Dottie’s True Blue Cafe is one of those San Francisco institution notorious for its long lines, for years forming from its tiny diner in the gritty Tenderloin area. Earlier this year, it moved to a larger space, yet still retained the line and gritty personality on Sixth Street just south of Market.
I’d never been to the original Dottie’s, and wanted to see what I’d been missing all these years. I recruited my friends Ken and Dane for Saturday brunch, and we thought we were smart to go during an in-between hour like 10 a.m. (after the breakfast crowd but still early for lunch). But when we arrived, there was a line about to turn the corner into the alley.
The staff, though, was efficient about keeping things moving, going through the line to find parties fitting the vacancies that occurred (tables for two seemed really popular; tough luck if you’re a larger party). Our wait was 30 minutes.
The new space is spacious but it had a vibe like Dottie’s has been there for years. You know, like someone who’s lived in a space and has gathered so much stuff that every nook and cranny is filled with either a table or some eclectic display, like the row of retro fans on a top ledge or the California redwoods salt-and-pepper shakers at our table.
The menu is an impressive list of egg options and baked goods. The daily specials on a chalkboard hoisted up high had a lot of intriguing dishes. In fact, we all ordered from the specials.
We started with the Whisky Blueberry Crumb Cake ($6) that I noticed on the baked goods board outside. It was definitely large enough to share, served with a dollop of whipped cream.
Slightly warm, the cake didn’t have a Whisky flavor but I could tell there was alcohol in it because of my tingling tongue. Dane liked how it wasn’t really sweet.
For his brunch, Dane ordered the zucchini cakes ($11.95), which was covered with a spicy marinara sauce and topped with poached eggs. His plate came with fresh fruits and potatoes. He liked the crispy edge on the zucchini cakes, but wished there was more crispiness to the potatoes. I also noted how his poached eggs looked more hard than the oozing of yolk I often associate with poached eggs.
Ken got the frittata ($12.95), which I thought about ordering because it had all the ingredients I love: avocado, tomato, corn, jalapeno, scallion and feta cheese. Ken liked his frittata (although he didn’t notice much of a jalapeno kick) and also agreed the potatoes could have been better.
Even though it had all the ingredients I loved, I shied away from the frittata because I wasn’t in the mood for something with eggs. (I just got my cholesterol test this week and was trying to reduce my egg consumption, among other things.) I saw something on the specials board called a “strata” ($12.95) and I wondered what it was.
I was told that it had some eggs but not as much as a frittata, and that it had bread as a base. I thought I’d try it to see what it was (and turned out this probably killed my cholesterol because of the heavy provolone). Strata is actually like a bread casserole, and Dottie’s version was made with spinach and filled with the aforementioned provolone cheese.
The chunk of strata on the plate was overpowered by the cheese, IMHO, so I didn’t really notice the spinach, and the oil from the cooked cheese just made me feel like the strata was a piece of greasy bread. To counter all this, the order is served with a brilliant plate of fresh fruits and intensely flavored slices of roasted tomatoes. (It also came with Italian sausage that was OK, but nothing memorable.)
The line outside never waned, and instead just got longer as we ate. I’ve read complaints about the slow service, but on this day and with our particular server, I just saw a friendly staff who kept plates moving and people happy.
The food at Dottie’s won’t necessarily introduce you to anything new (although the baked goods is worth trying), but the vibe and large servings appear to be what keeps people coming. And with the funky new space, Dottie’s will surely be creating a buzz for years to come.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, 28 Sixth St., San Francisco. Opened Wednesday through Monday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. (till 4 p.m. on weekends); closed Tuesday. Major credit cards accepted, no reservations. Website
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