Bi-Rite Market and Creamery in San Francisco: the only “rite” place for the Smug

Smug Scout recently visited San Francisco, the Smug Epicenter of the U.S., which presents the problem (not really) of Smugness overload, but a precious little guidebook called Knopf “MapGuide” helped her find the epicenter within the epicenter, a market and “creamery” called Bi-Rite, with these key words:

 

  • hip deli
  • organic vegetables
  • Straus family creamery
  • salted caramel

Smug Scout started at the Creamery,which is just a Smug name for an ice cream shop and has nothing to do with actual cream processing (which always takes place in a lower rent rural location, not in a Smug neighborhood like Mission Dolores).  She was suspicious when she read that many consider the ice cream “the best in the world,” and while she was positive that was a wild exaggeration that had more to do with “creamery,” hip flavors, and high-rent location, she nonetheless wanted to see what the hype was about and especially if it would “taste like the stuff we grew up with” (Bi-Rite’s earnest pledge). Huh?  When Smug Scout thinks back on herself in miniature form, she remembers chocolate ice cream dripping through a cone onto her white t-shirt, not bankrupting her parents to eat double ginger, cardamom, or anything with exotic sea salt.

Anyway, when she and her Smug compatriot, a classic SF resident, arrived, she first wondered if it was also a trendy nightclub because there was a velvet rope that cordoned off a whole section of the sidewalk and even went around the corner.  But no, that was the overflow Creamery line.  Perhaps because the weather was “cold” (low 60s, just freezing), Smug Scout and compatriot could walk right in.  That is good, because Smug Scout does not wait on long lines.  She thinks long lines are for far more egregious suckers than even she is.

So of course she ordered salted caramel because that is the current ultra-Smug flavor of choice everywhere.  After paying something on the far borderline of reasonable, like $5 for one scoop, she received her ice cream in a biodegradable cardboard bowl with a branded wood chip for a spoon.  Then she sat down to eat it on some petite, narrow reclaimed wood bench outside.  It was good, but she did not like how the sustainable wood chip “spoon” kept sticking to her tongue.  It made the flavor more like salted caramel splinter.

Moving on to the store, Smug Scout was very pleased to see produce and flowers in wood crates right in front of the door just like a roadside farm stand.  Here is how she knew she found the epicenter within the epicenter:

  • The aisles are so narrow that anyone who enters in a wheelchair, in a state of morbid obesity, or pushing a car-sized European baby carriage will need the jaws of life to get back out.  Despite the obvious fact that the revenue from this breathtakingly expensive store could permit expansion, the crowded, cramped conditions convey exclusivity.  Too much space is gauche anyway, like the moneyed lower classes who live in McMansions.
  • Local is the law here.  The store boasts local coffee “delivered to us by bicycle,” local honey “from our own hives on the roof of the Market,”  and a slew of local products bearing the proud stamp “SF Made.”  This is very reassuring.  Smug Scout wonders if the bees appreciate that their address is more exclusive than that of many of their honey buyers.
  • Most signs and advertisements are entirely (or at least partially) handwritten and offer a lot of friendly detail. The faux folksy charm of this practice is intended to distract from the prices, Smug Scout thinks.  Your sticker shock will be less paralyzing as you think of the Smug local people who have crafted these signs to help you.
  • You get a tremendous amount of information about the produce: what its exact name is, where it was grown, how it was grown, and probably even why it was grown. This store even has its own “family farm” in Sonoma.  Stickers on the handwritten signs proclaim “WE GREW THIS.” Sold! Smug Scout admired the summer squash called “Zephyr” and “Costa Romesco” and selected the least attractive ones.

Still, if Smug Scout has one complaint (and let us face it, she always does), it is that the store provides only non-compostable plastic bags, which is very ecologically hostile for a city that does not recycle any plastic bags.  She had to point out this fact at the cash register after she whipped out her own cloth bag.

  • Smug Cashier: Thank you for bringing your own bag.  That’s just great.
  • Smug Scout: I always do, but it’s especially important in San Francisco since you don’t recycle plastic bags here.
  • Smug Cashier: That’s just great.  Enjoy your local goat cheese with organic herbs and artisanal pink peppercorns!
  • Smug Scout: Even L.A. recycles all levels of plastic!
  • Smug Cashier: Have a wonderful evening!  Come back soon!

Oh, yes, Smug Scout will return soon.  If she could marry a supermarket, it would be this one.

Make it a Smug visit to the farmers’ market

Some people treat a visit to the local FM like a trip to 7-11 that can be accomplished in a few minutes (aside from the thirty minutes you spend circling the parking lot, angrily stalking exiting Priuses, which does not tend to be part of the convenience store experience), but to make it a Smug experience, you need to plan on an hour so that you will have plenty of time for the following crucial practices:

  1. Eye the superior produce and local artisanal products (why buy the suspiciously beautiful and underpriced $6 three pack of strawberries when you might come across the misshapen organic strawberries for $12?).
  2. Interrogate the farmers about their location (because you saw that NBC “undercover” investigation about produce traveling from too far away [i.e. Mexico] and being described “illegally” as local).
  3.  Boast to the farmers about how you always eat the beet greens and other things “ignorant” people refuse (extra points if you can honestly admit to eating carrot tops).
  4. In fact, offer to take someone else’s abandoned beet, radish, or carrot greens and state casually: “Oh, these are just delicious.  You just need to sauté them with organic Californian olive oil and heirloom garlic.”
  5. And one step beyond number 4 is to “rescue” produce that has fallen to the ground.  That carrot under the table, that cherry tomato rolling across the street, that peach some clumsy moron dropped, that radish that was almost under your shoe…take them all.  This is farmers’ market Fruitarianism!  If anyone expresses shock that you picked something up off the pavement and plan to eat it, simply say: “If you are eating factory farmed meat, you are eating a much more contaminated product than an organic carrot I just happened to find on the ground.”
  6. Find the market organizers and complain that some stands still offer you a plastic bag (“I thought they were all banned!  It’s just disgraceful that a market in this part of town allows plastic!”).
  7. Plan how to stretch your $100 so you can get everything you “need” (if you didn’t know you needed Oaxacan “living food,” such as raw meatballs made with nuts, then you need to re-examine your priorities).
  8. You may not leave without buying flowers.  You may NOT.  Look for the wild looking flowers in a (hopefully repurposed) Mason jar that are much cheaper than all of the coarsely beautiful bouquets.  If your market is not Smug enough to have flowers in Mason jars, go for whatever looks kind of odd (read: ugly).  That way, when you have visitors, they will know that you didn’t purchase supermarket flowers that came to this country in a shipping container.

Here are some more tips to make your produce purchases more Smug:

  1. Look for the wildest and most unidentifiable looking greens.  If you think they look like the weeds growing near that abandoned, not-yet-reclaimed property or next to a concrete freeway divider, so much the better. If they look dirty and inedible, so much the better.  If you can’t imagine how they could possibly be part of any meal you would eat, that is precisely when you know they are the right ones.  Ask what they are and how to prepare them.  The answer will be something along the lines of “sauté them with organic Californian olive oil and heirloom garlic.”  Buy them.  Remember the name.  Announce on Facebook these are your new favorite greens even if it took you an hour and a bottle of wine to digest them.
  2. When you buy any bushy greens or tall bunches of herbs, make sure you hang them over the side of your reusable bag or hand-woven (probably by poor Haitians) basket.  As they say on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” be sure to “zhoozh” them so they fluff out at attention and show everyone that you buy overgrown greens but never suffocate the poor things in a plastic bag.
  3. Look for vegetables that come in “wrong” colors.  You want these.  Some examples are purple asparagus or Brussels sprouts or string beans, burgundy carrots, black or white radishes, green or yellow or purple cauliflower, yellow figs, and multi-colored, splotchy squash or bell peppers.
  4. Look for fruit and vegetables with obvious “deformities.” You want those tomatoes and eggplants with phallic protrusions.  You want those Siamese twin carrots. You want that summer squash that seems to have warts growing on it that would nauseate you on the flesh of a human. You want that corn with the resident worm gnawing away at the kernels (if the worm likes it, you know it’ll taste good, and if the worm didn’t die, you know it was grown without pesticides!).  You want all of these things because you know they would be too “ugly” for a supermarket.
  5. Look for anything with a long and complicated name.  For example, you may have thought you saw some ordinary hydroponic sprouts, but you know you have to have them when you find out they’re called Black Oil Sunflower Greens.