When I first set out to write a story chronicling the all of the riches of coffee-related foods in San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace, that grand arcade of high-end shops and fine purveyors, I imagined a 5-course meal foraged from a bounty of espresso-bean-encrusted treats, savory and sweet alike. A full-on culinary experience rife with meats, cheeses, sauces, pastries and tiny, delicious chocolates—each and all endowed with some touch of coffee goodness. And though yes, the historic San Francisco Ferry Terminal, perched on the bay at the furthest end of Market Street, does have an impressive collection of coffee-tinged treats, they’re, for the most part, just that, treats—chocolates, brittles, donuts, etc. So let’s drop the pretense of making a meal out of this tour, and be honest: we’re here to treat ourselves.
The Ferry Building Marketplace is defined by its dedication to high quality food (some high quality pots and ceramics, but mostly food), and after more than a few hours of delicate treat-tasting, a multi-course menu of coffee-infused delights slowly began to coalesce. Of everything I tried (and there is a lot to try) these were my very favorites. Consider this a mid-afternoon indulgence, a lengthy afternoon dessert binge after a hearty breakfast of meat ’n’ potatoes, or dine à la carte to restart at whatever time of day it is you’re indulging.
Naturally, we first want to begin our tour with an actual coffee-infused coffee, an Americano served from the multi-million-dollar Blue Bottle coffee bar inside the main arcade. (This indoor space is the company’s busiest Bay Area location, and will be under renovation throughout February, so go around to the “secret window”.)
There are many miles to go before you can stop eating in this food paradise, so start with something simple, yet delicious: an 8 oz. Americano featuring a smooth, chocolate-y double shot of Hayes Valley Espresso pulled off a three group La Marzocco.
Now, take a breath. Let’s dig in.
Appetizer: Philz Coffee Donut at Pepples
The barely-there Pepples Donut Farm kiosk features the Oakland-based bakery’s wide selection of organic, vegan donuts. Skip all of them that don’t have Philz Coffee in their name. Pepples spreads a thick frosting of blended sugar and rough-ground Philz beans over a dense and decidedly cake-y donut. This thing does not screw around in mass, weight or flavor. The ground coffee is sharp and tartly floral, and it pairs nicely with the simple sweetness of the frosting. You might want to split this in half and save some for later.
Palate Cleanser: Kona Coffee Chocolate at Michael Recchiuti
Though there’s only been one solid course as of yet, it’s been a doozy, and I imagine it’s time for a smaller, more manageable treat. Michael Recchiuti—the third hometown hero to pop up on this list, and a reminder of just what values the Ferry Building expresses through its vendors—crafts elegant, refined chocolates and caramels (amongst other things) with subtle, creamy centers. His Kona Coffee Chocolate, a geodesic bit of confection architecture, has a thin, dark layer of chocolate wrapped around a smooth, almost truffle-like interior that seamlessly blends an earthy cocoa flavor with just a shade of Kona coffee. It’s small, but rich, and just one will do you fine.
Main Course: Buttermilk Biscuit w/Espresso Butter at Biscuit Bender
Amongst the clutter of the small, artsy Biscuit Bender stand, it might be difficult to ascertain just what you’re supposed to buy, but do not miss out on spreading a thick layer of tan espresso butter on one of their classic buttermilk biscuits. Though Biscuit Bender’s namesake pastry is flaky and soft and altogether delicious, you won’t hesitate to dig the maple-syrup-meets-Blue-Bottle-coffee butter out of its tiny plastic container with your finger even when the biscuit itself is long gone.
The Cheese Course: Beehive Cheese Co. Barely Buzzed at Cowgirl Creamery
Cowgirl Creamery offers a fine selection of rare and interesting cheeses, but only one is hand-rubbed with a powdery blend of lavender and ground coffees from Indonesia, South and Central America (roasted by Colorado Legacy Coffee). It rings of novelty, but the cheese masters at Beehive Cheese Co. (home base, Utah, get it?) have managed to craft a hard, Jersey cow cheese that ably toes a fine line between a salty, coffee flavor, and undertones of nutty, cheesy, caramel. Delicious on its own or smeared atop a slice from Acme Bread Company.
Dessert: Blue Bottle Vietnamese Ice Cream w/Cherries at Humphry Slocombe
So, yeah, dessert. You’re probably full, your blood sugar has probably spiked through the roof, and you’re shakily dreaming of bread, meat or anything that might sop up the caffeine and glucose puddling in your stomach. Doesn’t matter, it’s dessert time and you’re going to want to waddle on over to Humphry Slocombe‘s gleaming white ice cream spot and get a couple scoops of the Blue Bottle Vietnamese Ice Cream. To ensure maximum sugar-induced stomachache, have the soda jerk spoon a few piles of high-end cherries on top. You won’t be disappointed…though you may be a bit ill.
After-Dinner Cocktail: Cocktail w/Coffee Rye Bitters via Dandelion Chocolates + Workhorse Rye
If you’ve got anything left in you, have a friend roll you over to the warmly lit Dandelion Chocolates stand and pick up a bottle of their Coffee Rye Bitters, a collaboration with Workhorse Rye advertised as a strong addition to both cocktails or plain, ol’ coffee. Head home, spray a few drops in a (decaf) Irish Coffee and hope it’ll help you sleep your way through the sugar hangover.
Noah Sanders is a contributor to SF Weekly, The Bold Italic, and Sprudge.com. Read more Noah Sanders on Sprudge.
Photos by Molly Decordreaux.