On a recent Saturday, I departed my Russian Hill apartment and moseyed on down to Cheese Plus at Polk and Pacific, where I could grab a fresh Acme Bakery mini-baguette as part of my late-morning meal. But on this particular occasion, I happened upon the gourmet grocery’s 18th Annual Artisan Food Festival. The “foodie block party,” which was happening on the Pacific St. side of the establishment, has celebrated the various purveyors keeping Cheese Plus stocked with the good-est of the goodies since its opening. That meant I was confronted with a selection of high-end savories and sweets to sample, including one item that triggered a flood of sense memories with one crunchy bite: an anise-flavored pizzelle!
A little back-story is in order. When I first moved to the Bay Area, my initial forays into the San Francisco nightlife scene included regular stops at the venerable Tosca Café in North Beach, where I would invariably order the bar’s specialty, the House Cappuccino — a soothing, steamed blend of bourbon, Armagnac, heavy cream and a proprietary mix of bittersweet chocolate, vanilla syrup, milk and a bit more cream. It was a perfect, warming antidote to the evening chill, served in an Irish coffee glass despite there not being any actual coffee in the drink.
At the center of each table in the Tosca was a basket filled with free-for-the-snacking pizzelles. These thin, crisp Italian waffle cookies with a touch of anise were an ideal complement to the House Cappuccino and a welcome way to soak up some of the alcohol consumed, especially if a second or third round was in order. I’m not going to say that the gratis pizzelles were why I would return to the Tosca again and again, although their presence didn’t hurt the cause. What did hurt was showing up at the establishment one evening and realizing that the once-omnipresent baskets of the cookies had disappeared. I looked into the source of the waffle wonders, learned they were made at a certain local Italian bakery, and sought them out when I had the occasional craving.
I’m not sure whether the bakery stopped making pizzelles or went out of business. In any case, it had been years since I had eaten a pizzelle until coming upon a table devoted to Fogliani’s waffle cookies at the Cheese Plus street festival of eats. The elegant woman in charge of the sidewalk pizzelle presentation was Kristina Fogliani — the wife of Christian Fogliani, heir to his grandmother’s recipe for the cookies. The Foglianis founded the company back in 2015 in Orange County, moving their expanding business to Santa Rosa in 2017, where it has grown into a nationally distributed operation.
Kristina had put three of Fogliani’s flavors on display — vanilla, chocolate and lemon. I tried the lemon and was impressed. So much so that I told Kristina about the anise variety that I had enjoyed back at the Tosca. She responded that there was a fourth Fogliani flavor that didn’t sell quite as much as the other three, even though it had just won an award at a food show. Then, she produced a box of anise pizzelles, opened it and offered me a cookie. With one chew, I was transported back to the night at Tosca when I had my first nibble on a pizzelle, followed by a rapid-fire mind montage featuring a few of my after-hours escapades and indiscretions from that era. I quickly consumed the rest of the airy, delicate treat and told Kristina that Fogliani’s version was easily as good, if not better than the bakery’s classic take.
The experience with Fogliani’s anise pizzelles was like something out of French author Marcel Proust’s seminal seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu), also known in English as Remembrance of Things Past. In the first volume of the book, Proust writes of his adult self dipping a petite madeleine into a cup of tea and having the taste of the tea-infused cookie spur recollections of his childhood. So my pizzelle reverie was positively Proustian.
THE FRISSON OF FLAVOR
I would venture to say that many may go on similar inner voyages to bygone moments if launched by the right sensory input. For me, it could be a scent, such as sea air, a forest of eucalyptus trees, or a brand of cologne. Most often, it’s due to something I’m eating. So an exquisitely juicy and sweet Frog Hollow Farm peach returns me to a long-ago picnic on Mt. Tam with a winsome girlfriend who went out of her way to secure a bag of the fancy fruit. A fresh pain au chocolat from La Boulangerie or one of Duverger’s raspberry macarons at Le Café du Soleil on the corner of Fillmore and Waller can transport me to a spring afternoon ramble through Place de la Bastille in Paris.
Almost any version of spicy tuna on a small rice cake evokes a dinner with a lost and lamented love at the equally gone-but-not-forgotten Italian-Asian fusion palace Oritalia that was on Fillmore. And a slice of the glorious Kanoute pistachio pesto pizza from Pink Onion on 14th Street in the Mission makes me think of a memorable L.A. dinner party thrown by my pal Bobby to inaugurate his own wood-fired pizza oven with a delicious pistachio pie based on a certain celebrity chef’s recipe. The fact that specific eats can act as touchstones from the past and generate a wide range of emotional responses is a gift. Embrace it, like I’m embracing the box of Fogliani’s anise pizzelles I secured to revisit special moments in my life with the aid of a snack.
Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on “The Mark Thompson Show,” via YouTube, iTunes and I Heart Radio and on “Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast,” via GABNet.net and Roku. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster