I knew when I first laid eyes on the Liguria Bakery that I would be back.
Had to. It was closed.
It happens at the North Beach focacceria. San Franciscans evidently know a good piece of pane when they eat it. As soon as the day's bread is gone, this bakery closes -- and the bread often is gone before lunchtime.
So why is it that nearly every traveler I query about the almost hundred-year-old San Francisco jewel stares blankly at their (sometimes) fine footwear and then politely (also only sometimes) states that they've never heard of the place?
(You may now commence to Googling should you wish, but don't bother trying to find Liguria's website, because it doesn't have one.)
I found myself thinking of the focacceria just the other day when, for the dozenth time at least, I tried to convince a poet/playwright/shyster lawyer/yet all-around-good-egg friend of mine here in Portland to eat something that greatly reminds me of Liguria's product. Stephen Lanzalotta's Sicilian Slab is a thick, bready, tomato sauce-topped beauty dusted only slightly with cheese. It is my favorite "pizza" in town.
"But it's thick," the normally level-headed lass again complained. "I only like thin-crust pizza."
We'd been down this dark and narrow alley many times together. I was weary. And beaten.
"Do you like focaccia?"
That was me. In a brilliant stroke. For the Slab is, to me anyway, more overloaded focaccia bread than pizza.
"Love it," said she.
Me: "Think of it as focaccia then, because that's really what it is."
She: "Oh, now, that helps. Why didn't you just say so?"
One who looks for a friend without faults will have none.
-- Wise Hasidic saying
Back to the other coast.
After stumbling upon the closed bakery during a meandering stroll of North Beach, I returned at around 11:30 a.m. the next day. The bakery is like no other: there isn't an edible morsel of food in sight to taunt you, not a single one. There's a counter, a lady, a menu board. That's it. The bread, which is the only thing they sell here, is out back; order it and the lady will fetch it and wrap it for you to go. Don't order it and you will go away not just empty-handed but without even laying your travel-weary eyes on something good to eat.
I ordered the "pizza" focaccia, the only one available with a red sauce. The lady went and got my slab, packed it nicely in white paper, tied the paper package in string, which was also white, and handed it to me in a manner that could not have been more casual.
The idea of carrying it back to the hotel crossed my mind, but I opted for a park bench in Washington Square, just across the way.
As soon as it was unwrapped I knew that I was hooked. It reminded me of my first taste of real Italian pizza -- focaccia -- eaten fresh from the oven at a bakery (also stumbled upon) in, coincidentally, the Liguria region.
And so alone on that park bench, on a lovely spring day in California, I ate the pizza. I loved the pizza. Then I walked back to the bakery to get some more of the pizza.
But it had already closed.
It's been a couple years since I was in the Bay Area, and so I'll rely on others' photographs, strewn about the web, to fill in the rest of the story. Many thanks to my fellow food lovers who've documented the goings on at this very special -- and not at all changed by time -- San Francisco gem.
Next time you find yourself in That City by The Bay, take some advice from the man made of meat and give it a try.
Liguria Bakery is at 1700 Stockton St. (at Filbert), San Francisco, CA, 94133; 415-421=3786.
Open until 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon on Sundays, or until the doughy stuff runs out.
And it will.