students. The current show, “Lust and chaos” is probably our favorite so far, although we’re very curious to see the one coming up for V Day, opening on February 11th. It’s a group show about being in love in the Tenderloin titled, titled “TenderLove”. Besides the art on the walls, Little Bird has an overall very ‘artsy’ atmosphere, including hand-written business cards and several artist regulars. It’s only natural since Chelsea, one of the owners, as well as the newly hired chef and the two main baristas, are alumni of the SF Art Institute.

As you know, Little Bird’s first priority was to serve high quality-coffee, which they source from local cult roasters Ritual and De la Paz. They’re also one of the few places in the neighborhood who also have several quality tea options, including loose leaf from Rishi, chai from Parisa in the Mission, and a Cambric Earl Grey Latte that is apparently a specialty from Denver (or at least the name is). We’re pretty sure they’re the only place in the Tenderloin who serves kombucha, and in the weekends they even make ‘Komosas’, which are Mimosas made with kombucha and orange juice.

But the main big change at Little Bird in 2011 is the addition of full-time chef, Nancy Felz (not pictured above), and the re-organization of the floor space to have an actual kitchen that is separate from the coffee counter. This means that now they have a breakfast and lunch menu that changes daily, as well as additional weekend brunch options and seasonal, freshly-squeezed juices. Most of the dishes are chalkboard menu classics, but with local, organic ingredients sourced mainly from farmers’ markets. Also, everything on the menu is vegetarian, and most items can be made vegan and/or gluten free (they also have vegan donuts from Peebles in addition to the regular ones from Bob’s). In spite of the tight space, Nancy makes most things in-house, for example the popular whole wheat waffles here with a side of berries, bananas and nuts:

Photo from The Eatable Life

Other customer favorites include snack-sized French toast donuts served with fresh fruit, or the spicy smoked tofu Reuben with Pepperjack cheese, avocado and fresh sauerkraut. When we were there last weekend, one of the brunch specials was a herb and chevre frittata with olives and roasted tomatoes served with rosemary potatoes, fresh fruit, and a roll. Chelsea told us she loves everything Nancy makes, so she lets her experiment with whatever is in season and use it in different forms. She added that the next step is for them to make their own bread, as well as their own pastries (Chelsea had a cookbook about bread in her hands as she was saying that).

Now, if only they could have outdoor seating for these sunny winter days. But more on that later…

The Tender Tonight: Bacon & Bourbon, SFAI exhibit at Little Bird

  • Last Bacon & Bourbon of the year at Koko Cocktails is tonight! Here’s how it works: order any bourbon (or any other American whiskey) and the Koko will give you a side of thick sliced applewood smoked bacon cooked that morning. So whether you are sticking with the $4 happy hour Old Crow well, trying out $5 Mystery Whiskey (to be revealed the day of) or splurging for the $15 Hudson Manhattan Rye, you’ll be pairing it with a delicious slice of perfection. Taste all the familiar nuances separately, or drop it in and make a southern soup on the spot! Come and get it, and get there early… first come first serve til the last piece is gone. 5-9pm
  • Little Bird Coffeehouse is hosting their second (or third?) art exhibit, which will be monthly. This one is by students at the SF Art Institute and the opening is tonight from 6-9pm. I was there yesterday and I saw them hanging the art on the walls, which made me wonder if I had misunderstood the name of the school. The barista, who studies at SFAI himself, assured me that those are the works of his schoolmates. “Conceptual art”, he said. And kittehs in toilets, I might add.

Sign the petition, bring the parklet

For those of you who know, love and style up farm:table on Post Street, you may or may not be aware that they’ve applied through the Pavement to Parks program to bring a “parklet” to the front of their establishment. We’re all for this initiative as it’s grassroots, created and funded by those it directly affects, and works to make our dense city areas more livable and sane. This would also be the first parklet in the Tenderloin/Nob neighborhood.

There are some people who are against this, though. Maybe it’s due to the loss of one or at most, two parking spaces. Maybe it’s the potential for noise, which um, is that something someone in downtown could be annoyed by? Maybe it could also be the belief that a private business is grabbing “public land” unfairly. But, here’s the thing: these parklets are granted conditional use. The people that sponsor them have no claim to the space where they’re constructed. They’re temporary and most of all, they’re for the general public. Yes, it’s true that a business such as farm:table can get more outdoor seating from the deal, but at the same time, they provide more non-transient street space that we can all enjoy in a town that’s damned near criminal in its lack of benches and any kind of outdoor spaces.

I got in to all this to say that two people out of the entire neighborhood (who are a couple and decided to remain anonymous) voice objection to the permit granting the parklet to farm:table. I guess they have their reasons for whatever that’s worth, but now those who support this parklet need to speak up in favor of it. If you want to see this go through (not just for the seating at farm:table, but also to increase our sorely lacking outdoor leisure space) then sign this petition and mail it in to the address provided on the letter.