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Time Travel on the Cheap: John Campbell's Irish Bakery in San Francisco

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BY TODD BRAY
RIPTIDE CORRESPONDENT

How many times in your life have you had the opportunity to tactilely re-experience a wonderful memory by smelling or tasting something familiar? And if you’ve been lucky enough to be transported back in time by something as innocent as a smell or taste, would you want to share that pleasure with others? If you answered yes and are looking for just such an experience, there is a little storefront bakery in San Francisco’s Richmond District that will take you back in time when you walk through its front door.

If you’ve ever wondered where to buy Irish scones (real Irish scones) or Irish brown bread (real Irish brown bread), there is a place outside of Ireland, next to a bar called The Blarney Stone on Geary Boulevard. It is an Irish bakery started two years ago by a product of Belfast’s legendary apprentice system. Master Baker John Campbell holds an Order of The Master Baker from Belfast City and a Guilds Bakery Certificate.

What this means to you and me is an honest-to-God trained journeyman Irish baker who specializes in aromatic, flavorful time machines of authentic Irish baked goods that will send you to the stony fields of Eire for as little as $1 per scone or $5 for a loaf of brown bread (which must be eaten warm with a slather of crunchy peanut butter to truly understand what it means to live in a smoky thatch-roofed cottage ringed by dry stone walls built eons ago by hands unseen). A modest, well-made scone or slice of warm brown bread can be a powerful thing. 

Scoff you may, guffaw you might, but having lived in Ireland for eight years as a teenager, I feel qualified to vouch for just how real and authentic the baked goods are that Mr. Campbell produces locally. The storefront is also authentically Irish, with its style of font and window display. And if you really want to know how good John’s scones are, try muscling your way through the throngs of elderly Chinese ladies who habituate the bakery as if they owned the place. That’s how good this bakery is: You have to fight your way past people of other nationalities to get to your own.

Of special note are the raisin scones, soda and brown breads, sausage rolls with either pork or beef sausage filling, and the raspberry chocolate bread. Oh my God, the raspberry chocolate bread—and yes, it tastes as good as it sounds. John also makes Guinness bread, traditional pasties, soups, and rhubarb crumble. Walking into John Campbell’s Irish Bakery is like walking into the middle of a time in your life you most likely have forgotten or maybe never had—that time when a sensation of smell and taste turned you into a humble believer in things greater than yourself. 

One way or another, sampling John’s baked goods will reignite pleasant memories and transport you to a place far, far away from your current state of mind for a fraction of the cost of a vacation. Pamper yourself this spring and take a trip to a mountainside that slopes into a sheltered bay, where little white cottages dot the landscape as they have for centuries. Experience the aromas and flavors of food perfected over the centuries, the product of a country that has populated the United States with people, music, and food—great food.

John Campbell’s Irish Bakery is open daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. between 20th and 21st avenues at 5625 Geary Boulevard in San Francisco’s Richmond District. You can call ahead to 415-387-1536. If you want to try Mr. Campbell’s scones and other baked goods locally in Pacifica, patronize Tranquilitea Tearoom on Francisco Boulevard at Paloma next to El Toro Loco. Tranquilitea has been open for a while now.

Comments

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when do we get one down here, eh?

Breaking News, John has opened a second bakery in Cow Hollow on Fillmore at Filbert.

Since writing this article, I've been introduced to the bakery's premade Irish bacon and sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich. Other lunchtime treats include a barrage of flatbread combinations. If you're on Geary between 20th and 21st avenues there is usually parking in front of the bakery or bar. I like to take my grub into the park and eat on a bench in the rose garden behind the De Young Museum. It's a great retreat.

A really well written review of what's an obvious treasure hidden... right under our noses. At (CASTING GURU) we published a post on St. Patrick's Day... but really... John's goods are so good we now plan a raid for tarts and scones every day.

Thank you, Todd! I bought my lunch there today and it was fabulous. I haven't been at all familiar with Irish cuisine so this was an education as well as a treat. I wonder if they might like to open a branch in Pacifica when the economy bounces back.

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