I remember when Specialty’s Cafe and Bakery used to be something pretty amazing in downtown San Francisco. As Specialty’s has expanded and as sandwich shops (such as The Sentinel) have seriously upped the ante, Specialty’s has dropped a few notches on my list. Still, as sandwich shops go, and for the money, the food is quite good. I’m a big fan of the barbecued chicken sandwich (with bacon) myself. Of course, Specialty’s chocolate chip cookies are still some of the more decadent and amazing in the city.
The one area where Specialty’s has never excelled, however, is their coffee. This is a fact made all the more puzzling since they are a wholesale client of Intelligentsia. Various Specialty’s shops have proudly display Intelligentsia banners and served Intelligentsia coffee long before most of the Bay Area’s third-wave shops were even considered. Most of their cafes tend to serve Intelligentsia’s House Blend and/or the Diablo blend, which are both fairly dark and uninspiring blends. And while Specialty’s various cafes use Black Cat for their espresso, they often use super-automatics. While the resulting coffee and espresso isn’t atrocious, it is very sub-par for what I’ve come to expect from Intelligentsia wholesale clients and poor enough that I haven’t bothered previously to give them a formal review. One can only speculate why Intelligentsia hasn’t stepped in to assert some quality control (big client = big paycheck? an early contract that locked them out of this option? the value of a foothold in the Bay Area market?). If you’re interested, you can read up on how past Specialty’s espressos have fared on Coffee Ratings.
But there is cause for hope. My wife spotted the above remodeling of the Specialty’s cafe on Pine Street – soon to offer a new Intelligentsia Coffee Bar with Intelligentsia Coffee (see clarification in the comments below). I contacted Specialty’s, skeptical of any real changes, but it seems that someone may have finally decided that the time is right for a more true to form Intelligentsia-fueled expansion into the area. The plan is for a free standing coffee bar with “slow pour” single-origin coffees, which I’m assuming will mean some kind of drip or Chemex station. There will also be Black Cat espresso and Intelligentsia signature drinks such as the Angeleno (1,2,3). While this high end, slow food take on a Starbucks coffee slushy doesn’t move me much either way, I’m hoping that Specialty’s attempt to produce such concoctions mean a greater attention to the ingredient at their core – i.e. the coffee. Hopefully, well-trained baristas also come along with the package.
I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see. Allegedly, the redesigned cafe will be open in mid to late October. Keep your fingers crossed.