Neighborhood Notes – San Francisco Street Bakery is an Olympia Institution



By Katie Doolittle

van dorm sponsorMid-morning at the San Francisco Street Bakery smells like hot coffee and freshly baked bread. I’m standing in line with a conservatively dressed elderly couple and a tattooed twenty-something, eavesdropping on their friendly conversation. Today, there’s classic rock playing over the speakers. The young mother behind us taps along to the musical beat on the handle of her stroller. Several Roosevelt Elementary School students giggle and point at the goodies inside the pastry case.

This sort of friendly and eclectic crowd is something I’ve come to expect from Olympia’s Eastside neighborhood. The bakery serves as a gathering point for the whole community, providing a welcoming atmosphere for all.

san francisco street bakeryDuring pleasant weather, everyone has the option to sit outside–in the shade of an umbrella-covered patio table, or on a seat in the native plants garden. Inside the bakery itself, the booth seats are comfortable and roomy. Stacks of newspapers await any patron wishing to catch up on current events. And multiple little touches render the bakery incredibly family-friendly: several high chairs, plastic water cups, and even a well-stocked play kitchen.

Carmen Otto remembers when her parents opened the bakery back in 1989. She was only four at the time, but in hindsight she understands how important local patronage was for establishing the business. “Without the Eastside community and the people who live here we wouldn’t have made it this long,” she says. Otto also appreciates the many Roosevelt students who become long-term customers. “We get kids who aren’t kids anymore, but they remember coming across the street for cookies.”

These days, the bakery is an Olympia institution, with a booth at the Olympia Farmers Market and goods for sale at several area locations. It’s quite an inheritance for Otto and her brother Nolan who—along with Otto’s husband—are taking over management. She describes her parents as ready to retire, but still involved in a consulting capacity.

san francisco street bakeryThis transitional time has yielded several exciting developments. Most notable is the evening bistro, now operating every Thursday through Sunday. “It was a way for me to have something of my own,” Otto explains. “The bakery was always my parents’ baby.”

The bistro’s overall vibe stems from the culinary philosophy she absorbed while living in the San Francisco Bay area. Otto describes herself as “inspired by Alice Waters and the food movement there—San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley.” The bistro menu is intensely local and seasonally driven, changing each week based on produce availability and quality. During the colder months, Otto shops the Olympia Food Co-op and serves tasty comfort food such as pancetta and Brussels sprout penne pasta. Summer brings an influx of fresh produce and seafood to the menu.

Ingredients are sourced almost exclusively from the Olympia Farmers Market and Olympia Seafood Company… with one notable exception. Bremer Mountain Farm supplies all of the bistro’s greens. “They only do lettuce, and they hand-pick each sprig.” As Otto promises, “It’s the most amazing lettuce you’ll ever taste.” The salads are certainly a culinary experience not to be missed, but diners hoping to indulge a bit have other options. For instance, they might enjoy a squid and chickpea entrée before slicing into a gorgeous plum tart for dessert.

san francisco street bakeryYet no matter the season, guests can expect certain consistencies from the bistro. There will always be thoughtful beverage pairings for those who wish to imbibe with their meal. And there will always be some sort of pizza on the menu. Otto laughingly admits, “Pizza is my own personal obsession. I love it more than anything.”

Like the bistro, the bakery’s goods are carefully prepared from quality (generally organic) ingredients. Patrons can take home all kinds of bread, from humble wheat loaves to beautifully braided challah. I highly recommend my favorite savory breakfast: a crunchy toasted bagel topped with a smooth layer of pesto cream cheese. I’m a bit more flexible when it comes to my sweet tooth. I go through phases where nothing satiates me like a Danish, with its ropes of flaky pastry twisted around gooey cheese, then liberally studded with marionberries. But then I’m lured away by the scones, those perfect puffy triangles sliced down the middle and oozing sticky jam.

And who can resist the seasonal items on the menu? There’s something for every holiday, whether it’s Italian panettone at Christmas or Irish soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day. In winter, they make stollen that’s both gorgeous and tasty, with a flour-dusted crust and dough shot through with fruit and marzipan. In spring, their hot cross buns strike the perfect balance of flavors—not too yeasty, not too sugary.

san francisco street bakeryWith toothsome treats to tempt every palate, the bakery and bistro are a gustatory experience not to be missed. Check out their website for information regarding menus and hours. Be sure to come hungry!

San Francisco Street Bakery

1320 San Francisco Ave NE

Olympia, WA 98506



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