The Italian French Baking Company in San Francisco, California

The Italian French Baking Company doesn’t quite rank up there with the legendary Italian bakeries of my East Coast upbringing, but it’s still pretty good, and certainly a damn sight better than getting bread from Safeway or Trader Joe’s.

The size of their operation is belied by the small storefront, which makes it appear as if it is perhaps just a little outlet for a central bakery somewhere else. In fact, the main baking operation is hidden away in the back room, with old school brick ovens raising loaves around the clock that are not only sold at the front of the house but also supply many of the neighborhood restaurants.

The main staples of the joint are a full sized French loaf or a stubby Italian loaf, both at $1.95. Thinner French baguettes are $1.55. Also of note are some good ciabatta and Dutch rolls, sold at 60 cents apiece or by the pound. The quality of the bread is a little better than average, but not stellar. It’s definitely better than processed grocery store bread, but there’s a certain combination of chewy flavorful crust and interior softness that the best French and Italian loaves have, and these only seem to get partway there. Only the bottommost portions of the crust ever seem to have the taste and texture just right, and the interior is fairly soft but not quite as soft as you’d like. Still, it’s pretty good, and again if you are in the area pretty much the only other option is Safeway or Trader Joe’s for your bread, and both of those charge more for crappier and less fresh loaves.

Also worth checking out are the sugary treats, also sold singly or by the pound. I haven’t tried the biscotti, not being partial to it in general, but I hear raves about it all the time, and the pricing is better than average for the area (only about nine bucks per pound, where all the other little bakeries down on and around Columbus charge more like fifteen or sixteen at the low end.) I have tried most of the other stuff at this point, though, and can attest to the muffins, the macaroons, the cookies and the streudel. Also all quite fairly priced compared to the tourist markup you get used to down on Columbus.

Indeed, it often seems like North Beach has become a neighborhood devoted first and foremost to hustling tourists and drunks, with the scads of people who actually live here coming in a far distant second in concern to local businesses. So, even if the bread isn’t Zomg Perfection, it’s nice to be able to get a decent fresh loaf at a fair price here along with a sweet snack to go with some coffee every now and again. Come up off of Columbus to the little hidden away area near Coit Tower and check out this bakery, you’ll likely find something to take home that makes you happy.

While you’re here, be sure to check out our kitchen product reviews!