HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


20th Century Cafe, SF - Get the Russian Honey Cake & Chocolate Chip Cookie - So Good! with PICS

I love 20th Century Cafe! It's so cute & desserts are Yummy! It's across the street from Rich Table on Gough & Oak.

i wanted one of everything, it looks great!

I got:

Peach leaf ice cream $3 scoop - it's a tiny scoop, but tasted pretty good.

Russian Honey Cake $6/slice - It's so good! Lots of layers, between 7-9 layers Michelle told me, it changes daily. Moist cake, frosting has lots of honey flavor. It's big enough for 2 people to share. She was making more when I was leaving for the next day.

Chocolate chip cookie $2 - small cookie, no nuts, but lots of melted chocolates in it w/ some sea salt! Delicious.

I bought one Potato Knish $3 - it's small, kinda flaky w/ a mash potato like filling. Just ok for me, not my favorite.

My total was about $15, charged it on my AmEx,

One unisex bathrooms up in the front.

20th Century Cafe
198 Gough St at Oak
SF, CA 94102
Hrs: Tues-Fri 7am-6pm
Sat & Sun 10am-6pm

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I read Patricia Unterman's rave about this place, then by chance was able to check it out for a late breakfast. I had the granola with peaches and yogurt with an apple strudel and a cappuccino. Each one was to die for. And the choices were tough because everything looked great. Definitely need more reports from this front!

    1. Thanks for starting a new thread. Glad to hear you like it so much, especially with your eye for value and the quality-price ratio. When I tried it last month, a few days after opening, as noted here, the QPR was border line.

      No question that the quality was all there, but some of the prices were breathtaking. Good to see your photo of the saintly honey cake and your comment that it’s enough for two. Much as I loved the cake, the thin slice served to me was so stingy, it was not enough for even one person to be happy. Your slice is at least double assuming the height and diameter remain constant. I appreciated care (and expense) that went into the décor and the vintage tableware, but the prices were still out of line. I guess Ms. Polzine heard the criticism about pricing and made some adjustments. A much needed improvement and one I can get behind. Here’s the Russian honey cake,

      This is indeed a marvelous cake and new must-order in San Francisco’s dessert pantheon. The cake part’s a moist spice cake. The frosting seems to be whipped cream based flecked with brittle-like honey bits that soften and diffuse their flavor into the frosting. I saw a container on the counter that was marked something like “honey crunch” or another candy-like term that’s probably a component. When you say it changes every day, do you mean the number of layers? Here’s a better angle on the cut edge and I count eight layers of cake the day I was there.

      Also in the sweets arena we tried a slice of a gorgeous peach tart. The very rich crust tasted of browned butter. The sweetness level on the understated side was perfect for my taste.

      I was not so taken with the one savory item, the chopped salad with Bulgarian feta. Besides not really being chopped, the greens were limp and overdressed.

      More photos for 20th Century:

      1 Reply
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Melanie, yes I was talking about the numbers of layers in the Russian Honey Cake, it can change daily. So tasty!

      2. Will the price change according to how many layers the cake gets on any given day? As much as I love the concept, many of the items are miniature, and sold higher than full sized prices.

        The cookies I saw were just barely the size of a dollar coin.

        Ice cream sounds like the best value so far, but now I'm expecting a melon ball sized scoop.

        1. The honey cake is amazing. Strong honey aroma, airy icing, and intense flavor. I would easily trade this for anything a Tartine or Knead.

          Anyone try the poppyseed bagel? It was too late in the day to trust the quality or a bagel, but it had a beautiful dark brown crust.

          2 Replies
          1. re: hyperbowler

            We went here last week and I adored the honey cake. The mixture of subtle spice and not-too-sweet whipped cream combined with the expert texture of both crumb and cream...I could say more, but would only repeat what's already been said. Fantastic. Our slice was huge--we split it between two people and still left 1/3 untouched.

            I will voice dissent on the peach leaf ice cream. The texture was slightly gummy, and I didn't like the herbal, bitter leaf flavor (which was surprising, because I generally favor herbal, bitter flavors in both food and drink--not sure why it didn't work for me in cream or dessert form). My DC apparently didn't like it either; he took one bite and no more.

            1. re: pane

              So glad to hear that the portion size of the honey cake is growing. Mine was almost see-through and I remember the intense concentration of the counter lady trying to cut such a thin piece without it falling apart.

              Interesting take on the peach leaf flavor. I detected some green herbalness and also astringency, like a tannic fuzziness, but not a bitter flavor. Since it's been nearly two months between our visits, I wonder if there's a change in the chemical composition of the leaves that explains the difference. Leaves are starting to fall now, autumn is here.

              Has anyone tried another flavor of ice cream here?

          2. Updated hours:
            Monday CLOSED
            Tue – Fri 8:00am–6:00pm
            Sat – Sun 10:00am–6:00pm

            Still in awe of her honey cake, I wondered if I'd neglected the layered honey cakes common in the Richmond District's Eastern European markets.

            I started and finished at Royal Market, a place that has tons of great prepared foods. A $1.50 slice of their seven layered honey cake was stale and the only "honey" flavor came from sawdust-like graham cracker crumbs. If this is 20th century's best competition, they should charge a lot more than $6/ slice....

            6 Replies
            1. re: hyperbowler

              $6 a slice is plenty for cake.

              The European/Russian layered cakes are intentionally crumbly, and crunchy. That's the style.

              1. re: sugartoof

                Royal Market's version has walnut chunks and a dry crumble on the outside, so that matches with your description. But the sponge of the cake wasn't "crumbly"--- it tasted like something that hadn't been prepared fresh that day, kind of like your average wedding cake. Do you have a recommendation for a good representation of Eastern European style layer cakes in the Richmond, honey cake or otherwise?

                In any case, 20th Century seems to be going for a different style than what Royal Market serves. The "crumble" on the outside of her cake is made up of tiny fluffy bits and the fresh honey flavor withstood 12 hours in my fridge.

                On a revisit, I had a chance to try the $2.50 knish. In size and preparation, this is far from the starch-bombs I've elsewhere had as knishes. It's small, but fantastic. The mashed potatoes are airy and tinted brown by caramelized onions. Caraway and some other spices add a slight crunch.

                1. re: hyperbowler

                  Here's my description of the Russian style layer cake with bits of meringue and nuts providing the crunch at a defunct restaurant.

                  I remember going looking for something similar at the Russian stores in the Richmond soon after. My vague recollection is that I learned that these cakes were made by a bakery in Los Angeles and shipped up here frozen. They were only sold whole and were quite expensive then, so my research stopped there.

                  1. re: hyperbowler

                    Interesting....they lowered the price of the knish.
                    Next I'd suggest they try adult sized portions instead of the cocktail appetizer 2 bites they're peddling.

                    As for the layer cakes - just as you figured out; you're comparing two different style cakes, and what you perceived as staleness at Royal Market is pretty standard for Russian, and Eastern European cakes of this style. Same as what's sold up and down Brighton Beach. It can be off-putting if you're not familiar with the texture. When they go stale, the cream gets gummy and hardens, and you can't really cut into them but what your describing is also what a "fresh" cake might be sold as. It's hard to say if you got an abnormally old one, because these are sort of dried wafer like cakes, where the acceptability, and concept of freshness isn't like a wedding cake. These aren't always intended to be soft and pillowy.

                    I don't know who makes a softer Blum's style version of a Russian honey layered cake right now. The bakeries on Geary aren't really using the best ingredients anyway.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      You're right about 20th Century having a different style of cake, but Royal Bakery also has a quality issue going on. I confirmed Melanie's info above-- Royal Bakery gets a delivery of honey cake from LA once a week, on Thursdays.

                      Curious what a better quality cake of this style would taste like, I went to Cinderella bakery. They make everything in house. Once it came to room temperature, their cake was denser than 20th Century's cake and didn't have as airy an icing. I probably wouldn't get it again, but it's a decent cake. The outer crumble was fluffy but a little dry and there were small chunks of walnuts throughout. Undissolved sugar gave an occasional grittiness. The honey's presence was detectable only if you concentrate real hard.

                      1. re: hyperbowler

                        "You're right about 20th Century having a different style of cake"

                        I'm not sure I understand why you're still comparing them then?

                        Dryness, undissolved sugars...again, all standard.

                        I'm surprised Royal Bakery gets even a weekly delivery. Would a fresher cake be more palatable to western tastes, or someone looking for a cake closer to 20th Century's? Maybe a little, but these are cakes I've frequently seen left out, uncovered, seemingly until sold.

              2. I stopped by today and my wife and I split a slice of the honey cake. I thought it was incredible - strong honey flavor, moist cake, excellent balance. The slice we got was smaller than the one shown by the OP, but not terribly small. Definitely not enough to split, as we ended up getting another slice. For me, it was the best cake I've had outside of my own house in recent memory.

                8 Replies
                1. re: michaelw

                  The sizing thing is funny and seems like something they need to keep an eye on--I can understand the price being a bit high because this seems like an expensive cake to make, but I see a lot of comments on size differences that I don't understand. This is maybe not the best pic to get a sense of perspective, but it's our slice, and we weren't able to finish it even when splitting

                  1. re: pane

                    I haven't seen much difference in the cake slice photos floating around (although the cookies have appeared in drastically different sizes). It's really hard to imagine how they're really large enough for 2 with more cake to spare.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      Melanie said above that hers was so thin it wasn't even large enough for one person. Mine was a big hulking piece, and so rich with the layers of cream that I could not have eaten half. I can imagine a very hungry person with a big appetite could eat it alone, but I can't imagine anyone saying "This isn't even big enough for one person" which was Melanie's reaction to her paltry serving.

                      Clearly the only solution is for each diner to photograph his or her slice next to a ruler, and for good measure, to include a copy of today's newspaper in the photo as a date stamp.

                    2. re: pane

                      It is amusing, and I'm glad I brought up cake slice size as an issue here. Mine was so thin it lay flat and I could almost see through it.

                      Yours clearly has heft to it, and I count nine layers of cake. While the volume of the cake part itself may be the same as when cut into seven thicker layers, you get two extra layers of cream filling.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        On my first visit we ordered a double slice that looked like what would be a single slice of a normal cake. Granted we'd been stuffing our faces all day, but we found the portion size more than adequate (1 slice/person). On my second visit, I split a single slice with someone and we were both happy.

                        That said, it sounds like Melanie got an especially thin piece. I'll bring a digital scale next time--- volumetric estimates of rounded desserts are subject to error if you have a better understanding of cake than pi.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Ordered a slice of the honey cake today, it started out as a pretty big wedge (about 1" thick at the thickest spot) but after subtracting out the cream left on the hand of the server who held the slice in the palm of her bare hand to transfer it to the takeout box,it was smaller. (Hello, isn't that what the waxed paper is for?)

                            1. re: barleywino

                              You may have ordered that, but no way that I would accept, pay and eat that.

                  2. Today they were serving a sachertorte--exquisitely beautiful, glossy, best apricot preserves between layers of rich but not heavy nor overly sweet chocolate torte. The slice, at $6, was a bit on the spare side--two of us engaged in serious forked combat for the last few bites. It was the Platonic form of this Viennese specialty.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: dordogne

                      Here are the copper jam pots simmering the apricot preserves, taken two months ago,
                      and the filled quart jars set aside to seal and cool,

                      Ms Polzine told me that when her opening kept getting delayed one of her big concerns was that she wouldn't have a legal kitchen in time to put up preserves. Luckily, she made it before stone fruit season ended.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Many thanks, Melanie. That explains the pure fruit/barest touch of sugar of the apricot layer (I was guessing perhaps June Taylor).

                        1. re: dordogne

                          I wish I could remember to tell you what apricot variety she used. I just know they're not Blenheims since we talked about Blenheims and that she'd missed that harvest.

                          You may want to check out Muka, as the kitchen put up its own preserves too. Looking back at my post and the $12 price for the little cake, guess I should stop whining about $6 for honey cake here. :)

                    2. Wonderful lunch today @ 20th Century Cafe. Great veg-bean stew, best reuben (terrific meat and bread), very nice (if a bit hard to eat) sunnyside up sandwich w/ tomato jam & bacon and arugula.

                      On the sweet end, tried the hot butterscotch (surprising idea that worked), the deservedly praised honey cake (brilliant and plenty for more than two people), the peach leaf ice cream (so interesting/good--dying to know the secret recipe), and a poppyseed pastry w/ streusel that was nice, if you're a poppyseed fan (I am).

                      Prices and portions all seemed reasonable (prior posts notwithstanding). Service friendly (had to ask to have dirty dishes from prior course removed). Decor delightful.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: sundeck sue

                        That butterscotch drink is on my best of 2013 for sure, despite it being a bit sweet for me. Honey cake also superb!

                        1. re: grayelf

                          I really liked the Hot Butterscotch too, but I think the sweetness depends on how much water (or is it milk?) they add to what appeared to me as a reduction of pudding paste. I personally would have enjoyed a thicker/sweeter rendition.

                          Is Hot Butterscotch a real drink?

                          The honey cake is still a sliver, no more than an inch thick at the widest slice, for some customers.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            Hmm, maybe depends which of the servers preps it? Mine was rich, thick and very sweet. But I love butterscotch so I choked it down, LOL. I've never seen hot butterscotch anywhere else but doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And now I know it should.

                            I ate the honey cake at SFO along with a Blue Bottle New Orleans iced coffee. It was more than adequatchelant for my purposes, what with the richness and all. As I said elsewhere, I'd rather have a higher quality, smaller portion.

                            1. re: grayelf

                              I think you're right.

                              They acted as if it was a real common drink, so I convinced myself it must be a regional thing, until I googled, and came up with nothing but sauces, and puddings. It's based off the pudding recipe from Range which is available online. I'm sure people have used butterscotch chocolate chips but the closest thing I've had elsewhere was a seasonal Dunkin Donuts flavor that tasted like a Butterfinger, and of course, Butterfingers own mix. Not even close. How long before this is as standard as a Gibralta?

                      2. I guess this is sort of OT, but can anybody recommend a recipe for this kind of cake? After reading this, I googled this cake, and there are a ton of recipes, but I would love a recommended one. TIA.

                        1. Met a girlfriend here for a late lunch in Thursday's heat. Soup of the day was a chilled fresh pea and was just what I needed. Someone commented to me that this looks like Jerry Garcia. ;)

                          5 Replies
                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              > Someone commented to me that this looks like
                              > Jerry Garcia. ;)
                              what are those green leaves? :-)

                              1. re: psb

                                Errrm, Mint and Pea shoots, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

                              2. re: Melanie Wong

                                Will I encounter a crowd here if I go for lunch Saturday around 1 or 2?

                                1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                  No idea, never in the neighborhood on Saturday.