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Sep 30, 2004 11:44 AM

sourdough bread bowl w/ chowder at Fisherman's Wharf????

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I am looking for excellent chowder- served in a bread bowl at Fishermans' Wharf. Also, does nayone know the names of the two fish places that are at pier 39 in front of Fishermans Grotto. Very casual spots, lots of crab.


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  1. r
    Richard Neidhardt

    Methinks your quest may be futile. Excellent and Fisherman's wharf tend to be mutually exclusive terms. There may be some hidden little spot, but I'm dubious.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Richard Neidhardt

      I used to see it the same way until I met my boyfriend. He's utterly capivated by view, scenery, crowds, etc. After a couple of years trying to drag him to better food, I've relaxed and realized sometimes the food can be OK if you're meeting other needs.

      1. re: Leslie
        Richard Neidhardt

        Excellent idea. Perhaps some of the local establishments should be approached with the idea. I'd even venture to the Wharf (or somewhere else) to try it.

    2. Apologies for the tiresome Wharf-bashers; it makes them feel good but it's not very productive, especially when they don't answer the question.

      For chowder in a bread bowl, I'd stick with Boudin's. Their chowder is probably as good as any casual place serving this item, and you're more likely to get the best and freshest sourdough (which to me is one of the big attractions of the dish).

      I'm confused about your other question, though. Fisherman's Grotto is not very near to Pier 39.

      17 Replies
      1. re: Gary Soup

        I think steering visitors away from terrible tourist traps and to the finer offerings of our fair city is highly productive. Boudin's clam chowder in a bread bowl? Kill me now.

        Here's an interesting thread on a potentially (I haven't had it yet) superior bowl of chowder. But I've had other food (e.g., oysters, oysters, and more oysters) from Hog Island it's superior to anything I've ever had on the wharf. It's just a quick ride down Embarcadero on the F-line, which is an interesting activity in and of itself, especially if you get one of the open-top or imported-from-Milan streetcars.


        1. re: nja

          I have had the Hog Island clam chowder. It is a Marin County version of clam chowder for sure, and it is going to be a rare person who is interested in San Francisco clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl who will be happy with either the experience or the price of the Hog Island version.

          Some folks really want to do the tourist thing. I have a relative who lived in San Francisco for two years and on a recent trip made a special visit to Fisherman's Wharf to have a dish of breadbowl clam chowder. Although I didn't go along on the expedition, I didn't see anything terrible about his wanting to do this.

          1. re: nja

            Anybody who has spent 15 minutes researching for a trip to SF already knows that Fisherman's Wharf is not synonymous with fine dining. Beating them over the head with it is an insult to the query posters' intelligence.

            The poster was enguiring specifically about something that's a characteristic local quick, tasty snack. Would you go to Philly and stick your nose in the air at any cheesesteak venue that wasn't refined enough to use Niman Ranch beef? Do you turn down a Banh Mi because it doesn't use Acme bread? Where do you look for Dirty Dogs in Manhattan that provide the cachet you'd like?

            I'm sure Thomas Keller is working on a 24-karat takeoff on clam chowder in a bread bowl, but I don't think that's what the OP was looking for.

            1. re: Gary Soup
              Richard Neidhardt

              I believe the original request was for excellent chowder. I think the possibilities of finding same on Fisherman's Wharf are slim and none - especially in a bread bowl. My reply was honest and heart-felt.

              1. re: Gary Soup

                I think a "Mission burritto" is more analagous to a cheesesteak than clamchowder in a breadbowl. The latter is a distinctly touristy food (San Francisco does not in general feature particularly good chowder, and crab is the traditional accompaniment to our sourdough bread), while the former is a local tradition, however recent. A tourist may not necessarily know this and when one asks for an "excellent" bowl, I believe an educational comment is in order.

                There may be bad cheesesteaks in Philly, just as there are bad burrittos in the Mission, but overall a Philly cheesesteak is a "real" food consumed and enjoyed by locals, like clam chowder is in New England.

                1. re: bernalgirl

                  The sourdough bread bowl thing is distinctly San Francsican though. Perhaps if it had cioppino in it, it could be our treasured dish!

                  1. re: HungryGrayCat

                    Please, let's not!

                    I'm aware that it has become an item at tourist restaurants around the wharf, but I haven't really seen it elsewhere (except maybe tourist restaurants in Union Square). I wouldn't say it's a characteristic local snack, either.

                    1. re: Morgan

                      Both Pac Bell Park and Candlestick Park sell clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

                      A fan told me; they also sell them at Dodgers games. Chili bowls at Dodger games too. Dodgers play in Lost Angeles.

                      And, I heard they sell both chili and clam chowder bowls at A's games. The A's play in Oakland.

                      1. re: Alan408

                        So does one eat the bowl afterwards, or what? I confess the whole concept rather mystifies me.

                        1. re: Morgan

                          The bowl is a round loaf with the top cut off and the insides removed, then filled with soup. One can eat the top (lid) with the soup, then consume the bowl.

                          I like San Francisco Style Sourdough bread with sweet butter. For many years, I was not able to find good "french bread", after Larabrough (sp?) went out of business, then one company absorbed Parisian, Pisano, and Columbo and changed the product. But, then Acme and Golden Sheaf became available in supermarkets, I am able to get my french bread fix.

                          I tried a bread bowl a long time ago. To me, the sourdough imparted a sour taste to the clam chowder. The clam chowder I had was either a Campbell's or Sysco product. I think it was at Candlestick park.

                          1. re: Alan408

                            It just seems kinda wasteful to me, I guess. I believe you that the sourdough flavor and the chowder flavor don't really go together that well. So the bowl is not only soggy but not very tasty. (Plus the whole dish is carb city.) But if you don't eat it, you're throwing away a lot of food.

                    2. re: HungryGrayCat

                      Imagine the look you would get if you tried to order Ciopinno in a bread bowl at Tadich :o


                      1. re: HungryGrayCat

                        i thought that was Rice-a-Roni

                        1. re: HungryGrayCat

                          Has anyone ever finished the entire boudin bread bowl?!?
                          (just wondering)

                      2. re: Gary Soup

                        Depends on where you spend the 15 minutes of research, read the wrong publications and you'll think Fisherman's Wharf is one of the better places to eat in this city.

                        I wouldn't liken the breadbowl to the cheesesteak or NY hot dog. Locals by and large do not eat breadbowl. There are no establishments that seek to create excellent breadbowl that brings the locals in. Boudin exists in tourist zones and in malls next to McDonalds and Sbarro. San Franciscans do not have a favorite breadbowl maker that they defend when others suggest another outlet is better.

                        Coming to SF and eating a breadbowl is more like going to Venice and seeking eggplant parmigiana, or Mexican City and looking for a burrito, or China looking for chop suey: eating what are mistakenly believed to be specialties enjoyed by the local residents.

                        If somebody wants to eat a chowder breadbowl in SF, more power to 'em. But if I were visting an unfamiliar place and was asking for recommendations on such a product, I dearly hope that at least one hound would pipe up and point out that while you can probably get some there, it's not representative of the best food of the place. I would certainly see that as a favor to me, not an insult to my intelligence. In fact, I think that arming persons with multiple facts and opinions and trusting them to make their own choice is a compliment to their intelligence.

                        Also, my recommendation has nothing to do with pedigree or refinement or cachet. It's about taste. I happen to think Boudin sourdough chowder tastes like crap. I couldn't care less what brand of bread is used or where the clams did or did not come from. But I do think that the food I've had at Hog Island is excellent and though I've not had the chowder, others whose tastes I trust like it so I recommended it with that caveat.

                        Good food and bad food exist everywhere. Sometimes things that are hyped and expensive deserve to be so; sometimes they do not. Other food may be excellent yet receive little praise, though sometimes the lack of praise is deserving. I'm confident in my abilities to sort them all out. I believe that not trying something which is delicious BECAUSE it is hyped (or expensive or trendy or...) is an equal loss as not trying something which is delicious because it is NOT hyped.


                        1. re: Gary Soup

                          I like you. This post is nearly 6 years old. I hope you're still around!

                        2. re: nja
                          Richard Neidhardt

                          Thank you!!!

                      3. I think Fisherman's Grotto is on pier 43, very different than pier 39. FG is next door (east) to Aliotos. Aliotos is #8, FG is #9. I like to get books of matches from Fisherman's Grotto, I like the image of FG's fisherman, but I don't eat there.

                        If you are asking about the "walking cocktail" places, nobody I know, calls them by name. Either in front or on the side is how I describe them. A walking cocktail is a crab or shrimp or combo in a plastic cup with cocktail sauce and a lemon wedge. They also sell beer/wine, but don't get caught drinking in public, there is a reason they put the can/bottle in a paper sack.

                        "Very casual": interesting way to describe a sidewalk vendor. The walking cocktail places are permanent fixtures on the sidewalks around Alioto's and Fisherman's Grotto, FG also has sidewalk seating. Just remember San Francisco can be a very cold place.

                        I don't think you will find excellent clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. If you appreciate clam chowder, you should get it in a "regular" bowl, and have sourdough bread with sweet butter on the side.

                        The sourdough bread bowl is a tourist thing, gone out of control. Gone out of control, because I have seen it offered in other parts of the state.

                        The wharf area is a working wharf combined with almost everything a tourist would be interested in, and all for a price.

                        BTW, San Francisco area dungeness crab season closed in June, reopens in November.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Alan408

                          I've been taking out of town friends to the wharf for upwards of 20 years and have had consistently good shrimp,crab,and marinated seafood cocktails at the sidewalk stands washed down by a bag of Becks beer. You can see the seafood before you order it, so its your own fault if its not fresh.

                          I wouldn't automatically assume the chowder at these places is an inferior product. Not a fan myself, so I can't say for sure...

                          After all this time, that human tree guy still manages to scare me.

                          1. re: FowlBall

                            The naked yoga guy is much worse.

                            FYI - I haven't eaten anything good in the Fisherman Wharf area in years except for Gary Danko (its just up the hill), irish coffee at Buena Vista (haven't had so many irish coffees that I can swear theirs is "excellent") and oysters at the Annual Firemen's Shuck & Swallow.

                            Maybe a group of us chowhounds should take a bullet and do a walking tour of Fisherman's Wharf.

                            Having had superior clam chowder in Boston this summer, I can say that I would go to even Fisherman's Wharf for a quality product. ;-)

                            1. re: Pssst

                              See? The sourdough bread bowl would make the perfect receptacle should one need to lose one's lunch after seeing the Naked Yoga Guy.

                              1. re: HungryGrayCat


                                I would add the Eagle Cafe to the list of not-bad places at the Wharf.

                              2. re: Pssst

                                Taqueria San Jose #3 (Mason and Francisco) is two blocks from the very heart of the Wharf. As good an al pastor burrito as you'll find in town. Albona is in the same block.

                          2. Boudin is very skimpy on the clams and so it's just very thick chowder in a bowl.

                            Unfortunately, the days of fresh of the boat seafood at the Wharf are past and now it's just a touristy place, in general. I noticed they don't even cook live crabs in the pots anymore, at least not during the times I've seen. If you want one, they just reheat your already cooked crab in the pot water. No thanks.

                            For cheap, relatively decent corn and crab chowder (I think in the bowl) I like Blue Mermaid Restaurant, but man I am going to get slayed for saying this. Haven't tried the clam chowder or anything else here for that matter, but FYI Blue Mermaid was totally ripped by SF Weekly in an article they did. FWIW

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: jschyun

                              Until "they" condemned the wholesaler at pier 45, there was a commercial/wholesale seafood business at the wharf. There is still a commercial fisherman's supply store, and the Eagle Cafe is still around. And, scores of salmon boats unload their catch at SF, especially since Caruso's closed. There is a live bait business at pier 45. If one stays by the "tourist" shops, yes it is touristy, but if you are willing to walk towards the swimming club, you can see a working wharf.

                              Crab season closed in June, all of the crab on the wharf now is either imported or frozen. During "our" crab season, they do cook live crabs there.

                              1. re: Alan408

                                There is still a wholesaler there, I think.

                                1. re: Alan408

                                  Cool thanks! As usual I was not in the right place at the right time.

                                  1. re: Alan408

                                    The Eagle Cafe is just a caricature of what it once was. In its original location, it provided hearty breakfasts to stevedores, longshoremen, Belt Line Railroad employees and fishermen before the crack of dawn at appropriate prices. Now it serves Pier 39 tourists at appropriate prices.

                                  2. re: jschyun

                                    Did you have the $6 chowder bowl at one of the Boudin Bakery Cafes at the Wharf, or the $15 chowder bowl at Bistro Boudin?

                                  3. stay clear of Boudin's! it was water and no clams to be had...yuck!