Brasserie Saint James Opens in San Francisco’s Mission Neighborhood
Brasserie Saint James San Francisco – The Mission
742 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
Caller ID is a great tool. One that I use daily and enjoy the luxury of having (remember when answering a phone was a gamble and a mystery 100% of the times it rang?!) I have a sort of internal dialog when it comes to answering phone calls based upon what that Caller ID tells me. A “choose your own adventure” approach, if you will. Yesterday I got a midday call from my good pal Tristan Chan (if you check the site regularly, you might have read his stuff from time to time) that I would normally answer without hesitation, but I was trying to focus on getting some stuff done for work, so I let it go to voicemail. My inner dialog told myself, “If he leaves a message, I will listen to it and see what he says.” (Sorry, T Chan, nothing personal). A few seconds later, the phone chimed notifying me of a message, so I played it. He was upbeat and positive, yet spoke briskly, said it was somewhat urgent and was asking for my availability, so I called him back. He informed me that some of his buddies own a brewery/brew pub in Reno were opening a new spot in San Francisco today. He was wondering if I could head over to check out the Grand Opening and do a write up on it for PorchDrinking.
Jumping back a little further. I lived in Denver for a year and a half and that is where I became good friends with Tristan through our intersecting lives in craft beer. Through a job opening in California, I moved away from Colorado for the first time in my life and settled in Oakland in July of 2015. It is a rad place to live and though I feel like I have done a pretty good job making connections and exploring rad stuff, I know I haven’t even come close to scratching the surface.
When an opportunity presents itself to dive deeper into this new community I’ve joined, my typical instinct is to jump on it. That said, the course of my day today didn’t have me leaving the East Bay, which almost led to me saying “thanks, but no thanks” when confronted with heading to San Francisco. As crazy as it may sound to those who have not experienced it first hand, the 15 miles from my place in Oakland, to The Mission in San Francisco, can be quite the chore. The gap is real and very much shaped like an hourglass.
What may look like a simple out and back can quickly get bogged down by dense congestion. It is one of those things that seriously makes you consider whether or not what you are about to do is REALLY worth the trip ( I have actually met people on both sides of the Bay that haven’t set foot in either town in over a year!) There is some math that needs to happen prior to making the commitment. Drive across the Bay Bridge or BART through the tunnel? If I take BART, do I ride my bike, Uber, or drive to the station? Crowded train or difficulty trying to find a parking spot? If I leave in the early afternoon, getting over to SF will be fine, but what about when I head back home at rush hour? I suppose it is a pretty common set of equations most people in large urban areas compute daily, but unlike a lot of other places with multiple routes and highways, there is only a 5 lane bridge between Oakland and San Francisco that handles roughly a quarter million vehicles a day.
Anyway, enough about transportation issues. I decided I could fit it into my schedule and relished the chance to meet new folks in the craft beer scene, so I said yes. It was a pretty simple request. Head over to a new spot in The Mission called Brasserie Saint James, connect with the folks Tristan directed me to, take some pictures, sample a couple beers, and eat some food. I like all of those things.
I arrived at Brasserie Saint James at 4:30, half an hour prior to their official grand opening. The staff was setting tables on the patio, arranging and rearranging tables and chairs, telling passersby that they opened at 5, and getting the remaining details in order. I approached a guy and a gal on the patio and told them I was looking for my contact Jordan Moore, Front of House Manager for Brasserie Saint James. I told them I was with PorchDrinking and the gentleman said, “Oh, awesome! I’m Art, I am the owner. Come on in!” I met Jordan and he was super kind, welcoming, and let me wander around while he and the rest of the staff got everything ready to open the doors for the first time. I decided I would walk around, snap some pictures and take it all in.
The décor is very warm, inviting, and modern mixed with original old wooden ceiling beams and framework, chalk boards featuring menu items. The walls are adorned with reclaimed wood, old maps of San Francisco, and framed pictures of celebrities and their libation inspired quotations: “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” – Tom Waits. the interior is illuminated by large skylights providing natural light, in the back, copper brewing equipment is easily within view, and the walls are lined with exposed brick and air plants dotting the sides. At one point when Jordan and Art passed by me, I asked them if they had any history on the building. Art directed me to the black and white picture on the wall right next to where we were standing and noted the Valencia Street Hotel, which in that particular picture was in a heap in the middle of the street in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. Of course, it had been rebuilt and in the most recent years had served as an auto garage.
After the doors opened and things settled down a little bit, I sat down at the bar with Jordan. A large screen TV above the bar’s draft handles was playing a muted Jim Jarmusch film, Down By Law, starring Tom Waits (and at one point a Tom Waits song came over the sound system while Tom Waits was on the TV. This place loves Tom Waits and that is just fine in my book). Jordan offered me a beer and I ordered a Red Headed Stranger Red Farmhouse Ale (cuz Willie Nelson, of course). Jordan then requested that the bartender also pour me a taster of the nitro version, as well. I sipped these wonderfully same, but totally different beers and we chatted about the history of the company and the growth over the last 8 years.
Brasserie got its start as a beer bar, Saint James Infirmary, (named after an old blues standard, which I am particularly fond of The White Stripes version. Tom Waits, Willie Nelson, Jack White. This place is speaking my language) in Reno. Founder Art Farley wanted to raise the bar on the beer scene in Reno through craft and imports. He did so with over 120 beer offerings, yet still wanted to bring more to the table. That’s when Farley decided to open Brasserie Saint James as a brewpub in a historic icehouse, located conveniently enough above an artisanal well. Their Belgian style farmhouse ales have already begun garnering national attention with medals at the last two GABFs as well as one of the largest honors with GABF’s Best Mid-sized Brewpub and Brewers in America.
Now Brasserie is setting it’s sights on a larger stage, in the heart of The Mission in San Francisco. Jordan informed me that their 20 barrel system in Reno is still producing everything at the moment and the 7 barrel system at their Mission location will be up and running in the next month. In addition to their own beers, they also have a variety of rotating taps from many of the other breweries in the region that will be changing seasonally.
I finished my beers and was about to head back to Oakland to meet up with some friends. I approached Jordan to say goodbye and he asked if I wanted anything to eat before I left. I felt like I would be stupid to say no, so I sat right back down. Deciding on one item was tough when browsing menu items like Grilled Oysters, The Pig & Kraut, Lamb Tartare, and Bourbon Blood Orange Endive salad. I settled (that is my kind of settling right there) on the Gumbo and Dirty Rice. A few minutes later I had a wooden block holding a bowl of shrimp gumbo, a bowl of rice, and a large chunk of bread. When I eat, I am ready to eat and I don’t really fuck around. I don’t talk, I don’t drink, and I am there to do one thing. Consume. This was no different. That gumbo and rice didn’t stand a chance. It was fantastic. A nice kick, but not too spicy and the bread was the perfect way to sweep up anything that the spoon couldn’t quite scoop. After I finished, the dude behind the counter cleaning glasses asked me how it was and, of course, I said it was amazing. He said, “Yeah, the chef is from Louisiana and that is his own recipe. You made a good choice.” Boom.
Finally, after hanging out for a couple hours, I began to say my goodbyes to everyone who had treated me so well, even while they were running around trying to, you know, do their jobs. Jordan told me he would be heading back to Reno soon and mentioned that he grew up there. My good friend and former next door neighbor back in Fort Collins grew up in Reno, as well, and I asked if he knew her. Turns out they all know her older brother and are friends with him. The small world connection was made and the whole experience came full circle. Though my itinerary for the day had me going nowhere near San Francisco, even as late as noon, thankfully my schedule allowed me to say yes to the right opportunity. It all paid off with great connections from Colorado, to Nevada, to California, back to Nevada, and back to Colorado. I love it when life happens like that and I knew if Tristan said it was going to be good, it would be good. And it was.
If you live in SF, go. If you are planning to visit SF, put this place on your list. Good food, good drink, and healthy doses of Tom Waits. Those are proper ingredients in the recipe for success. Brasserie Saint James San Francisco is officially open for business.
What To Drink
This Belgian Style Farmhouse Saison is effervescent, crisp and refreshing. It carries a balanced brett characteristic which isn’t overpowering but rather adding just a bit of funky earthiness you’d expect from a great bretted saison. The earthiness is accentuated with the addition of green peppercorns and European hops. There’s a good reason this won a gold medal at GABF in 2014.
Red Headed Stranger
Another great take on the Belgian style farmhouse, this being a red imparts more of the maltier background than with Daily Wages. Stranger showcases a bit more citrus flavor, and spices from coriander and orange peel additions. This won a gold in 2013.
This American Brett Golden Ale might not be as widely available as it’s part of their barrel program. But this 100% Brett fermented ale aged in white win barrels is one of our favorites that showcases great earthy and floral notes along with great champagne-y flavors.
Full brunch and dinner menus, 7 days a week
Kitchen open til 2 AM, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
Soups and Salads, Pub Fare and Starters, Nose to Tail menu, Seafood, and Entrees
Happy Hour 3-6, M-F
Extensive cocktail menu with a wide variety of excellent spirits
Sparkling, red, white, rosé, and draft wines
Bottled, canned, and draft beer