Since 1982, this playfully-themed café has served soda fountain drinks, coffee, and sandwiches. The owner, Jesse, has lined its walls with old toys, a PEZ dispenser collection, cartoon figurines, and model airplanes. A coin-operated horse ride sits in its center. Outdoors there is a bench and a single table.
Hipster young women (and men) behind the counter are meticulous baristas who know how to work their 20+-year-old La Cimbali M20 lever machine (which itself is serviced by a lone Mr. Espresso technician). They preheat the serving cups while filling a small brew pitcher (it would be better to pour directly into the cup to avoid the heat transfer). Serving an appropriate, yet rare, shallow pour, they resist the temptation (or pressure) to fill the cup completely. Their technique produces good results from their Mr. Espresso beans. A rich aroma. A dark brown, partly congealed crema with a thick, syrup-like body. Its flavor packs a dense sweetness of molasses, caramel, and some chocolate.
At my last visit, the flavor ran a little more towards the tobacco spectrum with less sweetness and potency. But this was just minutes after they had the machine serviced to fix a leak in a seal. And any excuse to return to the Toy Boat is usually a pretty good one.
Jesse is one of the veterans of San Francisco’s quality coffee business. When I mentioned that I was thinking of attending the Western Regional Barista Competition in Petaluma next month, he commented on how he attended similar events some twenty or so years ago and hadn’t really seen a reason to return. Apparently, back then the big trend was very pedestrian by today’s standards — such as frothing whole milk. Though I’ll take that anyday over today’s emphasis on frippery such as espresso cocktails.
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