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Jan 17, 2024 12 min read

This week’s tablehopper: gumbo weather. (free)

This week’s tablehopper: gumbo weather. (free)
Table of Contents

what’s cookin’

The last persimmon from my father’s tree on a toaster muffin with cream cheese, Turkish chile, and olio nuovo, one of my favorite wintertime breakfasts
The last persimmon from my father’s tree on a toaster muffin with cream cheese, Turkish chile, and olio nuovo, one of my favorite wintertime breakfasts. Photo: ©

Hello hello! I hope many of you got to savor a three-day weekend and day of rest (or play) in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—unless you’re in food service, we know you work weekends and we appreciate you so much. Sometimes I wish I sent my column on Wednesdays, so I could enjoy the Monday holidays off with everyone else instead of staying home to write. Who knows, after 17 years of sending my column out on Tuesdays (which is when supporting subscribers receive it), what if I push my column a day later on Monday holiday weeks? Yeah, that sounds like a plan. Maybe I try that on President’s Day weekend. And yes, I’m thinking out loud here, welcome to my brain. Thanks for listening. Ha-ha!

I definitely took advantage of a quiet inbox on Monday to get some writing done. For today’s column, I stepped back on the news so I could finish a piece that required some space and quiet. (I have been procrastinating on it for months.) It’s about my recent visits to La Ciccia, under the new owner, Cheryl Maloney. It’s a bit of a think piece about nostalgia, and embracing change, and feels kind of timely since we’re going to see something similar with Town Hall when it reopens this year. I know there are many La Ciccia fans here, so I welcome your thoughts and input!

You’re reading the free version of the tablehopper newsletter, which you receive a day later, and is an edited version of the full newsletter (for example, the La Ciccia piece is for subscribers only). For the cost of a regular burrito every month, you can subscribe to support my work, enjoy some special perks, and live your best SF life! (You can even subscribe for just a month and get a taste of what you’ve been missing.) Thank you for showing up for independent journalism.

Last week, I had to get a “barnacle” (LOL) burned off my face with liquid nitrogen—aging is SO fun—so I was craving some comfort food after that rather unpleasant procedure. It was a rainy day (total gumbo weather) so I headed over to Bayview to visit Dontaye Ball at his new brick-and-mortar location of Gumbo Social on Third Street. My Instagram post about my lunch there was getting too long, so I decided to include it in its entirety (and then some) here first.

Thanks to all of you who wrote to me in response to my mention in this year’s the bore piece about where your money goes when you buy products from ULINE (#5 on the list). I linked to Refuse Uline for alternatives you can source from, and thanks to Melissa Cohen of Salty Sweet who sent this personal list in:

“It's so hard to quit U-Line, but it can be done with a little advanced planning. U-Line usually delivers in 1 or 2 days, they are very dependable, which makes it hard to quit them.”
The Boxery
Nashville Wraps

Thanks for the tips, Melissa! (And I love your chocolate chip cookies.)

I have a couple quick recos for you if you’re looking for something to watch on this rainy night. Over the weekend, I finally watched Little Richard: I Am Everything, which is available on MAX. This powerful documentary is deeply moving and so thought-provoking about identity. It’s about Blackness, and queerness, and religion, and the beauty and burden of talent, and is mandatory viewing for anyone who loves music and rock ’n’ roll, because everyone needs to know the real history. The insightful commentary and interviews are fantastic. Little Richard really was a quasar.

I also just finished watching the second season of High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America with Stephen Satterfield on Netflix—there are four episodes of deeply thoughtful storytelling about Black food history, from its path to Harlem and Chicago during the Great Migration to the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program; the third episode about the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta and the various roles restaurants played is phenomenal. Oh, the elders! So moving. I want a third season!

Happening this week is San Francisco Art Week, with numerous special events, including FOG Fair (and a party at Saint Joseph’s Arts Foundation on Thursday evening, see you there!), gallery shows, tours, and talks. Check out the lineup!

Enjoy your week! Local Dungeness crab 🦀 season kicks off on Thursday, take a look at this week’s archivist for a few tips on where to get crabby. (Oh wait, that’s for subscribers only as well. 😉)


the chatterbox

The exterior of Anchor Oyster Bar during the pandemic.
The exterior of Anchor Oyster Bar during the pandemic. Photo: ©

Quick News Bites

One of the City’s best spots for classic seafood dishes, Anchor Oyster Bar in the Castro (open since 1977!), has temporarily closed for a mandatory seismic/soft-story retrofit. (Argh, just when local crab season is starting.) Hoodline reported the closure is looking like six weeks (the restaurant’s website says they’re planning to reopen on February 22nd), but we know how these things go. Fingers crossed! 579 Castro St. at 19th St.

My sis forwarded this note to me from Brian Sadigursky, the owner of Little Star Pizza on Divisadero: “As you may have heard via Instagram or SF Gate, we were supposed to close the restaurant at the end of 2023. That was before there was a complication with the sale of the restaurant assets to another restaurant group. As of right now we don't know what the future looks like. Either the sale goes through in the next couple months, or we stick around until our lease expires at the end of September 2024. Either way, we are still OPEN for business! We hope that you will dine with us, or consider ordering takeout or delivery directly through our website. Through all of this tumult we have received tons of love and support from the community! We greatly appreciate you all for keeping us in business for the last 19 years!”

While I am sorry to hear about the sale complication, I’m selfishly pleased we can still enjoy a Brass Monkey pizza and Little Star’s tasty wings (for now). Swing by and help make this unexpected plot twist a positive one. Per Little Star’s website: “Please consider dining with us in the restaurant. It helps a lot. If you order pickup or delivery, please do so directly from our website so that we can fulfill your order without the menu markups to you or us paying commissions to the 3rd party delivery companies.” Open Mon–Thu 5pm–9pm, Fri 4pm–9pm, Sat–Sun 3pm–9pm. 846 Divisadero St. at McAllister.

fresh meat

Big Black Brunch po’boy with grilled shrimp and Social Sauce
Gumbo Social’s Big Black Brunch po’boy with grilled shrimp and Social Sauce. Photo: ©

Gumbo Social

Behold, the best rainy day lunch: I finally hopped over to see chef-owner Dontaye Ball AKA Mr. Gumbo at his new shop, Gumbo Social in Bayview (where he was born and raised!) in the former Frisco Fried spot. He started Gumbo Social as a pop-up in 2018, and it’s so great to see it open after so much fundraising, permit hell, construction woes, hard work, and hustle. Dreams manifested.

Gumbo Social’s chef-owner Dontaye Ball at the wall of notes from friends and customers.
Gumbo Social’s chef-owner Dontaye Ball at the wall of notes from friends and customers. Photo: ©

I tucked into the Big Black Brunch po’boy with plump grilled shrimp and Dontaye’s special Social Sauce (his version of kicky Cajun remoulade with a little acidic zip from apple cider vinegar), with coleslaw, and housemade pickled radishes and carrots (made with some chiles they dry in-house) on the side.

Red beans and rice (with duck!), shrimp po’boy, and a hoecake.
Red beans and rice (with duck!), shrimp po’boy, and a hoecake. Photo: ©

You can’t miss the creamy red beans and rice (Dontaye’s favorite), which comes with roasted duck, holy trinity, local tomatoes, a prominent hit of thyme (he’s a big fan of sourcing his dried herbs from SF Herb Co.), plus smoked paprika, and I just have to say this dish is really something special. It’s a fitting tribute to his grandfather, who was from Texas, and was big into game.

I also got a corn hoecake, which Dontaye chooses to make instead of corn bread, and he likes to add seasonal vegetables to them, like butternut squash, or roasted chicory and Meyer lemon (yes, please!). Dontaye has been a dedicated fan of farmers’ markets for all his life—he says his grandmother’s Mississippi farm roots run deep in how he cooks and his love of plant-based dishes. In fact, a big part of his menu is vegan (he goes through phases when he chooses to eat vegan).

But his special take on plant-based cooking is not about using fake shrimp in his vegan gumbo—he highlights quality mushrooms, black-eyed peas, okra, and hominy. Instead of using soy-based proteins, his vegan po’boy highlights deep-fried jackfruit that he griddles with hearts of palm, peppers, and onions. His California greens are vegan, no ham hocks here. Add in his French culinary training and time spent in the kitchen at Delfina, and it all shows up in deep technique, creative preparations, and his passion for sourcing—he has skills for days.  

chicken and sausage gumbo
Enjoying the chicken and sausage gumbo at home. Photo: ©

The move was to get a large of the chicken and sausage (andouille and beef hot link) gumbo to go, which I enjoyed warming up at home for a couple meals at home. It’s made with a beautiful mahogany roux, which he does his way (cue the Frank Sinatra) with some browned butter that adds depth. His other personal (and controversial, he says) preference is to use Thai jasmine rice (Dontaye said when he goes to heaven, he hopes it smells like Thai jasmine rice and fresh bay leaf, awwww). He always lets the gumbo sit for a day so it all comes together, he never makes and serves it same-day. One bite later and you’ll see why—it has notes and layers of flavor that sing and thrum. It made me pause about shaking hot sauce on it—you really should taste it on its own first. But Dontaye offers a basket of his favorite hot sauces at the shop, so you do you.

Gumbo Social’s new spot in Bayview.
Gumbo Social’s new spot in Bayview. Photo: ©

Annnnnd, how timely, I just saw an email with this special: “Rain is perfect gumbo weather! We're offering a special prix-fixe menu now through February 29 (it's a leap year). Select one (1) each gumbo, po’boy, and your choice of a side or dessert for only $30/person.” Get it!

The exterior of Gumbo Social on Third Street.
The exterior of Gumbo Social on Third Street. Photo: ©

Brunch is coming soon (shrimp and grits!), and he’s holding a Hey, Auntie Cooking Contest on February 24th as part of Black History Month. You can also find Gumbo Social at the Ferry Building on Saturdays, and the Outer Sunset Farmers Market on Sundays.

Open Wed–Sat 12pm–8pm
5176 3rd St. at Thornton
Dine-in or call ahead for pickup: 415-655-9195

the sugar mama

Enter to win tickets to the James Beard Taste America event, a walk-around tasting on Sunday February 4th.
Enter to win tickets to the James Beard Taste America event, a walk-around tasting on Sunday February 4th. Photo: Gamma Nine.

Enter to Win Tickets to the James Beard Tasting Event, Returning to SF for a Flavor-Packed Encore!

Celebrate the vibrant culinary scene of the Bay Area at the James Beard Taste America event coming to the Four Seasons San Francisco on Sunday February 4th! This national dining initiative unites chefs, special guests, and diners to honor local independent restaurants with an evening of exquisite flavors. Indulge in a walk-around tasting featuring renowned chefs like Anya El-Wattar of Birch & Rye, Yuan Tang of Rooster & Owl in D.C., Dominica Rice Cisneros of Bombera, Matt Horn of Horn BBQ, C-Y China and Shane Stanbridge of Lion Dance Cafe, Kristina Liedags Compton of Hilda & Jesse, and more. Each station reflects the chef’s signature style, highlighting their restaurant and community. With beverage stations and activations from national and local sponsors, it’s a night of culinary brilliance. 

Plus, here’s an exciting incentive: enter here for a chance to win two general tickets ($175/ea.) to join the fun! 

Date: Sunday, February 4th, 2024
Tickets: Premier: $250 (5:30pm entrance); General: $175 (6:30pm entrance)
Venue: Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco, 757 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

the regular

La Ciccia’s spaghetti with bottarga
La Ciccia’s spaghetti with bottarga lives on. Photo: ©

La Ciccia

Back in March of 2022, I broke the surprising news that La Ciccia owners Massimiliano Conti and Lorella Degan were selling their truly beloved Sardinian restaurant (for a multitude of reasons that I outlined in my piece) after 16 years of business in Noe Valley. A South Bay restaurant group was (oddly, amazingly) going to buy the business and keep the restaurant open, with the same menu, recipes, and team. I know I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t imagine La Ciccia without Massimo and Lorella—everyone who dined there was touched by their inimitable and warm hospitality, it was like their living room. This singular restaurant also told such a specific story of a place, complete with a menu in Sardinian dialect that would even give native Italians pause, and the deepest wine list. I always considered La Ciccia one of the most authentically Italian restaurants in the City.

My last plate of Massimo’s Spaghittusu cun Allu Ollu e Bottariga (fresh spaghetti, spicy oil, garlic, cured fish roe).
My last plate of Massimo’s Spaghittusu cun Allu Ollu e Bottariga (fresh spaghetti, spicy oil, garlic, cured fish roe). Photo: ©

But ultimately, I was happy for the couple to be able to sell the business and keep the doors open and their dedicated staff employed. I attended one of La Ciccia’s last dinner services before they closed in April 2022, and it was the finest meal I ever had there, such a bittersweet farewell. But it was past time for the fatigued couple to finally take a break, go home to family, and take care of their health. Lately, they have been doing well and adjusting to a different pace, but, of course, are missing interacting with their customers (and feeding them). I’m hoping to see more pop-ups from them!

Prupisceddu in Umidu cun Tomatiga (baby octopus stew in a spicy tomato sauce) at my last meal with Massimo and Lorella.
Prupisceddu in Umidu cun Tomatiga (baby octopus stew in a spicy tomato sauce) at my last meal with Massimo and Lorella in April 2022. Photo: ©

Flash forward to August 2022, when I had a long call with the new owner (surprise!), Cheryl Maloney, who was a longtime regular at La Ciccia, and the real estate broker for the sale. So much for the mysterious South Bay restaurant group. When the original deal fell through, and then a second one, she bought the business fifth-fifty with her boss at Vanguard Properties (a silent partner). She said to me, “I couldn’t let them [Massimo and Lorella] down. My instinct to buy the business was to protect them. I have a reputation as a broker. They trusted me and it was all screwed up.”

Pieces like this take time to write. Become a supporting subscriber to read the rest of it. Grazie!

the lush

Fort Point beers and bao at last year’s brunch.
Fort Point beers and bao at last year’s brunch. Photo: ©

Get Your Ticket Now for Fort Point Beer Co.’s Annual Dim Sum Beer Brunch

Fort Point Beer Co. is hosting their annual SF Beer Week dim sum beer brunch at Hong Kong Lounge on Saturday February 17th. This restaurant takeover is a blast—groups of friends (or you make new friends!) feast on waves of dim sum, from siu mai to their classic charsiu bao and Peking duck, with a tower of Fort Point beers and ciders stacked in the middle of every lazy Susan. Do not plan on eating before or after, it’s a gluttonous feast that is going to put the hurt on you. Early bird tickets are $80 (until January 25th). 1:30pm–4:30pm. 5322 Geary Blvd. at 17th Ave.

the matchmaker

Fresca Italia Is Hiring

Fresca Italia is hiring a customer service/sales rep for inside sales. We’re looking for outgoing, motivated individuals to join our team and serve our customer base throughout the Bay Area and beyond. We are an importer of European cheeses and specialty foods with a focus on Italian regional products working with some of the finest products available in the market. This is a full-time position based out of our office in Brisbane, CA. Prior sales experience, knowledge of cheese, and a passion for specialty food is a must. Salary is dependent upon experience. Please send resumes to

the archivist

A postcard of Fisherman’s Wharf from the tablehopper vintage SF ephemera collection
A postcard of Fisherman’s Wharf from the tablehopper vintage SF ephemera collection. Color photo by Igor Stchogoleff.

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