Happy New Year, North Beach! Welcome to the first week of 2017, and to our second edition of North Beach Fix. A new regular feature reporting on happenings and changes of all kinds in The Beach, NBF  keeps an ear to the ground to make sure our readers are always one step ahead. New venues, neighborhood news, upcoming events–whatever the locals are talking about, it’s likely to show up here.

We’ve got some ground to cover, so we’ll start by circling back to an eagerly anticipated arrival reported on in the last edition: Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill. They’re now up and running on Columbus, and in case you missed my recent review, they’re doing a bangup job. Partners Betty Pesce, Louisa Taylor and Hector Chapparo were the core of the original team at Sotto Mare, and like the venerated Green Street icon, they also specialize in Italian seafood.

Perfect Sand Dabs - Betty Lou's Joe Content

A Platter of Perfect Sand Dabs at Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill in North Beach

But Betty Lou’s menu doesn’t stop there: in addition to a few other surprises, head chef Chapparo is now grilling up 16-ounce bone-in ribeyes for the carnivores among us, and like everything else coming out of his kitchen, they are fantastic. Don’t wait for the lines–head over there now for your first epic meal of the year.
Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill, 318 Columbus Avenue

Another recent opening, this one just a half block up on Grant Avenue, has been garnering some attention of its own: Dip, owned by Maykadeh and Moe’s Burgers founder Mahmoud Khossoussi, unveiled its space just before the holidays. And little by little, the new spot seems to be charming the locals.

Dip on Grant Avenue - Joe Content

The Brand-New Dip on Grant Avenue

French Dip sandwiches are the focus here, and with a nod to contemporary tastes, Khossoussi uses only organic, Piedmontese grass-fed beef. He’s also got a pork shoulder version sourced organically from Salmon Creek (thank you, sir!) and chicken sourced from Mary’s, along with sides of greens and potatoes au gratin. It’s one of the most spotless restaurant spaces I’ve ever seen (and one of the brightest as well, but I trust they’ll figure that out).

Khossoussi knows what he is doing, and after over 35 years in the restaurant business here, he knows North Beach as well as anyone. And it appears he may have just discovered another winning formula. So, next time you’re in the mood for a sammie, go French….and make it a wet one.
Dip, 1318 Grant Avenue

Meanwhile over on Green Street, local tavern keepers Belle Cora have been approved for their Limited Live Performance Permit, meaning we’ve now got another great spot to hear live music in the neighborhood. After negotiating a few reams of paperwork, owner Nils Marthinsen cleared the final hurdle last month, and has begun booking local acts into his intimate, Barbary Coast-themed wine and beer bar. He’s got Terry Salvastrano doing spot-on acoustic covers for starters, and word is there may be some hot local jazz coming down the pike as well. We’ll keep you posted, and you can check out the Belle Cora blog here.
Belle Cora, 565 Green Street

In retail news, local purveyors Cole Hardware have begun work on their first North Beach location, now slated for the old Rossi Market space at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Vallejo Street. For those who missed it, the cavernous parcel was the long-projected site of a second location for North Beach’s beloved Mama’s of Washington Square, the breakfast nook/foodie pilgrimage that has enlivened the corner of Stockton and Filbert for decades. In the end the restaurant’s bid fell apart, and Cole Hardware was swift to grab the spot, which is due to open in the first quarter of this year.

Liking eggs as much as I do, this news is admittedly bittersweet. But for the scores of North Beachers who have depended on Walgreens and the like for hardware for years, this is a victory for residents and local business alike. A warm welcome to Cole Hardware.
Cole Hardware, 637 Vallejo Street (coming soon)

In another good news/bad news scenario, Mr. Bing’s, North Beach’s most legendary dive bar, has reopened. To the chagrin of many of its devotees however, it has been completely remodeled. The triangular bar has vanished, transforming the small space entirely, and–horror of horrors–the bathrooms have been cleaned. In other words, its just like any other bar now. C’est la vie.
Mr. Bing’s,  201 Columbus Avenue

 

What are the holidays without a few grinches? This year though, it was the Grinch Who Stole Hanukkah Click to Tweet

Yes, this was a corker of a holiday season in The Beach; although it may quiet down come December, in terms of conviviality North Beach rarely disappoints. And of course, what would the holidays be without a few grinches? In this year’s version however, it was the Grinch Who Stole Hanukkah.

On Christmas Day, Central Station began receiving reports that a six-foot-tall steel menorah, placed at the northeast corner of Washington Square Park by Jewish community group Chabad, had been stolen from its perch–just before the ceremonial lighting scheduled for that night. A truly low blow, the theft was decried by some as a hate crime (though it was likely stolen for the recycling money), and investigators turned up nothing.

But in a true Hanukkah miracle, within less than 48 hours a replacement menorah was being flown across the country, a gift from the East Coast. The donor, Mitch Bogart of Massachusetts, built the unique fold-up menorah in a wood shop, and decided to send it to the group after reading about the theft in the newspaper. Way to show some holiday spirit, Mitch! (Editor’s Note: Chabad declined to leave the substitute menorah in the park overnight.)

While we’re talking about law and order, I’ve a few words about our police. It’s striking: like no place I’ve ever lived, North Beach loves its cops. And it’s not hard to see why. We’ve got the most civic-minded, locally tuned-in police officers I’ve encountered anywhere in America. Many of our officers walk the beat, and for the most part they know the locals well, and treat them that way.

That being said, the officers of Central Station have really distinguished themselves in recent weeks. To wit: along with the San Francisco Fire Department, their actions helped save the life of “Dirk,” the 13-year-old Francisco Middle School student who collapsed while boarding a Muni bus on Columbus Avenue December 1st. A victim of cardiac arrest, he was resuscitated by a passing officer on the sidewalk and rushed to California Pacific Medical Center, where he was stabilized (no word on the identity of the alert officer in question). Just weeks later, following a coordinated investigation, uniformed and plainclothes officers arrested a team of armed robbers that had been terrorizing residents of Russian Hill and Pacific Heights (the SFPD has yet to issue a release on this).

I hear a lot of people complain about crime, and I understand that, I do. But today, I’m sending a great big Thank You to Central Station, and all the men and women who work to keep North Beach safe. Through North Beach Festival, Fleet Week, SantaCon and all the rest, you manage to keep a lid on this bubbling pot. My compliments.
Central Station, 766 Vallejo Street

On a much more somber note, a sad goodbye to a woman who was loved by so many: Mary Beth Marks. The co-owner of Da Flora on Columbus Avenue and Filbert Street, Mary Beth died on December 17th, directly in front of Rialto Mercato, the wine and epicurean shop she opened with partner Flora Gaspar on December 16th, 2015–almost exactly one year before.

Mary Beth was a true delight, a sweet and inspiring presence on these North Beach streets, and the unique Venezian restaurant home that she and Flora created just off the Square remains a beautiful testament to her style, taste and gracious hospitality. Opened in 1994, Da Flora has been widely lauded by critics and is absolutely adored by its regulars, and for many it still defines the ideal of a certain kind of Italian restaurant. (Da Flora was sold last year to longtime chef Jen McMahon and her husband Darren Lacy, and remains true to the original concept and menu).

The Hand-Written Menu at Da Flora - Joe Content

The Hand-Written Menu at Da Flora, One of The Restaurant’s Many Early Innovations

I’ve had a couple of truly memorable meals at Da Flora, but for whatever reason wasn’t a regular. My flat is less than a block from the restaurant though, so I would often see Mary Beth on the street in the course of my workday; I always looked forward to it. Her cheerfulness never flagged for an instant, and she put a smile on my face every time we spoke. The reverberations of this beautiful woman’s departure are still being felt all around the neighborhood, and North Beach has clearly lost one of its favorite daughters. Rest in peace, Mary Beth, and thank you. You won’t be soon forgotten.