frena bakery.....gettin' kosher in the tenderloin
Bakeries in SF, sometimes it is hard to keep up with all the openings. Sometimes it also challenging depending on where they open. Whether it be way on the other side of town and you try to get there before they run out of the good stuff, or if they are in a part of town I'm gonna straight up call sketchy. That is right, I'm looking at you Tenderloin, specifically that area South of Market towards Mission between 5th to 8th streets. The "revitalization" of Market St. in the area is slowly inching its way below Market with new businesses trying to gain a foothold in what is not really a walkable hood.
Yeah, yeah, yeah say what you want, we all know that part of town and what it is like and I don't mind saying it publicly. Still, as an intrepid eater of baked goods, if a bakery is going to open there, I'm going to clutch my backpack a little tighter and head on over to check it out. That is what brings me to that wonderful stretch of 6th street and Frena Bakery (though I swear for some reason this place was originally called Taboon and recently made a name change).
They are a kosher bakery serving up sweet and savory baked goods with a Middle Eastern meets American type fare. Think halva donut or pita bread pizza kind of thing. Since the place opened, it has been immensely popular despite the location. In order to try several different things, I made two separate visits at different times and even then, they were sold out of a number of things and what I ended up getting was pretty much what they had. And while it might have been fun to try one of those pizza things, it didn't seem it was in the cards. But I was able to get a fair number of things so let's get started!
A mushroom burekas or puff. Layers (and layers) of phyllo dough rolled with mushrooms. I'd had something similar to this when me and the SO were in Croatia and knew what I was in for. It is crunchy, buttery, flaky and messy for sure to eat, but ultimately tasty. It is also quite big and you could easily cut this in half, serve with a side salad and have a great lunch for less than a sandwich in this town.
Sambusak, a baked puff pastry pocket filled with jalapenos and mozzarella cheese. Yes, much like a hot pocket or a mini calzone without the tomato sauce. Pretty good and they don't skimp on the fillings either. It's a buttery bread like dough which is light and airy. And they are much better heated which they will do for you if you ask.
And these are like mini versions of the ones above. A puff pastry pocket filled with feta cheese and a phyllo dough filled with mushrooms. While they are only two bite versions they do have all the flavors of the larger versions and offer the opportunity to try different fillings if you don't want all the bread.
But of course, this is a bakery and I couldn't get out of here without trying some of their sweet offerings.
What better way to try a bunch of sweets than with their mini versions! The halva pan was like a strudel pastry dough filled with halva and dusted with powdered sugar. Halva is a sweet, fudge like treat made from some sort of sesame tahini paste that is popular throughout the Middle East. I'd had it on a visit to Israel as bar sold at a local convenience store. At the time I was not the biggest fan but figured enough time had passed to give it a second go. Well, I'm still not a fan. In this pastry it is more like a spread but something about the taste is just off to me and I don't get the sesame flavor at all, which is too bad, as I do like sesame seeds and oil. But this I just can't.
The chocolate rogolach (or rugelach) and the cinnamon roll were on the flaky side and definitely had plenty of chocolate and cinnamon to give them bold flavor. I heated them up and thought they were better warm from the toaster oven. Especially when those strong smells of their fillings start permeating the air. Kind of what baked goods are all about.
Donuts!! They were big and luscious looking and I got one of each. They called them sofganiya. And the one on top is halva, which now you know how I feel about that. Even in a donut I just couldn't wrap my tastebuds around it. I'm going to mark these as an acquired taste I am just not going to get. The strawberry jam filling on the other one was plentiful and full of berries and that filling I really liked a lot.
As for the donut itself, I was less impressed. If you look closely at the picture on the right, you can see parts of the dough are sticking together. It was all a bit thick and gummy like under cooked dough. I like a great big donut but it really needs to be cooked all the way through to avoid this kind of stickiness. Possibly an ingredient measurement was slightly off causing it not to rise enough or maybe the oil was too hot, thus the outside got too brown too fast and they took it out before it was completely done. I'll lean more towards the second option. Either way, unfortunate, cause we all know I like a good donut and will champion it. This one, not so much.
If you look past the donuts and the halva, I did like Frena Bakery and would recommend trying them out, in the light of day of course. They do mostly take care in their baking with light and flaky crusts and prices that won't break a budget either. Baked goods are made throughout the day, though they still run out and you can't always get what you want (song lyric alert!). But what they do have would still be worth taking a chance on a little Tenderloin adventure to this tasty little kosher bakery.