Monday, May 11, 2009

On the Trail of the Crème Brulee Cart

Sunday morning. The sun’s already up before me. Marty Gonzalez on KRON is saying something about the wind shifting in Santa Barbara. That’s good news for the firefighters. They are my heroes.

I wash up and make my instant oatmeal. Don’t hate me for being lazy or needing fiber.

I fire up my laptop and check Twitter. As usual, Rob Thomas has tweeted a dozen times already. That guy cracks me up. He has so much to say. But when does he write songs? I want to tweet him back, but I can’t. I am not a stalker.

9:25 a.m. Tweet from Crème Brulee Cart. “I’m making crème brulee for you and for yo’ momma or yo’ baby’s momma! Dolores park 3pm.”

Yes! Must check out Crème Brulee Cart in the city. This advance notice gives me time to get into San Francisco and hunt down the cart.


2:30 p.m. I get off the 22-Fillmore bus and walk over to Dolores Park. It’s a beautiful sunny day, but the breeze is an enemy to my shorts that I decided to wear because Marty Gonzalez promised a warm day. Dang microclimate in the Bay Area!

Everyone is out enjoying the sun. Some brave guys are lying out shirtless. Don’t they know they can get wind burn with their sun burn? The young. They are foolish to their invincibility.

I sit on a grassy spot and wait, listening to that ukulele “rainbow” song from IZ playing on my Blackberry. Am I the only one here for the Crème Brulee Cart? Everyone doesn’t seem to care.

3:01 p.m. No sign of the cart. I see guys pushing ice cream carts around. A guy in uniform (the park police?) asks one guy for paperwork. Did the crackdown scare away Crème Brulee guy?

I walk around. Ugh, stupid new sandals are hurting my feet. I limp around the park. Others stroll by walking aimlessly as well. We make eye contact at times, and give each other that knowing nod. If this were the ‘80s, this would be called cruisin’.


Up along the hill under the trees I see some people gathering. Yes, that must be it! I walk closer, but not quickly because I don’t want to draw more crowds or look too anxious and because my dang feet still hurts.

As I draw near, I see a guy in a puffy white chef’s hat and white chef’s coat. Crème Brulee Cart! I found it! The line isn’t that long, but the few people there already are busy snapping photos. What!? More food bloggers? Word has spread. The Crème Brulee Cart is here. It’s an only-in-San-Francisco moment, so everyone wants a photo.

I snap away as well. But I know my photos will tell a story. Or at least make this post 78 percent more interesting.


When I finally reach the front of the line, I ask how much because there’s no sign with the price.

“Three dollars,” says the Crème Brulee guy, a man with white-blond hair and a ready torch in hand. He has different flavors every time, and today he’s serving up Chocolate Grand Marnier, Bailey’s, White Russian (which he calls “Caucasian”), and the traditional Vanilla Bean.

I get one vanilla bean and a Bailey’s. I ask Crème Brulee guy how many he usually makes, and he says it takes a long time for him to make the little tin cans of crème brulee. I feel sorry for him that he has to work so hard every morning and I just make instant oatmeal.

Crème Brulee guy seems a bit shy or a man of few words. Then he tells me he made 80 this trip, and when I ask about his appearances on the weeknights after work, he says he may try to come out later for a traditional “after dinner” crème brulee serving as opposed to the pre-dinner service in the alleys of the Mission District that he’s doing now with his brother, Magic Curry Cart.

Crème Brulee guy sprinkles sugar on top of my two tins of crème brulee and fires up his hand torch, quickly browning the top layer. I give him my cash and pick up a spoon, juggling the two crème brulees in one hand while looking for a spot to enjoy my afternoon snack.


Using my spoon, I crack the crystallized top. The thin layer was a quiet, quick break, like the cracking of a fragile piece of blown glass. I try the Bailey’s first and it’s rich and thick, and still quite cold. I don’t taste a strong alcohol flavor, but I enjoy it.

Then I try the vanilla bean, and the crystallized top was, again, the perfect thin layer. It tastes almost the same as the Bailey’s, and this is when I decided I should have gotten the chocolate for a nice contrast. Still, the richness of the crème brulee was as good as any restaurant and at half the price.

As I walk to BART to catch my ride home, I see a line stretching out Bi-Rite Creamery. On most weekends, I would probably jump in line for its creative flavors. But today I was full of the taste of custard and the satisfaction of surveying San Francisco’s street food, which seems restricted to the Mission. Which seems appropriate because for today, it was mission accomplished.


In the photos above, I purposely didn’t include any close-up shots of Crème Brulee guy (nor did I use his real name) because he works without a permit. So I don’t want to be the guy who gets Crème Brulee guy in trouble and thus depriving everyone of this wonderful, underground treat.

The Crème Brulee Cart can be found on most weeknights after work in the Mission District and on weekends at Dolores Park. To find out when he’ll be out and the exact location on each day, you have to follow Crème Brulee Cart on Twitter to get updates.


Anonymous said...

no permits? omg, that's quite scary. I don't want him to have to shut down, but it's still illegal.

Single Guy Ben said...

I know, it's unusual. As he gets popular, he might get a permit. ... Traveling in Vietnam though, that was the whole essence of street food. Very few street hawkers had permits, and often there would be a look out who would alert the group of food stands if a cop was coming. Once I saw a woman eating a bowl of noodles and having the bowl ripped from her because the owner had to run off because of the cops. Wild scene!

Sienka said...

That has got to be one of the coolest things I've ever seen... not only can you get creme brulee in the park, but he's on Twitter to tell you where he'll be! Awesome!

Carolyn Jung said...

Man, you mean I could see my creme brulees for $3 each? Hmm, maybe I should sell them out of my garage at home. Wonder if I could get people in line for that. Single Guy, you could come take photos. Just wear more comfy shoes next time.

Jenster said...

"If this was the ‘80s, this would be called cruisin’."

Ben, you crack me up!

How awesome that the underground Creme Brulee Cart has a following. I would love to see something like that in Seattle, but we're so darned by-the-book here I don't see it happening. I would totally pay $3 for a creme brulee with a freshly torched sugar toppinhg.

Mrs. L said...

Wish we could get someone to do that here in the south bay. Love that he Twitters his location!

tengo hambre said...

great storytelling! i want to try the magic curry cart (wonder what makes it magic....) and the chocolate grand marnier for dessert.

Barton said...

Thanks been looking to find some fun food things to do in San Fran. Just relocated to the bay area from NYC. Loved the dessert truck while it lasted. It was too successful and went to only private events I think.