American Splendor in Pacific Puffs…
I’ve been known to fancy films that are dark. Dark humor, yes. But, also those that have a dark cast to their cinematography from the natural surroundings of the locations, or the usage of digital color correction that gave O Brother, Where Art Thou? its sepia-tinted tones that gave the viewer the illusion of the dry and dusty Delta look with golden hues. When I robotically turned on the tube in the morning, I was met with American Splendor. What does a film about the almighty, now deceased, great American underground comic Harvey Pekar have to do with puffs? Almost nothing. But, the restaurants featured in the film’s shooting location of Cleveland set me on a wild goose chase in search of an “old-fashioned, destitute on the outside, near condemnation, dark, ethnic” bakery. That single five-minute scene of Harvey walking into the Elmwood Home Bakery, took me right back to my childhood bakery in Sacramento, Kramer’s. Kramer’s was an old school bakery where you could get everything: beehives, eclairs, cream puffs, cookies, doughnuts, cakes and bread. It was all at an extremely affordable price, all of great quality (not following the “one dough for all items” rule most bakeries seem to follow), all of great freshness, all of great pride. It was also my first connection to a bakery that wasn’t Hostess and my first connection that led me to becoming a trade baker. I had a hankerin’ for an eclair, but I’d settle for a cream puff.
See how all of that came together?
Turns out, my search was filled with barriers and dead-ends that led me to corporate or Vietnamese bakeries. While, I love a bao wrapped hot dog as much as the next person, it wasn’t what I craved. Where the fuck was the Elmwood Bakery of SF or the East Bay? I sort of found it in Stella’s Pastry and Cafe in the historically Italian neighborhood of North Beach, but for damn near $5 for a napoleon, the prices weren’t right. I dragged my depressed body back onto the 30, where I was smothered and squashed by a posse of fast talkin’ Chinese. I started from square one. I just couldn’t find a bakery that gave me that…feeling.
A quick listen to The King of Limbs and a coincidental Twitter check on the weekend festivities led me to Off The Grid. Which led me to the Pacific Puffs truck. Pacific Puffs is a company started, as an homage to their mum, in 2009 by the Brothers Carvolth (both born in the 1980’s, FML) that hail from the Bay Area. They specialize in…ba-bada-baaaaa!!- cream puffs! Might I mention, damn good cream puffs? Cream puffs with the essential separate layers of flavor, that somehow all come together as you bite down. Classic cream puffs with a delicate pâte à choux portmanteau, filled with a neatly folded rich vanilla pastry cream, topped with a not cloyingly sweet chocolate ganache traveling sticker. All of this preparing you for the hypothetical Paris vacation you’re about to commence. Or, in my case, a vacation that took me back to sitting across from my mom on a Sunday morning at one of Kramer’s dimly lit dining tables. My chin barely peeping over the table, stuffing my already cream-soiled face with cream puffs, eyes shifting from the macaroons in the case, to my mom’s sienna face lackadaisically reading the paper and occasionally nibbling at her beehive.
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Pacific Puffs sells five flavors: chocolatier – filled with chocolate cream and topped with ganache, fruit whip – filled with whipped cream and strawberries, regular dusted with powdered sugar or regular with ganache. They also have one ever changing special flavor, which was coconut cream when I visited them. It’s commendable (and ballsy) that they chose to stick to the basics, which when done right is not boring. Moreover, they had enough gumption to not jump on the bandwagon of bacon-crusted salty balls of your childhood sugar breakfast cereal, or an option to add a bourbon induced drunken stupor salted caramel. Instead they chose to perfect simplicity.
These valises of delight are offered in miniature form at $2 and their regular size is $3.25
I might not have gotten the ambiance I was looking for, but these were definitely the flavors and the prices I was looking for. And it turns out, the product itself created the memory of the ambiance.
Pacific Puffs: 2201 Union Street, San Francisco, CA 94123, (415) 440-PUFF [The Marina]11am – 7pm daily (until 8pm Fri & Sat and 6pm on Sundays) Truck: Twitter
photo credit: Jonas T.