Hangtown Fry Still Authentic Dining in San Fran

by Placerville Newswire / Nov 17, 2017 / comments

[Susan Bell. Photo: Photo courtesy of Basil Vargas]

Lovato’s book traces the curiously named San Francisco delicacy hangtown fry — an oyster and bacon omelet that first became popular during the Gold Rush — so called because of the hangings that took place in Placerville, its town of origin.

A born storyteller, Kimberley Lovato ’90 has published a mouthwatering guide to her beloved adoptive city’s most intriguing restaurants, markets and artisanal food shops.

Want to taste the prize-winning pie of a 12-time World Pizza Champion? Eat your homework at America’s only independent cheese school? Track down the home of the Mission-style burrito?”

This is the intriguing exhortation — appetite- and curiosity-whetting in equal measure — that appears on the back cover of alumna Kimberley Lovato’s new book, Unique Eats and Eateries of San Francisco(Reedy Press, 2017). Lovato, a food-lover by nature and a San Franciscan by choice, says that when the opportunity came along to write a food guide to her beloved adoptive city, she didn’t hesitate.

“What intrigued me about this project was that it was not a review of restaurants,” she said. “It’s really about the stories behind the restaurants, the anecdotes or memories of the chefs and owners who created them.”

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Kimberley Lovato’s new book features behind-the-scenes tales of San Francisco chefs like Tony Gemignani, a 12-time world pizza champion who limits creation of his award-winning pies to just 73 a day. Photo by Sara Remington.

The result is a nontraditional restaurant and travel guide that features a feast of delectable tidbits about the city’s most celebrated eateries, as well as many of its more secret culinary destinations. Lovato has succeeded in marinating these diverse ingredients to create a delicious smorgasbord of “90 palate-pleasing bites” of San Francisco food lore. The book is a moveable feast, a portable collection of mouthwatering tales that can be savored equally by visitors or long-time residents.

For Lovato, San Francisco is a place where food and memory are inextricably linked. “It’s hard not to be hypnotized by a city that buzzes at this level of culinary velocity,” she wrote.

As one key to understanding the city, she cites cioppino, a fisherman’s stew loaded with crab, clams, fish and sometimes shrimp, that is the city’s signature dish. “It actually goes back to a time when Italian immigrants working on the water front would throw leftover scraps into a pot with tomatoes and boil it up.”

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Kimberley Lovato honed a love of writing while at USC Dornsife. Photo courtesy of Reedy Press.

Traveling with a knife and fork

Food, she believes, is an important stepping stone to gaining a deeper understanding of the history and culture of a place.

She describes her first book, Walnut Wine and Truffle Groves: Culinary Adventures in the Dordogne (Running Press, 2010), as a way to introduce readers to the people behind the kitchen door by sharing a meal with them. “I love to travel with a knife and fork at the ready,” she says.

Lovato, who earned a bachelor’s in international relations with a French minor, said her USC Dornsife education has helped her career as a writer.

“I had a fairly sheltered upbringing, and going to USC opened my eyes to people from all over the world — different cultures, food, music.”

After graduating, Lovato took a job with a small electronics manufacturer, but she realized five years later that corporate America wasn’t for her.

“Instead I focused on doing what I love — writing — and took a job with a local newspaper,” she said.

Coincidentally, one of her first assignments involved interviewing a Greek chef, thereby setting the groundwork for her future career.

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Kimberley Lovato believes that food is an important key to understanding the history and culture of a place.

Authentic dining

For her latest book, she said she wanted to include classics, as well as places that were a surprise to her, too.

While researching the book, she stumbled upon the Hang Ah Tea Room, the country’s oldest dim sum restaurant, in a Chinatown alleyway, far from the beaten tourist track. “The sign is missing a letter and it’s kind of dark and you think, ‘Hmm, I’m not sure I want to go in there,’ but it’s delicious.”

Lovato’s book traces how fortune cookies — originally a Japanese creation — came to America via San Francisco. She writes about the curiously named San Francisco delicacy hangtown fry — an oyster and bacon omelet that first became popular during the Gold Rush — so called because of the hangings that took place in Placerville, its town of origin.

“Hangtown fry is a rare treat in San Francisco today, but can still be found on a few menus, like that of Tadich Grill,” Lovato said. “If you visit San Francisco and order cioppino or hangtown fry, you’re really trying an authentic and historic San Francisco dish.”