8:03AM EST September 27. 2012 – The scene: It’s harder to find a great breakfast place than it should be, so folks in the Bay Area are lucky they have Dottie’s — when they can actually get in. This perennial favorite also has a perennial line, and it tends to move fairly slowly. I showed up at the most off time I could think of, 10:30 a.m. on a weekday, after the real breakfast crowd and well before lunch, and there were still about six parties in front of me. It took 20 minutes and by the time I got in, the line was more like 40 deep. But if you don’t mind waiting, the food is worth it. Baked goods are a highlight here, and as you get near the front of the line, you are tempted by an array of oversized muffins, coffee cakes, scones, huge loaves of fresh baked breads and other tempting items on display just inside.
Dottie’s is a San Francisco institution, but recently relocated to a new spot on a busy corner in the Tenderloin neighborhood, just down the street from the famous Glide Memorial Church. The space has the feel of an old bank, with high vaulted ceilings, exposed-brick walls and lots of marble counter space. There is a large shared table near the door that looks like it came straight out of someone’s dining room and the rest are small bar-style high-tops. There is also a fair amount of counter seating, not like a diner, but rather high stools at a marble ledge with backsplash that runs around the perimeter of the open-but-obscured kitchen. The decor has a high kitsch level, with a collection of snow globes and antique desk fans, while tables are adorned with salt and pepper shakers out of roadside Americana souvenir stands (mine were saguaro cacti). Hot sauce, ketchup and mustard bottles look like they’re straight off supermarket shelves and are arranged haphazardly. All in all, the ambiance is a comfy cross between a European cafe and truck stop, and service is friendly and efficient.
Reason to visit: Pancakes, omelets, egg scrambles, breads and pastries, just about everything
The food: While Dottie’s does not serve dinner — it closes at 3 or 4 p.m. depending the day — it does have a lunch menu (weekdays only) of burgers, quesadillas and sandwiches. But San Francisco is flush with good burgers, so the reason to wait on line is breakfast. Dottie’s is all about the most important meal of the day, and the menu is comprehensive. There are traditional diner-style combo specials, like a choice of juices, eggs, meats, toast and home fries, with or without pancakes or French toast. You can get eggs any way you like, oatmeal, granola or fruit salad. But in my opinion as a breakfast lover, Dottie’s excels in four key areas: pancakes, omelets, pastries and signature specialties.
Dottie’s “Famous” pancakes are made with whole-wheat flour and buttermilk and spiced with cinnamon and ginger. They are huge, the size of a dinner plate, and light and fluffy. You don’t really taste the individual spices so much as malty sweetness and whole-wheat flavor, hearty without being heavy. Not everyone will love these pancakes, but most people will. They are served with real maple syrup, and oddly available only plain (you can get a topping of fresh fruit). One makes a huge side, two a breakfast, three I can’t imagine finishing.
What’s impressive about the omelets is the amazing range of options. There are combinations you do not usually see, such as Kalamata olives, roasted garlic, avocado and pesto, and even in the more typical offerings, the range is deep. There are half-a-dozen styles of sausage (chorizo, lamb merguez, mild Italian, andouille, smoked chicken-apple and smoked whiskey-fennel) and even more cheeses (feta, provolone, sharp cheddar, parmesan, bleu, gruyere, goat, and jack), plus every vegetable you could think of. Like the pancakes, omelets are big, hearty affairs, served with toast from a choice of Dottie’s delicious house-made loaves, and home fries. The home fries are big chunks of boiled skin-on new potatoes that look like they would be bland but are not, and one edge of each piece is well crisped so you get crunch in every bite, a great texture. Any plate at Dottie’s is a lot of food, and there is no need to add on the pastries –except that they taste so good. My friend ordered a “slice” of the cinnamon coffee cake and it was literally a small cake, enough to happily serve four people.
My favorite things were the unique house specialties, and in these Dottie’s has a definite Mexican influence. The chorizo, onion and cheddar scramble, topped with fresh pico de gallo and served with warm flour tortillas to roll yourself, was exceptional (also huge and served with hash browns). A similar scramble variation is pulled pork, roast onion and jack cheese with tortillas. The lamb merguez sausage, roasted garlic, tomato, spinach and goat cheese omelet was a brilliantly conceived combination of flavors, and comes paired with buttermilk dill toast, another unlikely but perfect match. Other notable specialties include Louisiana hot links with eggs any style and grilled chili-cheese cornbread or a twist on a breakfast staple, swapping the bagel for eggs in the smoked salmon, natural cream cheese, capers, scallions and tomato scramble. There is also a lengthy list of daily specials to further complicate matters. It is really tough to decide what to order at Dottie’s, but the good news is that everything on the menu is solid and you really cannot go wrong. Dottie’s recently opened a second location in Scottsdale, Ariz.
What regulars say: “I’d come here a lot more if it wasn’t for the line, the food is great and the combinations are really interesting,” said Robert Pedrero, a board member of the San Francisco Zoo.
Pilgrimage-worthy?: Yes — if you are visiting San Francisco and want to make a special event out of breakfast.
Rating: Yum! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $-$$ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: 28 Sixth Street, San Francisco; 415-885-2767; dotties.biz