Cafe Terminus could easily be a home away from home for the go-getters of the Financial District, a place for morning kicks-in-the-pants, midday fortifying sandwiches and after-work sojourns, well-mixed cocktail in hand. If a workday in the FiDi were a boxing match, Terminus would be your corner — a place to sit and rest between rounds.
Terminus has a small, focused kitchen, much like its sister cafe, the Sentinel. The kitchen makes its own bread, mayo — almost everything. The morning menu is Scotch-taped to the bar. The soundtrack tends toward charming, rough-around-the-edges psychedelia, a pleasant contrast to the polite aloofness of downtown San Francisco and the restaurant’s own minimalist palette of graphite, wood and glass. On Fridays, Led Zeppelin is played.
The food matches the music — brave, warm, with gumption — though options are minimal. The breakfast sandwich, on an eggy bun freckled with sesame, has a deeply caramelized top. Inside, scrambled eggs are fluffy and oozy, threatening spillage. Cubes of tender ham and pleasantly stinky Swiss top the eggs. Served fresh and hot, one must eat around it, monitoring its oozy edges, or consider a fork.
The blueberry muffin is confectionary and cartoonishly rustic, with a crusty powdered-sugar dome and blueberries polka-dotting the interior. It’s moist, the blueberries still juicy and vibrant. Between it and a sprightly traditional French roast (roasted in-house), I’m confident of inspiration, or at least jitters, and I’m ready to dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee until lunch.
Between 10 and 11 a.m., the place fairly empties, the breakfast sandwiches gone. Work can be done at one of the quiet tables, next to the clean expanse of storefront glass protecting patrons from — and entertaining them with — the streetcars, traffic attendants and constant parade of pedestrians.
The place feels bare, the glass sparkles, and if there’s a spot in the FiDi where you can think quietly, it’s here, before the lunchtime rush.
Lunch starts at 11 a.m., but the rush is around 1 p.m. Skip it by coming in early, so you can get your choice of meaty, gutsy, chest-hair-sprouting sandwiches and substantial salads. Waits aren’t long.
Mayo is always a creamy accent on Terminus’ sandwiches and never unwelcome. The pulled-pork sandwich tastes like the pulled-pork sandwich to end all pulled-pork sandwiches — spicy, sweet, crunchy with slaw, delightfully messy.
The turkey sandwich, with a pleasingly tart and bitter cranberry dressing, is ample and fresh.
I also trust wholeheartedly in the salads. The kale salad has the same sort of character as the sandwiches — straightforward, with plenty of oomph. The walnuts are a fresh complement to crunchy apples, with paper-thin slices of lemon providing dramatic pauses, bright and sweet without a touch of bitterness.
Finally, a day’s work done (15 rounds, no decision), I return, waiting out the crowded BART trains with Terminus’ absinthe-focused cocktail menu.
The small room is filled, loud, raucous, transformed from a quiet refuge to a place to loosen a few buttons. My cocktail, a Citizen’s Committee, is sweet but not girly sweet, efficient, gentle on the soul. I shake my bartender’s hand, work forgotten, ready for home.
Location: 16 California St. (at Drumm Street), S.F.
Contact: TerminusSF.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hours: 8 a.m. to midnight (or sometimes 2 a.m.) Mondays-Sundays
Price range: $3 to $11
Recommended dishes: Breakfast sandwich ($10), pulled-pork sandwich ($8.28), kale salad ($9.20)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted