HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Do you create unique foods?

The best San Francisco sourdough?

bethdean May 7, 2010 02:45 PM

I did a search and nothing came up, which was a little surprising.

SF is known for it's sourdough, and I've heard of Boudin but since you can buy it at the airport that makes me a little skeptical of it's quality.

I'd like to ship a couple different loaves to my stepmom, as it's all she could talk about when she found out I was moving here. I live in the Mission, but I don't mind going anywhere in the city to get something really special. I don't know if Tartine has sourdough, but I plan on calling them after work to find out.

Any suggestions are most appreciated!

  1. c oliver May 7, 2010 02:51 PM

    This is probably what you're looking for:


    1 Reply
    1. re: c oliver
      bethdean May 7, 2010 02:53 PM

      Thank you! That did not come up in my search!

    2. monku May 7, 2010 03:13 PM

      Screw what people say about Boudin.
      It's good stuff. It's definitely the best selling in the bay area.
      When I visit San Francisco I always stop at their bakery on 10th Avenue and bring back a couple loaves to Los Angeles for mysel and friends.

      1 Reply
      1. re: monku
        c oliver May 7, 2010 03:21 PM

        "Screw"? Nice talk, monku :) A couple of years ago we took a loaf to some friends in NYC. I was embarassed at its lack of taste and I could tell they were underwhelmed.

        (Sorry, wolfe. Just couldn't help myself!)

      2. c
        chuckl May 7, 2010 04:05 PM

        call me old fashioned, but I consider Acme sourdough the standard by which all others should be compared

        3 Replies
        1. re: chuckl
          bethdean May 10, 2010 04:53 PM

          Is Acme distributed in any stores or do I need to make a trip to the Ferry Building for this?

          1. re: bethdean
            wolfe May 10, 2010 05:04 PM

            Perhaps this will help.

            1. re: bethdean
              Robert Lauriston May 10, 2010 08:38 PM

              Where in the Bay Area? Most upscale and some not-so-upscale supermarkets have Acme. The Italian (sourdough) is one of the breads I see in supermarkets.

          2. Robert Lauriston May 7, 2010 07:21 PM

            For SF sourdough that reminds me of what I grew up eating:

            2. Acme Italian
            5. Boudin (particularly Tadich's)
            9. Bordenave

            10 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              mariacarmen May 7, 2010 08:58 PM

              LOVE the dark Tadich sourdough...

              1. re: mariacarmen
                Mission May 7, 2010 09:17 PM

                Rants and Rave...cool.

                1. re: Mission
                  grayelf May 11, 2010 12:15 AM

                  I don't know that it was "authentic" but the bread they served us at Tartine (the resto in the Mission) was some fine... still thinking about it.

                  1. re: grayelf
                    Robert Lauriston May 11, 2010 09:54 AM

                    Tartine's bread is arguably the best in the country, but it's nothing like traditional SF sourdough.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                      sugartoof May 11, 2010 03:07 PM

                      It's the closest to the Tadich Sourdough experience outside of Tadich.

                      It's not a sour bread, but neither is the Acme option you're suggesting. Since Sourdoughs were in large part about their crust and texture, Tartine's is often (but not always) very similar in those qualities.

                      1. re: sugartoof
                        Robert Lauriston May 12, 2010 08:24 AM

                        We obviously have very different taste buds. I see Acme Italian as better made but basically the same style of loaf as Boudin or Bordenave.

                        In contrast, the Tartine loaf's heavy, dense, moist crumb, thick crust, charred bottom, and sheer size and weight make it for me a radically different type of bread.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          sugartoof May 12, 2010 12:13 PM

                          Now which of the two sounds more like the Tadich bread?
                          I'd say Tartine's.

                          You're right, our taste buds and memories of sourdough are different but there must be a reason we're both championing non-sourdough breads. It's because neither Boudin or Bordenave are all that good now.

                2. re: mariacarmen
                  a_and_w May 11, 2010 10:03 AM

                  Oh, wow, that dark sourdough brings back some memories! Count me in the Acme camp, too.

                  1. re: a_and_w
                    PegS May 11, 2010 10:29 AM

                    I think I need to try the Acme Italian, because the last few times ( and this was admittedly years ago) I tried the regular Acme sourdough I was disappointed in the lack of sourness.

                    1. re: PegS
                      Robert Lauriston May 11, 2010 12:06 PM

                      The Acme Italian is rarely if ever as sour as the old "extra sour" loaves used to be. It doesn't sting.

              2. s
                sugartoof May 11, 2010 03:19 AM

                It doesn't exist outside of one establishment, Tadiches.
                Second to that, Tartine's country white has some similarities and is a great, great bread.

                For the old companies still producing: Boudin, Bordenave and Wedemeyer.
                If you can find it, the Wedemeyer is the most faithful.

                San Francisco's old sourdough tradition isn't really intact these days. The last time the topic came up, it turned into a brawl, with lots of letdowns in the taste test department.

                A lot of people will swear by Acme, but it's not an old school sourdough, nor does it try to be. In fact, most all the breads marked sourdough are just bread with some sour flavoring, which doesn't cut it.

                I wonder if any bakers out there caught the last epic thread on this and decided to take the challenge?

                2 Replies
                1. re: sugartoof
                  Robert Lauriston May 11, 2010 10:06 AM

                  I found Wedemeyer a step down from Bordenave. Probably won't buy either again.

                  When I want sourdough I get Acme Italian. Some days it's more like the old-school SF sourdough than other days, but it's always delicious, and given the choice nine times out of ten I'd rather eat that than Tadich's special Boudin.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                    sugartoof May 11, 2010 02:59 PM

                    Of course you did, and for my tastes, Acme doesn't make a sourdough at all.

                    You also thought Boudin had not changed and was an accurate representation of what you ate in the 60's. Now you're saying you would rather eat Acme's Italian bread over the last actual real sourdough, from Tadich? Uh. Okay. Sourdough is apparently not your preference then.

                2. o
                  OldTimer May 11, 2010 09:49 AM

                  I think it is helpful to know that some of the best sourdough in SF is baked especially for select restaurants. Tadich and Sam's Grill have special bakes, and it is hard to find that very sour, dark bread in groceries. Many people are quite disappointed when the sourgough they buy does not some ujp to Tadich, etc.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: OldTimer
                    eatzalot May 11, 2010 12:20 PM

                    OldTimer's point is good, and applies to Acme too, technically. When the Sullivans opened the original San Pablo Ave. bakery, early 1980s, it was a Chez Panisse spin-off, and continued to supply Panisse as well as the public, if I recall.

                    While I'm basically in the Acme camp too, for the record, the standard against which even Acme was compared from its start (before it in turn inspired the various other artisan bakeries around the area) was the already famous baguettes at the Cheese Board on Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley (one of the very first "Gourmet Ghetto" shops, started years before Panisse). Some people (who are in a good position to compare) have called Cheese Board's baguettes better than what you can get in France. That severely crackly surface and savory interior (high-gluten flour?) went exceptionally with CB's fine cheese offerings. There was a strict limit of five baguettes per customer. Please update if necessary but as of a few years ago, CB was still selling baguettes.


                    1. re: eatzalot
                      Robert Lauriston May 12, 2010 08:38 AM

                      Chez Panisse used to buy bread from the Cheese Board, but as far as the gold standard goes:

                      "There was no bread to compare to Poilâne's in Paris, but, Alice [Waters] recalls, 'We had a busboy on staff who decided he was going to keep making bread until he got it right. Steve Sullivan. And he did get it right. We're still serving his bread. We lent him money to start up Acme Bakery.'" Alice Waters & Chez Panisse, Thomas McNamee (Penguin, 2007)

                      Acme's levain surpassed Poilâne's years ago.

                      The Cheese Board's baguettes are certainly different from anything you'll find in France. Best baguette discussions:


                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                        eatzalot May 12, 2010 10:08 AM

                        That's interesting, but I don't know about CB baguette _today,_ nor published opinions by Alice Waters (praising Acme, but rather oblique to the comparison, and self-serving -- Waters, naturally, praised the product her restaurant sells).

                        Rather, as a consumer, I summarized my own experience, mirroring comments of everyone else I talked to on the subject in the 1980s, around my hometown of Berkeley: Acme sour baguettes, in the years after they appeared (Acme Bakery started 15 years after Cheese board) were excellent, surely in the same league as Cheese Board's, and a good substitute. Acme were made in quantity, so not rationed as CB's were. I still use Acme routinely. But the vivid memory of Cheese Board baguettes, their distinctive crunch and flavor, will be with me forever, and Acme's, though excellent, were never quite their equal. If Acme's arrival prompted any consumer to proclaim that Acme's baguettes surpassed CB's, I never heard it.

                        1. re: eatzalot
                          Robert Lauriston May 13, 2010 10:19 AM

                          Alice Waters was dissastisfied with what bread was available, hence the decision to make it in house:

                          "'All I knew was that Chez Panisse could be better than it was.' If there were no farmers in northern California raising chickens comparable to the blue-legged beauties of Bresse, perhaps Alice could persuade a farmer to raise some old, nearly lost noncommercial breed of American chicken. There was no bread to compare to Poilane’s in Paris, but, Alice recalls, 'We had a busboy ...'"

                          I don't think Cheese Board baguettes have changed. They're still much harder and crunchier than anything you'd find in France, to the point that calling them baguettes is arguably misleading. Their pizza is similarly eccentric.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                            eatzalot May 14, 2010 06:13 PM

                            Well, as I expained, we're addressing different things. I'm not talking at all about what Alice Waters said in some recent book, nor about France, but rather, in the spirit of this topic, consumer reaction to Acme as the new competitor with the established Cheese Board product. It sounds like it's pretty much the same today.

                            Were you too accustomed to Cheese Board baguettes before Acme's advent, and if so, what did YOU think of the newcomer, Robert?

                            1. re: eatzalot
                              Robert Lauriston May 15, 2010 10:09 AM

                              Acme was the first great bread made in this area. I used to travel from San Francisco to Berkeley buy it, and then later took the bus from the Mission to North Beach to get it at Singer & Foy.

                              The only good baguettes around here before Acme were from Bakers of Paris, which were and are exactly like the ones sold in French supermarkets.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                cakebaker May 15, 2010 01:58 PM

                                Taking nothing away from Acme's bread...wasn't Bread Garden the first baguette in the bay area in the late 70's. I recall going there long before Acme opened.

                                Bread Garden
                                2912 Domingo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                                1. re: cakebaker
                                  eatzalot May 15, 2010 05:13 PM

                                  cakebaker, Bread Garden may have been the first. Cheese Board opened in 1967, but I don't know when it began producing its own baguettes.

                                  I'm not sure if Robert answered my question above, but his is actually the first opinion I've ever seen (in person or online) to consider Acme the first great baguettes in Berkeley, and Cheese Board's (which preceded Acme) as significantly inferior.

                                  1. re: eatzalot
                                    Robert Lauriston May 16, 2010 11:25 AM

                                    My opinion of the Cheese Board's baguettes is not so much that they're inferior to other bakeries' as that outside of the shape they're not all that similar to either mass-market French baguettes or neo-retro ones a la Poujauran.

                                    There have been lots of discussions about baguettes and baguette taste-offs here. Most of them don't even mention the Cheese Board or Arizmendi (same recipes). Here are two that do:


                                    1. re: eatzalot
                                      cakebaker May 16, 2010 07:18 PM

                                      I remember now besides David's baguette at Bread Garden there was also La Farine making baguettes. I clearly remember some time ago Steve Sullivan talking about spending time with Lili Lecoq at La Farine in his quest to learn bread making. While I remember BG's and Cheeseboard's baguettes being different in that CB's always had a blistered crust unlike any others being made including Tassajara at the time.

                                      Bread Garden
                                      2912 Domingo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                                      La Farine
                                      6323 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

                    2. d
                      Drunkenpiper Sep 15, 2012 05:51 AM

                      I've been trying to remember the one my father use to bring home from SF -- If I remember it came in a red white and blue bag (striped) and it was a long loaf not a bule. I remember it being quite sour too. Any ideas -- A friend of mine brought some back a few years ago but unfortunately the bag disappeared before I had a chance to get the info. Any help would be appreciated. (BTW - whoever they are - I think they are the best of all I have sampled - but might be childhood memories too.)

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Drunkenpiper
                        nami54 Sep 15, 2012 08:12 AM

                        Yep, the red, white, and blue bag was Parisian. Long gone, unfortunately. When I was growing up, we could choose from four or five different brands and the supermarket, but our fave was Boudin. It wasn't available at the supermarket, we had to get it at the liquor store. These days you have to get the round loaf and crisp it up in the oven, but it's still my fave, if only for sentimental reasons.

                        1. re: nami54
                          Drunkenpiper Sep 15, 2012 08:29 AM

                          Thank you! -- I also replied to you on c oliver's post - I will look Boulin up as well. Oh well another childhood icon gone ---

                        2. re: Drunkenpiper
                          Robert Lauriston Sep 15, 2012 09:51 AM

                          Boudin's the last of the old-school SF sourdough bakeries that's still in business. Parisian lasted until 2005. Colombo still exists as a brand but it's not the same. Bordenave in San Rafael and Franco American in Santa Rosa are still in business.

                          Truckee Sourdough is a new-school artisan bakery, like Acme.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                            chefj Sep 15, 2012 10:41 AM

                            Unfortunately Bordenave's is not very good any more.
                            During the price spike in wheat a few years ago they switched to a lower quality flour, it ruined the bread, and they have not switched back.

                            1. re: chefj
                              Robert Lauriston Sep 15, 2012 10:48 AM

                              How long ago? I tried a loaf in 2009 and it was OK.


                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                chefj Sep 15, 2012 10:59 AM

                                This is the post I made 2010 after buying a bunch for an event.

                            2. re: Robert Lauriston
                              sugartoof Sep 15, 2012 12:06 PM

                              Wedemeyer in S. SF is close enough. Established in 1936.
                              Hard to find, and I haven't had it in ages to know if it's still good.

                          2. Robert Lauriston Sep 15, 2012 12:29 PM

                            Except for Acme and Franco American I haven't tasted these since 2009, but I'd rank the local sourdoughs roughly:

                            Tadich special bake Boudin
                            regular Boudin (Scott's at Jack London Square)
                            Franco American (Santa Rosa, common in North Bay supermarkets)
                            Bordenave (Spenger's)
                            Wedemeyer (Grocery Outlet)

                            chefj reported in 2010 that Bordenave had gone downhill so that may be out of date. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4787...

                            One of these days I'd like to do a comparison between Franco American and Boudin.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                              Malcolm Ruthven Sep 15, 2012 12:58 PM

                              >chefj reported in 2010 that Bordenave had gone downhill so that may be out of date. <

                              My experience with Bordenave sourdough a couple(?) of years ago was exactly the same.

                            2. c
                              chris319 Oct 23, 2012 12:08 PM

                              I have to chime in here. I grew up in Palo Alto in the '60s and '70s and in those days the gold standard of sourdough was Larraburu. I grew up on it and still have the serrated knife my mother used to slice it up. I'm quite surprised no one has mentioned Larraburu in this thread. In the late '70s one of their delivery trucks struck and injured a child. The company was underinsured and as a result went out of business. What a tragedy! With all the wealthy people in S.F. you would think someone could have stepped in and saved this great San Francisco institution. Another excellent sourdough brand was Colombo, and Parisian was pretty good, too. They sold out to corporate interests and got snuffed out of existence.

                              Sourdough is not only about the flavor but also about the texture and aroma. It should have a light, feathery texture (I understand it has to rise more than other breads and this slows down the process). As for aroma, you should be able to smell the sourness and it should be fairly strong. It should also have a tangy flavor -- the sourer the better.

                              I live in Los Angeles now and we used to have a fairly decent sourdough down here from Pioneer bakery. They used to be located in Venice, CA but they tore down the bakery and built condos there. The bakery moved to Santa Ana, CA (Orange county) and the quality is now definitely inferior. It might as well be Sara Lee sourdough, which is basically white bread with a little sourdough flavoring added, an insult to anyone who is accustomed to genuine S.F. sourdough.

                              I have not tried Acme but will get some from Piazza's next time I'm up there. My brother, who still lives in Palo Alto and was classmates with Steve Sullivan, has told me about it.

                              In our family we used to take a stick of softened butter and stir in a clove of crushed garlic. Schmear that on true sourdough and put it in the oven or under the broiler and you will thank me for it.

                              Without authentic, SOUR sourdough bread, they might as well tear down the Golden Gate bridge and rename San Francisco to Yonkers.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: chris319
                                Ruth Lafler Oct 23, 2012 12:23 PM

                                Yes, Larraburu was the gold standard in my house growing up in that era as well. I never had Boudin until I went to work on Pier 39 in 1978 (they had a shop there at the time).

                                1. re: chris319
                                  wolfe Oct 23, 2012 12:23 PM

                                  Larrabaru and the little brother.

                                  1. re: chris319
                                    sugartoof Oct 23, 2012 02:29 PM

                                    Wedeymeyer is currently the only Sour sourdough in my opinion.

                                    Acme's sour batard will bring back memories for you, but the sourness is subtle.

                                    Yonkers it is. Larraburu is missed.

                                  Show Hidden Posts