I pretty much need to have coffee in the morning. This isn’t really a problem on work days, there are a gazillion and one starbucks and peets and donut shops within walking distance of my office, and I keep a french press at my desk. The weekend is when this can get tricky. Usually I just order a cup at whichever restaurant I eat breakfast/brunch/lunch (depending on how late I sleep). There are some days though where various elements conspire to make it difficult for me to caffeinate myself, and then I get a little, shall we say, grumpy. I was having one of those mornings the other day, when Steve and I were going out of town for some reason or other. We were going to be riding our bikes down to the BART station. In the old days, before bikes, we would have walked down to the station and I would have picked up a coffee somewhere along the way. This was no longer an option, so I needed to figure something else out. I had grown a bit tired with my usual coffee spot, the gelato place about a block from my house. Their americanos were nice, but the service could be slow, and I needed food with my coffee. That’s my other problem, I can’t drink coffee on an empty stomach. They have some middling pastries at the gelato place, and they make crepes and bagels, but as I mentioned, the wait can be painfully long. I didn’t have a lot of time because I had to eat and finish my coffee before we had to leave in about 30 minutes. I decided to head down the hill to the next closest coffee shop, What A Grind.
I’m friendly with two of my fellow tenants in my apartment building, and one of them told me a few months ago that What A Grind has the best coffee in San Francisco. I was pretty skeptical about that; I’d waited at the bus stop in front of the cafe almost everyday for 2 years and I saw the volume of business they were doing. If this place really had the best coffee in San Francisco some hipster would have found it out and it would have grungy kids queuing down the block. Mostly the customers are burnouts and old Chinese guys from the neighborhood. The place definitely inspires a fierce loyalty among some, I saw the same faces there the Sunday I stopped by that I’d been seeing every weekday morning for so long.
I went inside and ordered a regular coffee and an everything bagel with ham, cheese and egg. The interior was not at all what I expected, it was much brighter and filled with odd knick-knacks and framed photos. There was a life size painting of Marilyn Monroe on one wall. The small dining area, off to the right of the small entryway room that housed the counter and the kitchen, was homey with mismatched chairs and tables and potted plants. I watched as Sam, the proprietor, who I recognized from my bus stop days, put my bagel on the toaster and sliced pressed ham on a meat slicer. My breakfast sandwich was about 4 bucks, which is just a little cheaper than the non-breakfast sandwiches they offer. They also have some deli salads that didn’t look bad at all. I’m thinking this could be a decent place for a quick, cheap lunch.
That is, if my bagel is any indication. I was put off a bit by the amount of liquid that came off the bagel, I’m not sure why it was so wet. I mean, I guess it must be from the ham but it was a serious amount of juice. It did not seem proportional to the amount of filling. Beyond that initial weirdness, it was a pretty good breakfast sandwich. The egg was fine for microwave cooked egg, the ham was standard, pretty salty but good. The cheese was American, but I’m ok with that on a hot sandwich because American cheese has a pretty superior melt-ability. The bagel was toasted enough that there was a crackly crust on the cut sides and the outside. When I have a toasted bagel I want a well toasted bagel. If I were to grab breakfast at What a Grind again, I’d probably get a bagel with cream cheese or tomato or something, because those bagels are pretty cheap at $1.50 and, though I found my sandwich quite satisfying, it probably wasn’t $4 worth of satisfying.
Oh, and the coffee? Not the best in San Francisco, sorry. I knew you were hoping I’d be the hipster who discovered the diamond in the rough, but it’s not to be. It was pretty good though.
What A Grind
881 Post Street
Oh, something really cool about this place is that it’s in the same building as the apartment that Dashiell Hammett lived in while he was writing The Maltese Falcon, among other stories. There’s a plaque on the wall near the gated entrance where you can read a bit more about it. Neat, huh? You can also check out this site for a photo tour of the building and apartment.