Breeders' Banquet: Dining Out with Kids in SF

A fine site

Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack

on May 31, 2013

You know what makes me insane? When people say they “don’t eat” an entire category of food. This is especially rampant in San Francisco, where the entire gluten-sensitive population of the lower 48 has apparently settled to make life hell for chefs all over the city. I understand that many folks have legitimate gluten “issues,” but let’s be honest here: a large percentage of the grain phobics walking hungrily among us clutching their bags of spelt flour and agar-agar are not actually suffering from celiac disease. They are often the same kind of people who gave up butter for margarine in the 1990s and visited the Battle Creek Sanitarium for grape-nut enemas in the 1890s. I hope for the sake of real celiac sufferers that the “gluten-free” craze dies out soon, because it’s making it hard to separate them from the poseurs who Never. Stop. Talking. About. the food they CAN’T eat. I love talking about food. Hell, I’ll listen to someone talk about food for-evah as long as he or she is actually eating said food.

So obviously I’m kind of defensive about carbs. I love carbs. Mmmmmm, carbs. You know who else loves carbs? EVERYONE under the age of 10. For twelve months, between the ages of 1 and 2, the Jaybird would eat kale, avocado, quinoa, purple carrots, dragonfruit, kohlrabi, you name it. Then, magically, on her second birthday, she decided the only edible foodstuffs in the world were white carbs, preferably with butter on them; nutella is an acceptable alternative.

On our latest foray into the Breeders’ Banquet we decided to indulge our actual and inner preschoolers and test drive Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack. I’d heard good and bad things about the place from a parental perspective. So one hectic Thursday evening we picked up the Doctor from the BART station and headed over to Bernal Heights to get our pasta on.

Parking was mildly challenging, as it often is in La Lengua , but we managed to find a metered spot about 2 blocks away. A colorful mural and well-placed sandwich board made Emmy’s easy to find, even for those of us who can’t quite read yet.

Sidewalk sign

Sidewalk sign

The interior is quite dark and decorated– well, let’s just say completely. It’s completely decorated with aprons and kitschy pictures and bumper stickers and a chalkboard display listing the available wines, beers, and specialty cocktails available at Emmy’s.

Let’s back up a moment there. Yes! Emmy’s has a FULL BAR. One cannot underestimate the value of a full bar to a weary parent on a Thursday evening.

Kitsch! Kitsch everywhere!

Kitsch! Kitsch everywhere!

An apathetic hostess seated us at a cozy booth and offered us a high chair for the Bitz, which I gratefully accepted. A dish of foccacia bread and olive oil/balsamic vinegar as well as a couple of pages ripped out of a Toy Story coloring book and some crayons appeared without us having to ask. We demolished the bread in under two minutes though no more was forthcoming. A young man in a flannel shirt eerily reminiscent of one worn by a certain college boyfriend of mine in 1992 ambled over to take our drink order from the hand-drawn menus in frames hanging from the wall above our table.



The Doctor opted for the spicy manhattan, which was basically a manhattan with cinnamon-flavored whiskey. It sounds weird, and it kind of was. It was also delicious. I chose the sauvignon blanc and the Jaybird went wild with Shirley Temple. Flannel College Boyfriend ambled away and we got down to the business of deciding what to have for dinner. The menu was fairly limited, but we were here for the spaghetti and meatballs, so that fact didn’t bother us much. I’d heard that a single order of the S&MB was sufficient for two people, but the Doctor went ahead and ordered the pork chop special anyway. The Jaybird ordered—WAIT FOR IT!— plain pasta with butter and parmesan cheese.

Adult menu

Adult menu

Kids' Menu

Kids’ Menu

Bitz peruses the menu.

Bitz peruses the menu.

Shortly after we ordered our food the drinks arrived. Then, we waited.

And waited.

And took a trip to the bathroom. There’s no changing table or stool for the sink, by the way.

And played a game of “I Spy with My Little Eye” (which was good fun due to the plethora of weird random objects in the restaurant).

And waited.

And started giving the stinkeye to College Flannel Guy.

And waited.

At this point we stepped into what one might call “the parent time dissonance.” This phenomenon occurs when parents are so boggled and frazzled by the stress and anxiety of maintaining a socially-acceptable level of noise and activity among their offspring that they can no longer accurately judge the passage of time. During the time dissonance a minute of “normal” time can stretch into what feels like a dozen minutes for the parent. It is an unpleasant place to find oneself.

I’m pretty sure it took at least 45 minutes for our food to arrive, but given the time dissonance situation I am willing to concede that it might have been more like 30 minutes. In any case, the children and the Doctor were starting to get hangry and make noises about ordering more spicy Manhattans. Luckily, Flannel 1992 College Guy delivered  the plate of buttered pasta first, which headed off the incipient howling from the Jaybird. The plate of spaghetti and meatballs followed. Three or four minutes after that, the pork chop was placed in front of the Doctor and we all dug in.

Emmy's 9

The good news is the spaghetti and meatballs were all they promised to be. The sauce was tomato-ey, with a fresh, not tinny taste, and the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente. The portion was enormous– three giant meatballs placed under a Mt. Tam-sized pile of noodles. I ate one meatball, fed half of another to the Bitz, and took the rest home. The buttered pasta was just that; no complaints from the Jaybird there.

Buttered pasta

Buttered pasta

The pork chop was sadly overcooked. It reminded the Doctor of  how everyone cooked pork chops in circa 1983 Iowa, where the threat of trichinosis caused all pig products to be charred into the taste and consistency of MDF particleboard chunks. The accompanying purple potato puree easily eclipsed the protein for taste and ease of digestion. The Doctor mentioned the issue to Flannel Guy, who apologized but made no effort to replace the offending dish.

We gobbled our food quickly; bedtime was rapidly approaching and the Bitz was reaching the end of his ability to successfully move a noodle from his fist to his mouth. Flannel Guy brought our check promptly and we were relieved to see he had comped 50% from the offending pork chop’s cost. I wiped up the debris field on the floor surrounding my children, left a generous tip to Flannel Guy out of misplaced nostalgia for my (in truth kind of asshole-ish) college boyfriend, and we decamped from Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack.

Overall, I would recommend Emmy’s to families with older and/or particularly patient children. If you are in need of a serious carb fix, stick to what they do best— drinks and spaghetti— and you can’t go wrong. The atmosphere is fun, casual, and tolerant. There were several other families there that evening; our kids were definitely the youngest. Get there early as it filled up fast after 6 p.m.


Rating: 5 out of 10

  • Changing Table: NO
  • Kids’ menu: YES, mostly pasta options
  • High Chairs: YES, standard restaurant plastic high chairs

Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack

18 Virginia Ave.  

San Francisco, CA 94110

(415) 206-2086

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