By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Photographs of gorgeous cakes fittingly adorn the walls at Twiggs Bakery & Coffeehouse, where buttermilk biscuits and focaccia sandwiches are as big a deal as the detailed confections that exit the kitchen each day.
It wasn’t until I started hearing wild raves about Twiggs’ multi-layered carrot cakes that I finally decided to investigate its Adams Avenue cafe, which doubles as a serious bakery. The quest led me to unique corned beef hash, a couple of memorable lunch items, and sure enough, vulgarly delicious carrot cake balancing tangy cream cheese frosting with a tamely sweet and almost fruity tasting crumb.
Twiggs is owned by married couple Dan Stringfield (the timid chef/baker) and Bernie Horan (the gregarious front-line host). It dates back to 1992, when patrons hung out drinking coffee at the original University Heights location at 4590 Park Blvd., at a time when the now-forgotten joys of conversing with strangers compensated for the absence of laptops and iPads.
The couple purchased the coffeehouse from its original founders in 1997. Shortly after, Stringfield began applying his culinary skills to the operation. He had completed a chef’s program at the former California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. As a result, an impressive line of pastries, savory dishes and wedding cakes came into play, with most of the baking taking place in a kitchen across the street, where Plumeria Vegetarian now resides.
An outlet in Downtown’s El Cortez building was also launched, but the couple sold it five years later. Eventually the Adams Avenue spot materialized, and it currently supplies all the baked goods to its big sister on Park Boulevard.
The menu is more extensive in comparison, starting with a variety of omelets, scrambles, breakfast sandwiches and weekend specials that are hearty and affordable. Some of the sandwiches are made with bagels and croissants. Others employ Stringfield’s popular buttermilk biscuits, which rise to the ultimate standard of being tender, flaky and moist.
The one I tried was included on a plate of corned beef hash draped by two eggs over-easy. After splitting it open and spreading butter and jelly inside of it, I imagined a decadent scone in some British tea house rather than something that often gets covered in gravy. (The menu offers the biscuits as such.)
The corned beef hash was pretty marvelous, too. Available often as a weekend special, it’s made in-house and goes the extra mile by combining the chipped meat with Yukon Gold potatoes, red bell peppers, charred Anaheim chilies and coriander — not your everyday diner variety.
Squares of homemade focaccia take on various sandwich fillings such as lemon-dill tuna, tarragon chicken salad, and meatloaf made with beef and Italian sausage. I chose turkey breast slathered with house-made pesto. Fresh tomatoes in the mix oozed their juices into the fluffy bread, making it a mouthwatering sandwich that needed no other condiment beyond the pesto. It’s a sizable construct for only $7.50, which also includes a veggie salad — in this case chopped broccoli and carrots.
For a couple bucks less, open wide for a fat slice of quiche available in several varieties such as mushroom, ham, and broccoli. I chose the latter, which was as cream-laden and well-textured as any I’ve had from bakeries in Paris.
Special-occasion cakes are a big part of the business. For weddings, Stringfield says the team produces up to 40 of them a week during peak season — for LGBT and straight couples alike. The creations come in various sizes and many types. And customized orders are always welcome.
“We’ve made a lot of cakes in the shapes of people’s cars, and we even made a cake in the shape of a helicopter for a woman’s Navy pilot husband,” he added.
When I asked the guys who made the cake for their wedding several years ago, and what kind they chose, Horan replied: “Dan made it. It was a cake for 60 people even though we had only about 25 guests.”
The type of cake they chose was one of Twiggs’ signature offerings called Miss Hazeltine, named after the couple’s late miniature schnauzer. Imagine chocolate buttermilk crumb with chocolate cream cheese frosting. Or peruse their catalog further and prepare to be dazzled with indecision.
Twiggs is open 365 days a year, which means that pre-ordered biscuits, cakes, pies and cookies can be picked up on holidays and served to your guests pretty much straight from these industrious ovens. Better yet, everyone will know without a doubt the goods didn’t originate from a supermarket.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.