Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bakery Cafe Review: Specialty's

Specialty's - breakfast and lunch more times than I can count
I discovered Specialty's when I was working at my first job out of college in San Francisco.  I would sometimes walk around downtown during my lunch hour and I'd always see a line outside this shop.  I mean, always, regardless of which day it was. Back then, it was one of a handful of small Specialty's shops sprinkled in downtown San Francisco: each one typically a small storefront with a glass display lined with trays full of breads, scones and cookies.  People would point to what they wanted from the display case or put in an order for a sandwich and the cashiers would take your money and your order would be handed over instantly or, if a sandwich, within a few minutes. Further personal research led me to discover that if you just happened to walk by around 10 or 11 in the morning, you could get a small round loaf of the best potato poppyseed bread ever, hot and piping from the oven.  For a dollar.  Or potato cheese bread shaped like a cinnamon roll except it was savory and instead of the sweet cinnamon filling, it would be melted cheese.  That might've been $1.25.  To a carb lover like me, it was the cheapest and best way to gain 30 pounds.
Years later, Specialty's has expanded beyond the city and thankfully, I've contracted so those 30 pounds are gone (thank you, exercise and keeping my mouth shut more often than not).  I'm still a regular patron of Specialty's but unfortunately (or fortunately) those mini round loaves of potato poppyseed bread and the potato cheese rolls are no more.  They sell the big bread loaves of potato poppyseed but I know better than to buy one of those because I'll eat it all.  And neither my waistline nor I have seen a potato cheese roll in years.
What they do have, however, is a plethora of everything else. From a small sandwich shop also known for its big, thick cookies, it's expanded to a chain of bakery cafes in 4 states with soups, salads, sandwiches, coffee and teas and, of course, baked goods.  My new Kryptonite at Specialty's is their savory filled croissants.  They have turkey and swiss or ham and cheese.  And I don't mean they take a croissant, slice it in half and build it as a normal sandwich.  I'm talking some culinary genius who I worship unknown filled an unbaked croissant with sliced meat and cheese, let it rise then baked it to melting goodness. Love that.
There's a Specialty's on my way to work and they're now so sophisticated that I can order online before I leave my house, ask for ASAP pickup (within 15 minutes of placing my order), pay for my order online, and pick up my order already bagged as I head into the office. Which I do more often than I care to admit.  Although I do try to coincide those croissant-eating days to those running-on-the-treadmill days as well.  I'm not looking to pack those 30 pounds back on, after all, no matter how good the croissant is.
When I'm not indulging for breakfast or I'm too lazy to pack a lunch, once again, I can go online and put in an order for a sandwich. Or if I'm meeting a friend at Specialty's, I can order at their ipad ordering kiosks instead of giving my order to the humans behind the counter - gotta love high tech ordering, especially when it helps keep the lines down and there's very little wait time. All the sandwiches are listed with what they're normally comprised of and you can customize your order easily by crossing out what you don't want.  I always get the BBQ Chicken sandwich and it normally comes on toasted ciabatta bread with cole slaw, BBQ sauce, bacon and chicken.  I cross off the cole slaw and bacon and ask for untoasted bread (they toast the bread with butter and those are unwanted calories I'm not going to taste with the BBQ sauce anyway). Each menu option, for better or worse, comes with a calorie count so you can always see the caloric effect of what you're adding or subtracting, including what type of bread you use. An appetite killer, I know, but at least you know what you're signing up for and can make an informed choice.
BBQ chicken sandwich, sans cole slaw and bacon
One of my early motivators for going to Specialty's is their cookies.  I started off loyal to the milk chocolate chunk cookie, expanded to white chocolate macadamia, black and white, and their snickerdoodle.  When I'm feeling like I want to be "healthy", I get the oatmeal wheat germ chocolate chip.  Okay, I'm not really kidding myself that it's healthy but I just like it. It's not as sweet as the other cookies and has a nice chewy texture.
Oatmeal Wheat Germ Chocolate Chip Cookie
Half-eaten Oatmeal Wheat Germ Chocolate Chip Cookie
In the past few years, Specialty's has expanded their product line and now offer their cookie mixes for sale.  The mixes only come in semisweet chocolate chunk, milk chocolate chunk and white chocolate chunk.  They retail for $12 each or 3 for $33 or 4 for $40.  Which is rather pricey if you think about it, especially considering each mix only makes 12 Specialty's-sized cookies.  Yet, each individual cookie is sold at Specialty's for $2.59 so if you ever need a dozen Specialty's cookies, it's cheaper to buy the mix and make them yourself.  And yes, they do taste similar to what you can buy in their shop.
I've tried out the white chocolate chunk and the milk chocolate chunk when they first came out "just to see" what they were like. They were fine but not so stupendous that I'd be willing to keep paying that much for the box mix.  If I really needed a dozen or more cookies to give out, I'd bake them from scratch.
Probably the main drawback to be aware of when it comes to Specialty's is, like any bakery cafe, because they make their products fresh daily, if you go too late in the day, chances are there isn't much to choose from in the way of baked goods.  They bake all day but stop baking sometime in the afternoon so they can sell out as much as possible.  Anything that's day old is sold at half price the following day.  I'm not a fan of day old anything so I'd rather pay full price for the fresh stuff.
White Chocolate Chunk cookies baked from their cookie mix
Not pictured here because I haven't had it in a long time but if you ever want a good cinnamon roll, Specialty's has amazing ones.  Especially if they heat it up for you just enough to warm the roll and get the glaze a little runny.  Yowza.  You'll never eat Cinnabon again.

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