Right now, Stuart Brioza is all about anchovies. He’s preparing to open a new concept, a kitchen-less bar that’s all about anchovies called the Anchovy Bar, so his mind is filled with recipes for boquerones, bagna cauda, fish sauce and a plethora of other umami-filled dishes based around the tiny fish. But Brioza’s mini restaurant empire was built not on anchovies, but on pancakes. Without them, San Francisco’s celebrated dim-sum style State Bird Provisions—along with The Progress, The Workshop and the upcoming Anchovy Bar—would never have existed.
It all started back when Brioza and his partner (and wife) Nicole Krasinski were catering parties and cooking in people’s homes. “People didn’t want a sit down meal, but they wanted a substantial amount of food passed in a social setting,” he says. “One of the common themes for all of our parties was pancakes, because we were working out of our tiny little apartment with the tiny little refrigerator and we needed something that we could throw together—like a batter. So, we started to make these pancakes. “They could be topped in a multitude of ways and were always a hit. So when State Bird Provisions opened, Brioza decided to carry on the tradition, eventually creating an entire pancake menu.
HIs favorite (for the moment, at least) starts with a whole grain pancake mix, ground to order from California-grown grains by the aptly named Josey Baker at The Mill, a coffee shop-slash-grain-mill around the corner from the restaurant. Ground on Baker’s stone mill, the mix is a blend of red and white wheat, oats, rye, sunflower seeds, sesame, flaxseed and cornmeal. “I never would have chosen flax,” Brioza says. “But it gives it volume and this unctuousness.” The sesame and sunflower seeds echo other dishes in his kitchen, while the red and white wheat give it just the right texture, flavor and color. “It has that real hippy pancake color,” he says. “It is by far one of the best pancake mixes.”
At the restaurant, Brioza and his team add their own sourdough starter to the mix and let the batter ferment overnight. One of his favorite ways to use it is mixed with another California ingredient: Fiscalini Cheddar, a cloth-bound cheese from the Central Valley. “We’ll break it apart and mix it into the batter,” he says. “The original version was made to mimic a grilled cheese, with the cheese oozing out of the batter.” Topped with in-season heirloom tomato with crispy bits of cheese and garlic aioli, “It’s the best thing ever,” he says. Right now, Brioza serves the whole wheat pancakes with apples and celery root. Sometimes it’s savory, sometimes it’s sweet.
For those who can’t make it to State Bird Provisions, the pancake mix is for sale complete with leavener so you don’t have to add your own sourdough starter. Make them silver dollar-sized, as Brioza does, and top them with seasonal ingredients, or make the size of your head and douse them in maple syrup. Whatever you choose, you’ll make, as Brioza puts it, a “damn good pancake.”