Stella Pastry and Café is a traditional Italian bakery in the heart of North Beach with a long history of serving San Francisco. Since it began in 1942, the Columbus Avenue shop is known for its Italian desserts, including biscotti, cannoli, and its famous Sacripantina cake.
With an abundance of bakeries and cafes around Little Italy, it’s tough for any to stand out and stand the test of time, but Stella Pastry is one of the few.
446 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133
(BETWEEN GREEN ST & STOCKTON ST)
Phone: (415) 986-2914
Monday – 7:30 am to 8 pm
Tuesday through Thursday, Sunday – 7:30 am to 10 pm
Friday and Saturday – 7:30 am to midnight
I headed over to Stella Pastry after enjoying a cappuccino across the street at Café Greco, where I was people watching from my table, as you do. I saw the constant stream of customers step inside Stella’s, and after a short wait, leave carrying white cardboard boxes wrapped up with string. There was something about that packaging that intrigued me – something packaged with such care must be special.
Inside the bakery, a long row of display cases showcases an incredible selection of sweet treats behind the glass. The first case was filled mostly with pastries and small cookies, which you can mix and match and pay by the pound (about $20 per pound, 20-30 cookies per pound). There were more varieties of tiny cookies than I ever knew existed. The next case had cakes, éclairs, rare finds, like traditional specialties, cannoli, Napoleon and tiramisu. Everything looked amazing – my one complaint is that nothing is labeled and there are no prices. There weren’t even any signs on the day I went, but they seem to be there sometimes. That means you have to ask the person behind the counter about everything that looks good (aka everything) or just take a gamble and hope you like it (you probably will).
Stella Pastry is best known for their Sacripantina cake, a light and airy vanilla sponge cake layered with zabaglione (a light marsala and sherry flavored custard), and a touch of rum. The signature cake is dome-shaped (which is apparently patented by Stella Pastry), but single-serving cubes of Sacripantina are available in the display case.
I knew nothing about the bakery when I first tried it, so it was a delightful surprise when I learned that Stella Café’s signature item originated in the Liguria region of Italy, the land of my people. (I’d like to pretend that some kind of supernatural pull brought me in there, but honestly, it was just my sweet tooth and those cute boxes.)
I purchased one generous slice of the Sacripantina, which was enough for two, for under $5 (the whole cake is about $20). The cake and the cream were both incredibly light and delicate, and I can understand the hype for the Sacripantina. It’s a cake everyone can enjoy – it’s not too sweet or too heavy, it’s just right. While the flavors were fantastic, I wished there was a bit more zabaglione in mine. I’ve heard rumors that the full domed cake is even better, so I’ll be sure to try it soon.
I’ve also sampled an assortment of cookies, cannoli, the tiramisu, and the mixed berry tart. I enjoyed the Florentine cookies, raspberry thumbprints, snowballs, and some chocolate dipped hearts. Each tasted fresh and homemade.
The cannoli was some of the best I’ve ever had. They’re not overly sweet, just perfectly sweetened ricotta cream. The crust was crispy and tasted fresh, and the texture of the filling wasn’t grainy like you’ll sometimes find. I will definitely get cannoli from Stella Pastry again.
The tiramisu was light but rich at the same time, and the bitterness of cocoa powder and the espresso balanced out the sweet.
There are so many options, which sometimes spells trouble for restaurants, but Stella Pastry really seem to do everything well. Every time I go, I find something else to love. Next time it might be the Napoleon or the Black and White cake or something seasonal. And note to self for next Easter: Stella sells hot cross buns and chocolate Faberge eggs.
The employees have been very friendly and helpful each time I’ve visited. They don’t seem to mind explaining ingredients or making recommendations, but it would be better for everyone if we got some labels. (If you have the foresight to check their website before you go, most of the baked goods are described there.)
There are a few tables inside the cafe where you can enjoy your desserts with some coffee, and as is the norm in this North Beach neighborhood, there are tables outside where you can relax with some prime people watching.
I ordered my sweets to go, and loved Stella’s old school way of packaging them up and wrapping the box with string. The employees, though sometimes busy, take their time with each customer and have never made me feel rushed.
With the high volume of customers, I’ve sometimes worried that Stella’s would be out of whatever I had a hankering for, but that has yet to be the case. With those years of experience, they seem to know how much they need to handle the crowds.
I’m happy that a place like Stella’s still exists and still holds on to so much of its traditional charm. Coming from an Italian family, there’s something special and comforting about the old school treats offered at Stella Pastry, which I think could make anyone feel like they’re visiting their Nonna.
Now anytime I’m in the area, I pick up some of Stella’s sweets for dessert.
Website : http://www.stellapastry.com/
Phone : +1 415-986-2914
Nearby Tourist Attraction– Golden Gate Bridge
Published On: Thursday, March 16th, 2017