"Or really?" It was clearly true, but the response was a reflex to obtuse ideas. Melted cheddar generously sprawled across the pizza-slice-sized pastry, riddled with small herbs or pepper bits, and slices of bacon protruded savagely from its sides in the places where anyone else would expect to find juicy blueberries or cranberries.
"Well we were really - I mean, I was just trying to ..." I looked to Meg for help, but she only raised her eyebrows and threw up her hands. The middle-aged Irishman looked back at me with what you might describe as puppy dog eyes, but seemed to say what are you getting at?. "I was thinking about having one of those - " I pointed to an enormous sugar-dusted almond croissant, hungrily.
"Yeah, or you could have one of these!" he pulled a scone out from behind the glass at the counter and set it excitedly on a plate. "I just made them last week. I was a bit bored sitting around at home and I had too much flour left over."
"Oh I always have plenty of bacon. But since no one was going to buy them at eleven o'clock, I froze them. They thawed last night and you'll be the first to get one. Lucky you!"
I wasn't surprised. "Yes, but I was hoping to try one of the almond croissant things that you have there," I emphasized, pointing again.
"Well then, I can tell you're really set on the croissant. And they're good too. I know, I made them as well - but how about if you also get a coffee, I'll just throw this scone in on the house, and you can tell me whacha think of it."
"Well I was planning on getting coffee too, I just hadn't-"
"WELL HOW ABOUT THAT! Oy, did you hear?" He turned to the cashier, who was slightly younger, jolly, and possibly Mongolian. "This young fellow right here wants to try one of my scones, and I'm giving it to him on the house."
"Well that's great...I suppose," the cashier frowned at the meat pastry. I handed him a Five as he crouched to reach our croissant behind the glass casing, and I prepared to sip my coffee with the expected satisfaction of a daily fix until I became aware of the owner's eyes staring anxiously at me. I stopped, and turned to him slowly.
"You gonna try it?!"
"SURE, I need feedback!"
Wary, I replaced my cup on the counter and raised the scone to my eye level as the man stared at me - reviewing each visible slice of peppered bacon in its moment of desperate escape before being stuck forever in its pastry molding under a half-inch of pungent cheese - then to my nose, then to my mouth....
"And just so you know, I plan to use a lot less salt next time."
... ... ...
"And maybe a bit less lemon juice."
... And then to my mouth.
The Celtic Coffee cafe is situated between a series of nostalgic diners on McAllister near Hyde, and is technically part of the Tenderloin - a neighborhood long underdeveloped, underused, underfinanced and underappreciated despite its immediate nearness to the city's beautiful civic center. But within this enclave of persistent poverty, and just as in every neighborhood of San Francisco, there are discrete treasures of culture and entrepreneurship lingering behind inconspicuous doorways – and in this case, maybe behind some barred windows, vibrant graffiti and muttering street preachers as well.
It serves as an odd and appropriate metaphor for the hidden character of the district. Under layers and layers (and more layers and layers) of misperceptions, stereotypes and misleading agendas surrounding image and idea of San Francisco, it’s still part of a city dedicated to pushing the envelope in everyway it can. Indeed, there are more than 50 non-profit service groups active in this 0.5milex0.7mile neighborhood alone, and this often means a mad dash to front of the pack for attention, larger service populations and additional funding. Of course, few of them actually coordinate with one another (a common problem) but the energy directed inwards and downwards is nothing short of incredible. My Fellowship cadre got a chance to meet with one group who has been making serious headway in engaging the homeless of the area – the Tenderloin Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporation… (more to come on that, but remember the name)