If anyone was wondering why I fell off the face of the blogging earth the last couple of weeks, it’s due to a mixture of starting a new job (!) and frantically planning my two-week getaway at the end of March through Eastern Europe and Japan. And if you know anything about how I travel, that means spreadsheets and food.
As part of my Eastern European food “research” (eating is totally research), I visited 20th Century Cafe over the weekend, a year and a half old establishment tucked away in Hayes Valley. Brimming with natural light from the large windows and white interior, the cafe touts pastries and savories inspired by Prague, Vienna, and Budapest; pastry chef Michelle Polzine traveled through these areas some years back and vowed to bring them to SF, and so the cafe was born.
The menu is succinct and emulates what you might find at a cafe in Europe, such as buckwheat crepes, smoked salmon, knishes, and seasonal pierogis. Breakfast and brunch are a mix of savory dishes and traditional Eastern European pastries, such as a poppyseed babka. Polzine’s signature pastry is a Russian Honey Cake, a 10-layer slice of heaven sandwiched between deeply-flavored honey cream. One bite and you feel like you are eating a cloud – it is so light and tasty that finishing a slice by yourself is not only easy, but it’s one of the best choices you can make.
Most of the savory items come with choices of sizes so you can eat what suits you best – the bagel with smoked salmon, another must-get, comes either open-faced or closed, and the salad has two portion sizes. To get the best of the both worlds, we found that a savory dish, a sweet dish, and an assortment of pastries did the trick, finished with fresh coffee and grapefruit juice.
With a recent launch of “happier hours” on Wednesdays through Fridays (where the space is open until 9pm), 20th Century Cafe is a gem of well-executed, inspiring food that takes me back to Europe and makes me even more excited to visit Prague for myself in a few week’s time. In the meanwhile, you’ll find me here happily standing on chairs and breakfasting hard.
20th Century Cafe
198 Gough Street
Open Tuesdays – Fridays