If You’re Going to San Francisco….

June 9, 2016

IMG_5742Another from my bookshelf of vintage oddities: this cheap eats guide to San Francisco. The author, R. B. Read, exhibits a delight in culinary discovery so of-the-moment I had to check the publication date. (Though with a cover like that…) He takes us to an Afghani restaurant in Berkeley for aushak, down to the Peninsula’s Filipino restaurants, and through San Francisco’s Japantown, block by block. Is it really 1969?

But then I kept reading…. While Read revels in nasi goreng, he bemoans the lack of any “underlying rationale” in Indonesian cuisine. Excuse me?

Then I got to this entry on Connie Williams’ West-Indian Cafe, and froze. This was, for years, the place to eat in the Haight-Ashbury, and a favorite of black intellectuals:   C.L.R James and James Baldwin visited every time they came to town. (Baldwin worked as a waiter in Williams’ restaurant in Greenwich Village, Calypso, in the 1940s. In The Price of the Ticket, he credits her influence in keeping him hard drug free.) I loved reading about Connie’s Trinidadian hospitality, about her coconut loaves and her chicken pilau. But as someone who actually went to San Francisco in the summer of 1967, with flowers in my hair, I was stopped cold by Read’s description of the impact the influx of hippies had on the neighborhood.

We were so blithely thoughtless.

But here – read it yourself.

This is Connie’s in the Haight.

AAB-8826

And Calypso, in Greenwich Village, before it was razed to make way for NYU’s law school:

Resturant

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8 Comments

  • Julie says:

    Savored the share. Looking forward to crossing paths with you sometime in the near future.

    Julie Fineman

  • Savored the share. I’m looking forward to crossing paths with you hopefully in the near future. Currently in SF.

  • laiko says:

    Ruth – I also have a copy of Underground Dining which I picked up years ago at a Goodwill. Thanks for sharing the back story on Connie’s — we are sorely missing restaurants with this kind of food, community and history here these days.

  • gail says:

    ruth – i live in berkeley – can’t get over the prices from this time! wow.
    also, i think there is a new restaurant where connie’s used to be in the haight – we went there recently – i’ll check the address.
    my father – in – law sent me this link i thought you might enjoy:
    http://kottke.org/14/08/milton-glaser-foodie
    he’s an old advertising guy from the 70’s and of course loved milton glaser’s design work.
    love your column!
    gail

  • Linda Dabo says:

    I visited her restaurant as a teenager with a childhood friend. Connie was a friend of her grandmother

  • Linda Dabo says:

    I visited Connie’s restaurant in the 60s. She was a friend of mine’s grandmother’s friend.

  • Jerome Wright says:

    I was a librarian at the Main Library, Hunter’s Point and Western Addition. Most of us who were younger were regulars at Connie’s. A friend asked for her coconut bread recipe and she blushed, as only she could, and said, “I can’t tell you, it’s a family secret.” Food and conversation drew us to Connie and her place

  • Althea Hawkins says:

    How I love Aunt Connie, she taught me how to be a person of the world, how to step up and speak up, her food was simply just too good to describe. What a legend, she touched so many lives and was always happy to share whatever she had. Connie gave away everything she owned, she was not one to keep stuff, except a recipe. I will ALWAYS love her, she gave me the gift of poetry, books, and lots of love
    ]

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