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Monday, July 16, 2012

Pat's Cafe: A Cozy Familiarity That Still Mirrors San Francisco's Funk

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 8:15 AM

click to enlarge The exterior of Pat's Cafe is tough to ignore.
  • The exterior of Pat's Cafe is tough to ignore.

Pat's Cafe, a nine-year-old American restaurant tucked away on Taylor street by Columbus Avenue in North Beach, has found a perfect balance to give locals and tourists alike a true taste of our city.

Tangerine, green and yellow all splash the walls of Pat's Cafe
  • Tangerine, green and yellow all splash the walls of Pat's Cafe

It's a lot to take in, but once inside, it's difficult to leave. Pat's Cafe may be a bit of an eyesore outside, with its mustard yellow exterior, but the interior gleams. Bells jingle to greet all those who walk in, only followed by the welcome of tangerine-splashed walls, colorfully-tiled floors, and the smile of a server. It's cozy, to say the least. Sunlight floods through windows on the street-side of the cafe, allowing customers to watch the trolley cars pass by filled with tourists craning their necks to capture the best photos of the Wharf. San-Francisco-themed photographs and artwork adorn the tangerine walls, and the air is filled with conversations from both tourists and locals, and swing music from the radio.

click to enlarge A half-eaten California omelette. It was too good to resist.
  • A half-eaten California omelette. It was too good to resist.
As I dined at Pat's Cafe, the smell of roasting coffee beans and freshly-pressed waffles filled my nose. My taste buds absorbed the simple flavors of my California Omelet ($9.95), which had grilled onions, mushrooms, sweet grilled chicken apple sausage, gooey cheddar cheese, and part of an avocado to quell the taste buds. It was like a diner--neither something to rave about nor something to criticize, but something that had a cozy familiarity to it. In America, diners are a dime a dozen, but the personality of Pat and her cafe left me eager to return.

Standing tall with broad shoulders, a tan complexion, jet-black hair, and a raspy voice, Patricia Darden, the Pat of Pat's Cafe, is certainly emblematic of her venue and of SF. She wears a red vest, a white shirt and dark capris to match the wooden cutout of herself that greets customers from outside her cafe. She's a little loud and a little out there, but she has a striking charisma and a harsh charm that prove difficult to ignore.

click to enlarge Pat, her loyal waiter Gary Conner, and the wooden Pat that greets pedestrians. Can you see the resemblance?
  • Pat, her loyal waiter Gary Conner, and the wooden Pat that greets pedestrians. Can you see the resemblance?

Pat has a go-with-the-flow yet determined attitude. She opened her first business after she grew fed up with office life. Without a clear direction of what type of business she wanted to run, Pat searched through neighborhoods to find what they needed. She found that there was only one place on Polk Street that sold freshly-ground coffee, a "prestigious" an unrivaled venue. In 1982, Pat opened her own coffee-beans store and expanded fifteen years ago to a fully-operating restaurant, and she's set on progressing further. She has opened for dinner a few times, but, due to the economy, a quitting chef, and other factors, she has had difficulty maintaining these later hours. However, her difficulties have not deterred her: "I'm determined that I'm going to do it."

The menu boasts hearty breakfast foods and wholesome lunches, many of which sound and taste familiar -- omelets, crepes, and pancakes for breakfast, BLT's, burgers, quesadillas, salads and soups for lunch. Fuzzy cushions and throw-blankets cover the booths in the back of the cafe. Pat and her staff bounce and sway to jazz on the radio.

click to enlarge Cable cars zoom down Taylor Street en route to the Warf.
  • Cable cars zoom down Taylor Street en route to the Warf.
SF's funky history and spirit live in the cafe's artwork, too. Street artists' paintings line one of the walls. The Haight district's anti-Vietnam War spirit lives on in photographs from that era in another corner. Portrayals of a clown's journey through the city, too, manifest the city's eccentricity and color. Just like the city itself, this cafe is not short of creativity or zeal. Both offer a particular oomph found nowhere else.

Pat's favorite item on the menu is the French toast, because she's a fan of the ciabatta bread, but you can try it for yourself. Stop by next time you find yourself riding a cable car, exploring North Beach, or if you just want to be reminded of how great our city is. Pat will certainly welcome you.

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Suzanne Stathatos

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