This old school, Calabrian-themed Italian pastry shop once had a touch for good espresso under its longtime ownership. They owner had been using Graffeo beans religiously since 1985. However, by 2006 they switched to Lavazza beans and began making inferior espresso (though the two aren’t exactly cause-and-effect). I’ve been unable to confirm with certainty, but this looks like another example of a “sinking North Beach” (forget Venice!): a likely ownership change as the old guard retires from the business.
Such changes are arguably inevitable. For example, the Castro District, née Eureka Valley, is long past its Scandinavian immigrant roots. So as successive generations of Italian immigrants to North Beach move away, close up shop, and meld into the big American melting pot, the Italian flavor of North Beach gives way to new waves of immigration and social influences. North Beach may still be one of SF’s most vibrant and dynamic neighborhoods, with great social interactivity and nightlife. But as an Italian immigrant community, it’s been dying for years. All the more reason to enjoy what’s still there before it disappears.
Today Mara’s is merely an imitation of its former self, run by well-meaning-but-disconnected owners trying to eek out a tourist profit from its past glories. It’s is a small space with many pastries in the front window and inside counter. They have a few indoor café tables with some token outdoor seating — which you’d be lucky to get at most hours of the day. The new proprietors are a bit sloppy with the two-group Elektra Maxi here, and they seem not to really care about their espresso.
The resulting pour has a very thin, blonde crema and a weak body. While the espresso had always been mild here, the crema was much thicker and the flavor was full: of spices and some sweeter notes. Today, the flavor here is of the pedestrian variety of watery mild spices and pepper. Also gone are the Café New York-branded IPA cups in place of Lavazza-branded cups. The coffee and cannolis are still here, but the soul is gone.
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