Union Street Scoop
Hop to it!

Who would have thought that April Fool’s Day and April 15th tax day would be in the same month? More to the point, which of these two days was the inspiration for April as the official National Humor Month? There’s gotta be a joke in there somewhere, right?

Actually, my favorite little-known fact about April is that it’s National Grilled Cheese month. No joke. Though I’m not sure who actually proclaimed it as such, I love an entire month that celebrates gooey, glorious cheese. To help honor this most noble of sandwiches on Union Street, I asked several of the owners of the restaurants who regularly feature them to answer one question: What makes them so special? Who knew that the floodgates of fromage descriptions would open? Who knew that so many people would have so much to say about grilled cheese? La Boulange makes it French-style with Emmental (Swiss) cheese, and Perry’s does a version on a bun. Marina Submarine doesn’t skimp on layering any cheese, and toasts rather than grills (is it still considered grilled cheese?); and Spuntino does a delicious Gruyère panini style. But I have to say my two favorites are the old-fashioned, flashback childhood-memory version from Bebe at La Cucina (along with their tomato soup), and the perfectly grilled feta, cheddar, and roma tomato on sourdough from Tony at Caffe Union. When asked what made them special aside from the ingredients, both Tony and Bebe said the same thing, “They are made with love.”

Oh yes, National Grilled Cheese month is big all right, and may be growing in momentum, but the “big cheese” holiday of the month is still Easter, and no street in the City celebrates it like Union Street. This marks the Union Street Association’s 19th year hosting the Union Street Spring Celebration and Easter Parade, which has become one of the best and biggest events in the Bay Area (and the only one of its kind in San Francisco). From 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Easter Day, Union Street (from Gough to Fillmore) is transformed into the most colorful, festive and fun-filled street. The day completely reflects the personality and spirit of our neighbors and our merchants, beginning with the outrageous hat contests, where anyone and everyone is welcome to enter and present their creative bonnets for any number of prizes. The categories range from most elegant to most wacky, from kids hats to pet toppers, and a whole lot in between. Outdoor dining, live entertainment, and performances from a variety of Bay Area musicians go on throughout the day, as do tons of kid’s activities such as pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting, a climbing wall, and train rides to name a few. The Easter Parade itself will begin at 2 p.m. and is definitely a sight to be seen. From mini-garden floats and wildly decorated trucks to rollerblading cows and a team of Yorkshire Terriers to fabulous vintage cars and of course an Easter Bunny or two, this wonderfully original parade comprised of 45 entries will be sure to float anyone’s boat. As both a participant and observer for all these years, I can truly say it is one of my favorites … a feel-good day to be sure.

Thinking of feel good … I stopped in to Valentino’s Market on the corner of Buchanan and Filbert to pick up a couple of things, as I do nearly every day. Elie, the owner, greeted me as he always does with a big smile and kind words. He offered my dogs bones, we chitchatted about nothing in particular, and I left, as usual feeling a little better than when I entered. And I am certainly not alone. Elie’s market is a fixture in our neighborhood for so many, a feel-good spot for anyone, any age, anytime. For Christmas, he built a large picture tree featuring photos of all his customers and neighbors; for Easter, he donates tons of food and drinks to our local event; and throughout the year he features the Crayon drawings and notes from the local kids. His is a genuinely great convenience store for many reasons, not the least of which is experiencing the simple kindheartedness of a good neighbor.

Speaking of neighbors, last month I gave an account of several new stores and restaurants that have opened or will be opening, to which there are several new additions. Bloing is a new concept salon opening in the 2100 block, where blow and go is the name of the game (as in blow-dried hair). Off the beaten path, at 2848 Webster in the old Great Overland Bookstore space, Amy Mautz has just opened Conifer, a clothing and art shop. Though it’s her first venture in retail, Amy’s vision has always included having her own store. The clothing is a refreshing mix of smaller labels and indie designers, including some of Amy’s own designs. In addition to the clothing, there is a well-selected smattering of gift items and a plan to include rotating art shows as part of her vision. And finally, the mini-renaissance on Fillmore continues with the recent opening of John Campbell’s Irish Bakery on the corner of Fillmore and Filbert. A master baker from Belfast with more than 30 years experience, John’s specialties include delicious soda breads and buttery scones, potato breads, meat pies, shepherd’s pie, and a fantastic breakfast sandwich which puts any before it to shame.

Leslie Drapkin is a co-owner of Jest Jewels on Union Street. E-mail: leslie@northsidesf.com