‘At one point, I earnestly believed I saw Julianne Moore and Laura Dern cackling over two cold hard ciders.’
As my ostensible youth flickers into irrelevance, few activities coax me out of my innate introversion and into the greater, unknown collective. But the promise of complimentary meals and attractive novelties exist as evergreen proddings. (I could also argue that the opportunity to engage in fulfilling sex lives in that same canon, though time dedicated to after-work napping now usually takes prominence over any fleeting horniness.)
Content incoming. ✨ pic.twitter.com/GaGRI7YfBL
— Matt Charnock (@M_J_Charnock) August 19, 2023
This past weekend on Saturday, August 19th, the intersectionality of those two nouns met in San Francisco’s first-ever food festival dedicated to all things carbohydrates, specifically pizza, bagels, and beer. Making things neurochemically more interesting, I took a rather strong edible an hour beforehand; this was my way of surrendering to the moment, the food, the city — a means to exist outside SF’s misplaced doom loop trope.
Latching by bike to a nearby aluminum guard rail — “I’ll keep an eye on it, I’m a fighter” a festival employee cheekily assured — a VIP wristband quickly wrapped my wrist; a humorously large badge designating the same statue hung from my neck as I passed the crosswalk between Union and Stockton streets and into the festival.
Immediately, I overheard a lumbering, tall man over my left shoulder exclaim a remark that cemented the afternoon’s omnipresent philosophy: This is not the place for people in ketosis.
The wafting aroma of coconut-scented SPF and caramelized tomato sauce permeated the space just behind the welcome area. Paper plates to my left and right pedestaled cuts of artisanal pieces of pizza. Slices were perfectly sized — individual invitations for culinary wonderment. Never before have I found equal parts ephemeral jubilation and mesmeric delight in anything so geometric, yet imperfect; no two charmarked crusts were alike.
It was someplace between my third or fourth slice from either Delarosa or Montiesaro that I began to feel a familiar body high. The 10mg THC edible bloomed in my nervous system.
“I’m about to board the spaceship,” I say to myself in the small corners of my mind. The tactility of my fingertips was heightened, as was my understanding that I do, in fact, reside in a gelatinous bag of proteins and enzymes. Nuances started howling. Not necessarily akin to a feeling of sensory overload, but rather an appreciation for the jovial minutia, be they tastes on my tongue or the sideways wave given from a passing toddler.
I was, indeed, quite stoned. At one point, I earnestly believed I saw Julianne Moore and Laura Dern cackling over two hard ciders.
(Oh, and yes, local, regional, and national brewers were on site to provide effervescent solutions to wash cooked dough down. Alas, I’ve grown quite alcohol agnostic in my now early thirties. Indulgence in any booze usually comes in the way of a strong spirit and wedge of citrus. A mocktail from The Painted Lady quenched my thirst as I continued my hedonistic, gastronomic odyssey.)
Turning the corner onto Filbert Street, the event’s second marque carbohydrate came into the frame: bagels. More specifically, the circular offerings from tour de forces like Kaz Bagels and Boichik Bagels. It was at this bend that I was also welcomed by two of San Francisco’s arguably most famous therapy animals: The golden retriever Brixton and Alex the Great — a 28lb Flemish giant rabbit that illustrates embodiments of cool and calm.
— Matt Charnock (@M_J_Charnock) August 19, 2023
Unlike the two imagined actresses I thought I made contact with prior, these two celebrities were very much occupying my line of sight. Running my fingers through Brixton’s thick, consoling coat grounded myself back into the moment.
And to the task at hand: unbridled indulgence.
But this, too, presented a unique quandary. When poised between the choice of either consuming truly exceptional pizza (that’s no more than ten minutes removed from the oven) and delectable, albeit heavy bagels (baked earlier that day and sandwiched with warming cream cheese), the latter will inevitably always win. Especially when those selections are presented well into the afternoon hours.
The overabundant bagel pickings contrasted by the fast-grabbed pizza slices confirmed that others heeded in a similar vein.
Two hours had evaporated into a plume of wood-burned smoke. I made my way through nearly all eighteen of the present pizzerias onsite. The common denominator between them all was clear: pizza leoparding, the phenomenon that transpires when heat from the top of the oven hits the raised parts (bubbles) of pizza crust, causing them to cook and darken quicker than the rest.
These leopard spots offer char — a pleasantly bitter flavor profile that contrasts the sweeter notes of cooked tomato and the lipids afforded by melted cheese. Once your palleted has come in contact with a piece of darkened crust, every blonde bite proceeding forward pales in comparison. Char to pizza is what a generous squirt of lemon juice is to braised fatty cuts of red meat… but, somehow, more complex and textually rewarding.
By far the best charred marrying of dairy fat, raised dough, and tangy tomatoes that day was from Il Casaro Pizzeria, with Del Popolo coming in at a middle second. Based on the sheer lines that snaked from Tony Pizza Napoletana, which led to coilings in the Stockton Street crowd, the slices from the 32-year-old touchstone were most coveted. My Detroit-style sliced left me with a newfound appreciation for pan pizzas.
The clank and clunk of my unlocked bike chain hitting the concrete beneath reminded me of my elevated state of bliss. I was no less stoned; I was just now satiated; I was profoundly content. The idea of mounting the sun-warmed bike seat seemed impossible — an act of physical gymnastics I by no means possessed.
As I walked my bike down Union Street, painted with a grin and grateful I chose not to wear white that day, I was overwhelmed by San Francisco’s vitality. Or rather: reminded of SF’s intrinsic resilience… and gastronomic prominence.
San Francisco’s first-ever pizza, beer, and bagel festival validated that sentiment. Here’s hoping it grows into an annual calendar stable… which can be enjoyed with or without THC.