San Francisco Ferry Building

SAN FRANCISCO — Without a doubt, one of my top all time favorite spots in the entire city is the Ferry Building.

Located on the Embarcadero, this historic building brings together so many of my great loves — food, wine, books, cooking tools and more.

We often walk here on Saturday mornings to pick up our fresh fruit and produce. We wander around the farmers market stalls set up behind the building and then through the crush of people inside as we stock up for the week.

If we’re late enough on Saturday mornings, we’ll stop by the wine store after we’ve finished piling fennel or beets into our cloth market bags. I know I’ve said this before but this tradition reminds me very much of Paris — it doesn’t hurt that there is a wonderful smell permeating the building — Acme Bread Company  sells pain au chocolat and baguettes among other goodies. (A friend wrote to say her children adore their small rolls and are blessed by a grandmother who will mail them some as a treat.)

I love the 30 minutes it takes to walk here and that as we get closer, we’re passed by hoards of people leaving the market with bouquets of flowers or in some cases rolling carts.

A flower seller out in front of the ferry building. (All photos by Sarah Abruzzese)

The rolling carts are usually attached to chefs. A lot of chefs stop by the market to stock up for the week. (I actually took a bunch of asparagus out of one’s cart this past weekend because he’d parked it right next to the leeks while he was picking up his mixed greens. He wasn’t amused by the incident and I got the impression this had happened several times already that morning but at least he was sweet about it as he tracked me down and repossessed his asparagus.)

We approach the market, which is run by the nonprofit Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, from the Sur La Table  side and walk around the building where many of the prepared food vendors have the stalls. I’ve yet to buy a full roast chicken because that line is always absurd but I’ve always wanted one. (Add that to my list of things to do).

You’ve all been to a farmers market and witnessed the beauty of fresh food and flowers so clearly I don’t need to go in to the entire description of the Ferry Building’s offerings. Obviously you have your standard flower sellers, cheesemongers and butchers but here there is so much more.

There is even a stall where you can take your knife to get it sharpened. (We’ve never arrived early enough where the knife sharpener doesn’t have his sign out saying he’s not accepting any additional orders.)

sign at the knife sharpener’s stall
A sign at the knife sharpener’s stall.

What is truly extraordinary about this farmers market is the location. You really can’t beat the views of the water or the Bay Bridge. Or the gorgeous 245 clock tower that is a visual marker around the city.

Additionally, the Ferry Building brings together a lot of the top locally oriented purveyors, who are at the top of their game. (For those of you from DC, the Ferry Building is the Eastern Market X 10).

Originally built in 1898 the building experienced an extensive renovation that was completed in 2003. The object was to unite all of the area’s amazing purveyors on the ground floor in a marketplace that originally was reserved for baggage handling in the Beaux Arts building. Today, ferries bound for Sausalito, Oakland and Larkspur among other places depart from here but the focus on the main floor is food.

On Saturdays, we’re not the only ones who stop by the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. It’s often hard to find a table especially in the front area that is open to the rest of the building. We’ve tried many a new wine, which can be ordered by the glass, bottle or even a carafe. Several times we’ve enjoyed a bottle so much that we’ve purchased one to take home.

Market day isn’t just Saturday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays there might be fewer vendors set up around the building but they are there and during lunchtime thousands of people walk over from the Financial District to pick up lunch from the trucks parked out front. The crowd is astounding.

Inside the Ferry Building there are always vendors and they always have wonderful fruits, vegetables, meats and so much more. I mean where else do you have a shop devoted to mushrooms like Far West Fungi?

Fresh asparagus.

You can buy amazing little sweets at Miette where the presentation is often as astounding as the confection.

Right now I have a wonderful hunk of pancetta in my refrigerator from Boccalone whose sign reads “tasty salted pig parts” — no false advertising there.

I’m shocked we’ve never actually stood in the line to get cheese from the amazing Cowgirl Creamery but I’ve sampled their wares plenty of times in other locations.

Sometimes during the week, I’ll walk down and pick up a delicious cup of coffee at Blue Bottle. And of course, I’m forced to grab something from Acme while I’m there.

I’ve met a few friends there for drinks or grabbed a meal at the delicious Vietnamese restaurant — Slanted Door  and Hog Island Oyster Company.

My Saturday purchases.

If I actually inventoried my pantry, I suspect I could name an item I’ve bought at every single store in the Ferry Building but I doubt you’d have the patience to read all of that.

No matter what I type here, it is unlikely that I will do justice to the Ferry Building and everything that happens there.

And as I write this I stare at the last of the gorgeous asparagus I purchased. When I brought it home Saturday I threw some in a pan with tomatoes and ate that for my dinner with a glass of lovely chardonnay from Robert Craig Winery. 

Having no idea how to end this, I’ll leave you so that I can cook the beets I bought and pour myself a glass of wine.


You can find a link to Sarah’s last story about Burma Superstar here.