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Dottie's True Blue Cafe - the lemming breakfast

I'm not an impatient person, but still...

After hearing the raves for Dottie's, DW and I decided to try it for a weekend breakfast. The first time out, we saw the line and figured it wouldn't fit with our schedule, so we went someplace else.

The second time, we knew there'd be a line, but queued up with the expectation that it might, uh, move. After 20 minutes, that didn't happen. At all. Once again, given other obligations, we left in search of another breakfast.

Third time's a charm, right? With no constraints on our schedule, we lined up and were informed that it was about 40 minutes to get a seat. As we stood on the sidewalk, people kept coming out and telling us that it was worth the wait. Right.

TWO HOURS later, we were finally seated. The food wasn't bad. But it certainly didn't live up to the heightened expectations. The black bean cakes were tasty, but they weren't an epiphany. The eggs were cooked properly. Wow, that's tough. And there was plenty of fruit in the fruit salad, which might have been slightly better than you'd find at the grocery store. Quick, stop the presses.

Fact is, Dottie's is the home of the lemming breakfast. Follow the crowd and don't ask any questions. If everybody else is willing to wait indefinitely, you should be too.

There's no doubt that the food is pretty good, but it ain't that great. If you can walk in and get a table, go for it. Otherwise, the hype has far outstripped what they're putting on the plate.

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  1. Your review of the food is pretty favorable. Nothing is worth a two hour wait.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Bprecie

      alanb, sounds like you had the same dish as we shared on March 30 after only 20 mins in line but liked it slightly better :-). Here's what I said "This was my third food lineup in one trip, and another disappointment. We had tried to go to Dottie’s twice before because of all the positive comments (some even from locals) but were always scared off by the wait. This time there weren’t too many in front of us so we stuck it out from 8:55 to 9:15 to get seated. The place is even smaller than I imagined but bright and funky in a good way. The server was super polite and efficient, and the specials looked good so I picked one. The SO opted for a pastry as we had heard how big the breakfasts were, and he ordered cornbread, which unfortunately was exactly the same as the cornbread in my special (maybe I’m asking too much to hope that the server might have gently pointed that out?). Luckily the cornbread with jalapeno jelly ($3.95) was tasty but three huge hunks of it would have been too much on its own, let alone with the black bean cakes with scrambled eggs, sour cream, salsa and spuds I ordered ($8.75). The bean cakes were pasty and flavourless, but the eggs were good. We ended up leaving more than a third of the food on the plate. With an OJ ($3.50) it came to $17.57 before tip, so I’m going to say that while Dottie’s serves massive portions, it didn’t strike me as uberdelicious or great value if you don’t have a huge appetite. I’m glad we went but I doubt we would return."

      1. re: grayelf

        I liked the food better than you did. If I lived upstairs and were one of a handful of regulars, I'd be crowing about what a great little place it is. But when it gets to the point that every wannabe hipster and half the tourists in town are vying for a seat, it's tough - maybe impossible - to deliver a breakfast that lives up to the hype.

        The really funny thing is that I was ready to blow the place off, but thought DW really wanted to try it. And she wanted to leave, but waited patiently because she thought I was set on eating there. Gift of the Magi, and all...

      2. re: Bprecie

        Totally agree. No place is worth a 2 hour wait. Even if it's v. good, that's a lot to overcome in expectations and sheer hunger. Half an hour and crowded is my limit and if crowded I think twice. A long wait is a sure way to kill an evening or afternoon. That said I do understand curiosity and have waited in long lines before...but it never turns out good.

      3. I've never understood the appeal of Dottie's, yet people on this board constantly recommend it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: larochelle

          The appeal for me is the food. I have yet to find pancakes in SF which I would rate higher.

          But, as others mention, the potential wait often deters me from even trying.

        2. The incredible baked goods are what keep me on line...I always have one with my eggs...I love the place, I wish they'd open a branch just for card carrying San Franciscan's ...preferably in my neighborhood!!!

          6 Replies
          1. re: ChowFun_derek

            I like Dottie's too, though I would go more often if there weren't a line. To me it's worth a trip if I happen to be up early or if I'm going on a weekday. Otherwise, I'll go elsewhere.

            As for the food, like any place with such an extensive menu I think there's something for everyone, and there are also hits and misses. It's not really the kind of place I think you can form a real opinion about in one frustrating 3 hour visit.

            Having said that, I rarely suggest visitors go there because the wait is so long and at the end of the day almost every town in America has a great french toast and pancake joint with delicious baked goods. Ours just happens to have a line out the door and wrapped around the corner.

            1. re: ChowFun_derek

              Yes. That is the thing that makes Dottie's good, the baked goods. IMO, they are better than what I've tried to date at The Sentinel ...sorry,Chowhounds, that cinnomon coffee cake there isn't all that and has too much cinnamon which made it on the edge of being inedible to me.

              That being said I don't think any place is worth a wait in line. If I really want to go, I'll go off hours.

              Also, I agree with the lemming statement. I will say to that ... be a Chowhound ... not a lemming ... now isn't that the perfect word for 'foodies' ... used interchangeably with lemming.

              There are lots of places that get a lot of buzz and yet people won't step into the door and risk greatness elsewhere because ... they never heard about it so it can't be good. Here's a list of breakfast spots in the Union Square Area
              http://www.chow.com/lists/108

              Certainly all won't be great, but truly there must be one or two that are good.

              Line at Mama's in Washington Square? Why not give Bocadillo a try? IIRC, there have been positive mentions by respectable Chowhound posters. However, they didn't build up board buzz about it.

              There are just so many places on my breakfast to try list. No one needs to be a lemming unless they want to be.

              I will continue to recommend Dotties because it is one of the better breakfast options in the city ... untill reports come in on better joints ... if they ever come in.

              -----
              Dottie's True Blue Cafe
              522 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              1. re: rworange

                Krys - first off, props on the lists you've been compiling. WAY above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks!

                Re: Dottie's, when I hear words like "transcendent" being batted around in descriptions of breakfast, I figure it's worth a try. Maybe even a wait in line. And as much as I love to sniff out places on my own, I also appreciate that there are other hounds out there scoping the culinary landscape.

                So I'm completely shameless about seeking and following the recommendations of others, especially when away from home. It helps the good eateries, too; a place that's completely unknown will have a hard time getting enough business to survive. But if a place gets too popular, it tends to to either deteriorate in quality or become prohibitively difficult to get into. Or both.

                The question is where the tipping point lies. In my opinion, the hype about Dottie's and the attendant wait outweigh the quality of the food. Although another one of those cinnamon pecan rolls sure sounds good right about now...

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  Yeah, I don't think I'd ever use transcendant with Dotties and just that it is above average from most breakfast joints. Did check my list though and did use 'highly recommended' ... and it is for that area in terms of other breakfast joints I know about. I was getting some food at a Turkish joint up the street from Dotties, forgetting it was there and saw the line ... at about noon ... wondered what that was all about and then remembered Dotties. All I could think was 'are you kidding me?"

                  Dottie's has never been life-altering to me, but they do some nice baked goods and have a solid breakfast, though I haven't been in about a year. May need to revisit during some off time.

                  The lists are mainly for my own benefit. Easier than keying the same stuff over and over. Also it reminds me of some places I have on my to-try list based on Chowhound reports.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Hmmm - noon. I was the fat bald guy standing next to a beautiful woman just outside the front door.

                    If you're in the neighborhood and need breakfast, the Olympic Flame is just around the corner. It's nothing special - just a typical Greek diner - but at least you don't have to wait in line. I'd be curious to know how many of the customers eating there decided to do so after bailing out on Dottie's.

                    -----
                    Olympic Flame Cafe
                    555 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  2. re: alanbarnes

                    Speaking of transcendent meals -- of the ones I've had, a couple came as complete surprises, no hype, no wait, quite by accident. Conversely others were at big name places where you expect it...but if I waited two hours, it would have been terrible.

              2. Dottie's opens at 7:30 a.m. and I have yet to see a queue at opening time larger than the number of seats available. On weekdays, there is no guarantee there will be a line.

                I think the food at Mama's on Washington Square is better, but alas, there is a line there, too.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Paul H

                  Of the three times we tried to go, two were weekdays (Fri and Mon), with lines both times, but we've certainly never gone at 7:30 -- hey we're on holiday :-). I agree with alanb, I almost totally rely on the [amazing] local SF Bay area hounds to steer me in the right direction when I'm on hols. I'm much more of a sniffer hound when I'm at home and feel I can take a hit for the team with fewer regrets!

                2. They're decent with good pastries, but I'm one of those who believes no breakfast joint could be worth a 2 hour wait unless caviar and lobster are involved. I mean, eggs, toast, pancakes, etc., no matter how creative, can only get to a certain level of tastiness as far as I'm concerned.

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: rworange

                      I once waited 45 minutes for a cappuccino at the Ferry Plaza Blue Bottle stand. Of course, there they get your money first and then you wait. Never again!

                  1. The Other Lemming Breakfast ..... Chloe's in Noe Valley !! Get a life people.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: NoeMan

                      Agreed...but I think at Chloe's the appeal is as much the wait as the food (which I find completely unremarkable and passe). But it always seems that everyone waiting knows each other and it's a social scene...much like Martha's on 24th.

                    2. well, throw me off a cliff then because I love Dottie's. I rarely wait because I go at opening on a week day and get one of the first seatings. I also don't mind sitting at the counter, watching one of the best "egg men" in the business, it actually does take skill to cook eggs properly on a consistent basis. I also am a fan of their cinnamon pecan rolls - they are my favorite. I love their thick slices of toast.
                      That being said, I want simplicity for breakfast, not a lot of bells and whistles - I just want good food prepared well and I think Dottie's pulls that off. As much as I like Dottie's I would never be willing to wait in a weekend line as I simply don't have the patience to do so.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: pastryqueen

                        OOps...completely mixed Dottie's up with another restaurant. Post removed.

                      2. Two hours is too long, but don't diss the restaurant for that. The food is damn good - certainly the best breakfast anywhere near Union Square - very consistent, and relatively cheap. It does suffer from the fact that it's one of the few places both hipsters (Hey - it's in the tenderloin, cool!) and tourists will go to, and that it's tiny.

                        But there are ways to beat the lines, and I've never waited more than 40 minutes. Be willing to eat at the counter (especially if you're dining solo, this can be really quick). Go on a weekday. If it's a weekend, get there by 8:30 and it should be 45 minutes or less.

                        1. I was underwhelmed by my meal at Dottie's. Not worth even a half our wait. Ordinary if you ask me.

                          Better breakfast or brunch meals in town at Elite Cafe, Magnolia Pub, for example.

                          I have heard good things about Brenda's Soul Food, and that is only a few blocks from Dotttie's. 652 Polk St

                          I see all these people carrying their guidebooks as I walk past the line and lemmings is a good description.

                          To be honest, I think the La Boulange mini chain makes a better breakfast. Heresy!

                          -----
                          Brenda's French Soul Food
                          652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: Senor Popusa

                            The word is out about Brenda's. Its getting slammed earlier & earlier.

                            1. re: Senor Popusa

                              OK, with respect that is heresy. Especially with the Elite Cafe comp. Are we saying that the Elite Cafe would be packed if only it made it into the right guidebook? It's certainly in a neighborhood more amenable to wanting to stand in the line. If you're basing this on one meal, maybe you visited on an off day.

                              I like to distinguish between "overrated" and "not worth the wait" when talking about Dottie's. As others have pointed out, very little seems to be worth a 2 hour wait when looking for your first meal of the day. But, I don't think that equates to overrated or as you put it, ordinary.

                              To me, ordinary would be Rex, Home Plate, Bechelli's, maybe Nob Hill Grille, etc...

                              I think the majority (if not vast majority) of non-lemmings (I've lived in SF for 15 years and eat at Dottie's often after living in the neighborhood but later moving so I think I put myself in the non-tourist and non-lemming category) would slot Dottie's as better than ordinary and in a category including places such as Mama's, Ella's (for some, not for me), Universal, Brenda's, etc...

                              I love Boulange but it's a completely different experience and target audience.

                              Is it worth the wait? Only your stomach knows. My two cents.

                              1. re: jcormac

                                Thank you, you make a great point.

                                To put it more shortly: if all these places were next door to each other and there was no no wait at any of them, where would I walk in? Most of the time, probably Dottie's. A lot of other people feel the same way, locals and tourists alike.

                                I do like Elite, Brenda's, Kate's Kitchen, Nob Hill Grill, the Washbag, Mama's, Canteen...the list goes on. And more often than not I'd go anywhere but Dottie's for breakfast. But like you say, it's because nothing's worth a 2 hour wait, nothing against Dottie's itself.

                                1. re: jcormac

                                  If there was no line at any place in town, as Pei describes, I would not go back to Dottie's. I not only think it was not worth the wait, I don't think it is so special.

                                  I was serious about Boulange, - their french toast is very eggy and I think tastes better than the food I have had at Dottie's.

                                  Red's Java House is another place that is fine, but that I wouldn't go out of my way for, but many people put it in their beloved category.

                                  I have seen brunch lines at Elite and Ella's, although not as long as at Dottie's.

                                  Magnolia Pub has the best breakfast I have had in San Francisco and has no line on the weekend mornings, as it is something it isn't known for. I don't mind the lack of a crowd.

                                  Brenda's is worth a wait. I have lucked out and not had horrible waits when I have gone there.

                                  The kitch value at Dottie's reminds me of Tortilla Flats in New York - more in spirit than in exact decor etc. It is kitchy and has "character" but when I think about the food itself I feel no need to rush back. Not super inexpensive either.

                                  The cult of Dottie's reminds me of the lines at Magnolia Cupcakes in New York.

                                  1. re: Senor Popusa

                                    Although I disagree with you on Dottie's, I appreciate the suggestions for other places to try. Will have to put Magnolia on my breakfast list (I have enjoyed some other things I've had later in the day.)

                                    And, I'll actually volunteer that I think the french toast at Dottie's is one of their weaker offerings. I'm just a slave to their pancakes....

                                    1. re: Senor Popusa

                                      Ditto on the thanks for other sugestions. Magnolia Pub has been on my list for awhile, but this reminds me to go. I'll have to agree to disagree with you about Dottie's vs. Brenda's. Other than the grits and cafe au lait, I've had nothing at Brenda's that really draws me back.

                                      1. re: Senor Popusa

                                        Except the baked goods at Dottie's are better, fresher and more imaginative than Magnolia Cupcakes!

                                  2. Nice review.... I would wait 2 hours in a freezing rain for El Bulli or the Fat Duck..... there is no breakfast in the world worth more than a 30 minute wait... especially not in a city like SF, there are simply too many other places to choose from.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Jeremy_s

                                      I walk past there every weekday to work and there's always a line at about 7:10am. I've eaten there a couple times in the past and it's not worth it.