It's that time of year in San Francisco: Just when we're ready to give up on summer completely and dive into Starbucks' pumpkin spiced lattes, the temperatures finally rise. The sun comes out, the jackets fall off, the parks fill up. And it's these weekends that draw everyone to places like Cafe Flore for brunch, served 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
The Castro institution is hard to miss, thanks to the expansive, umbrella-filled outdoor seating area and crowds flocking to tiny tables. Those lucky enough to land them stake out their spots, sipping iced coffees and flipping through books to pass the time. No matter the 15-person line collecting by the entrance; here's it's first come, first serve.
Service is a non-issue at Cafe Flore. You order food at the register, pay, head over to the bar for your coffee (or bloody mary), pay again, and then start silently fighting the crowds for a seat. Waiting in line at the register gives you a chance to peruse the menu, a no-nonsense list that hits all the daytime musts.
There are few surprises among the brunch dishes -- Eggs Benedict ($11.75) and a few variations start it off, covered with a thick layer of hollandaise and accompanied by garlic fried potatoes (crispy and flavorful, but undeniably heavy). The Zoe's Chicken and Apple Sausage Scramble ($10) features goat cheese and delicious caramelized onions, though the mealy texture of roasted tomatoes in the mix disappoints. Portion sizes will satisfy even the biggest appetities; the scramble comes not only with those roasted potatoes, but generous slices of sourdough toast and a package of jam as well.
The restaurant also offers standard French toast, frittata, and yogurt/granola options, but the brunch ends there. Salads, soups, sandwiches and burgers complete the menu, with more sizable quantities and fresh -- if somewhat unremarkable -- ingredients.
The Avocado Salad ($8.95) is light and refreshing on a hot day, topped with feta cheese and pico de gallo. The Macaroni & Cheese ($6.50) is the definition of comfort food, featuring cheesy sauce and a cornbread crumble topping. A BLT ($9.50) meets expectations on toasted sourdough, paired with a huge pile of steak fries.
Naturally, the wait time for food depends on the number of people around, but it's usually reasonable. Weekend diners can expect to be surrounded by hungry hopefuls, standing anxiously nearby and perhaps even giving a stink-eye to the guy who's been reading in the corner for over an hour. He's likely enjoying the ample view of passers-by strolling down Market Street, which never gets old.
If competitive table snagging isn't your thing or you're looking for original brunch dishes, wait in line somewhere else. But if you're in it for the sunny patio and people watching, go claim a table early at Cafe Flore.
Olivia Ware works for Williams-Sonoma, where she contributes to the company blog, The Blender. She also writes a personal food blog at LivBites.com.