By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
My colleagues fell upon the baked goods. The breads (which come with cream cheese), muffins, and coffeecakes were exceptionally moist and fruity, the pleasant scones appropriately dry and crumbly, and the cinnamon pecan roll obscenely big and dripping with sugary icing. The coffeecakes (especially the caramel pear) and the raspberry mango bread were the big hits.
On another morning, I approached the newly renovated Sears Fine Foods (now run by the Kim family, which owns several Lori's Classic Diners, one less than a block away) with some trepidation. I'd arranged to meet out-of-town friends there for breakfast last year and was so shocked by the down-at-the-heels, fluorescent-lit atmosphere that greeted me that I whisked them away to a much pricier hotel breakfast (we considered walking a few blocks to Dottie's, but we were on a tight schedule and couldn't factor in the inevitable wait). I returned to Sears on my own and found the famous plate of 18 tiny Swedish pancakes still appealing, though I was appalled by the charmless, dingy setting (sticky plastic tablecloths), weak coffee, and increasingly limited hours (the restaurant closed at 2:30 and didn't even bother to open Monday and Tuesday). I wasn't surprised when the place announced it was shutting down soon after, even though I mourned the loss of a venerable San Francisco establishment, legendarily opened in 1938 by ex-circus clown Ben Sears.
But a resurrection came not long after, so I arranged to meet Hiya there for breakfast, sight unseen. The signs were good -- in fact, one of the good signs was the newly refurbished neon one outside, with the addition of a plump trout labeled "dinner" above an immaculate new awning. The room inside was welcoming, reassuring, and nearly unrecognizable: The tired gray carpeting had been torn up, revealing vintage hexagonal white tiles, and the lowered acoustical ceiling ripped out, revealing a suddenly high-ceilinged room. It wasn't exactly the long-ago Sears, but it was very nice. There were lots of real antiques scattered around -- wooden sideboards and cupboards and old vintage stoves. The mellow gold walls were covered with framed stories of the restaurant's history, sheet music (including one featuring tunes by Charlie Parker), old photographs of San Francisco, and Norman Rockwell prints. Instead of harsh fluorescent lighting, the multiglobed chandeliers cast a soft and flattering light. Would that all Extreme Makeovers were as successful.
28 6th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Region: Hayes Valley/ Tenderloin
Open Road breakfast $10.75
Black bean cakes and eggs $7.95
Caramel pear coffeecake $3.95
Sears Fine Foods
Swedish pancakes $5.50
Eggs Benedict $9.95
Spinach omelet $8.95
Dottie's True Blue Cafe, 522 Jones (at Geary), 885-2767. Open Wednesday through Monday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Tuesday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 27, 38. Noise level: moderate.
Sears Fine Foods, 439 Powell (at Sutter), 986-1160. Open Sunday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 2, 3, 4, 76, cable car. Noise level: moderate.
I was delighted that Hiya had brought her husband, Jonathan, along -- we could try more dishes! We had to have a plate of the Swedish pancakes, to share, and then French toast for Jonathan, eggs Benedict for Hiya, a spinach omelet for me, and a broiled grapefruit, added at the last minute. The coffee was strong and good, the tiny, thin pancakes (of the leathery rather than fluffy persuasion) fun to eat (with real maple syrup and lots of butter). I've had tonier eggs Benedicts, but these were fine: runny yolks, creamy lemony hollandaise, decent ham, fragile toasted muffin. And I loved the crisp, shredded hash browns. And I loved that our server, unbidden, realized that the omelet she had brought me was too well-done and whisked it away, returning almost immediately with a softer version, moist with a filling of chopped spinach, sautéed onions, and the happy touch of cream cheese. And I loved that my rye toast was already buttered and still hot.
I thought that the sourdough French toast, which the menu considers as world famous as the restaurant's pancakes, would have benefited from a longer soaking in its egg batter, and that Sears had managed, somehow, to make its accompanying "Own Fresh Homemade Strawberry Preserves" taste exactly like defrosted frozen strawberries. And though we liked the sugar crust on the warm grapefruit half, charging $4.95 for it seemed a bit shameless. (Brown sugar would have been tastier, and the fruit should have been broiled longer.) But these were quibbles: I was thrilled by the new/old Sears. It was more than just breakfast; it was a party. I was delighted to learn that you can order breakfast here all day long and into the night. I knew I'd be back. Starting the day off with an exciting meal is not only appealing, but also relaxing. As another writer once said, "Fate cannot harm me -- I have dined today."