In John Birdsall’s biography of James Beard, The Man Who Ate Too Much, we meet an Oregonian deeply in love with corn. It was one of the first American ingredients the ultra-famous gourmand recommended to his readers and viewers with fastidious insistence, going so far as to flame the “phony gentility of the gourmet crowd … and the idea that one should never touch food with bare hands.” The CEO of corn gets that, as do the writers of Broadway sensation Shucked.
It’s Indigenous and global.
It’s lowbrow and elevated.
In the Bay Area, corn is an annual phenomenon, exploding onto restaurant menus as a harbinger of the summer season. But this year in the Bay Area corn feels even more ubiquitous, even more omnipresent on menus in the food world Beard helped to craft. Through a year rife with bizarre weather patterns and economic upheaval, the braggadocious cob of delight is more than a perennial albeit annual crop: It’s the star of the show. So if you’re going to plan your night around going out, plan your night around corn — while you can.
For those big swing nights, there are plenty of fancy restaurants giving corn the high-brow treatment. Diners at Italian dynamo Cotogna see corn each year in the creamy, mega yellow corn triangoli for $28. Evan and Sarah Rich’s aptly named Rich Table has corn twice on its menu right now, with an elote-inspired butter salad topped with charred corn and a grilled summer squash polenta that tastes a bit like a saucy pasta, $17 and $33 respectively. And Lower Pac Heights’ Octavia’s fan-favorite corn lasagna, complete with shisito peppers and pecorino, returns and remains an absolute lightning bolt of corn intensity, coming in at $30.
Maintaining its simpler roots, corn can be found for the yeoman diners in San Francisco, too. John McCloskey threw corn on a pie at his almost-year-old pizza place on 16th Street Angie’s, next to roasted poblano peppers and an avocado habanero crema, for $20. Clement Street’s Pasta Supply Co., a flag-bearer in the Bay’s affordable pasta revolution, has a sweet corn raviolini for take-home prep or as an entree for $17. Also for the Pacific Heights residents, Mattina has an entire corn menu for the month, with five separate corn dishes ranging from a corn-riddled sformato to a coppetta corn gelato.
If getting out of the house to indulge in the corny pleasure is a bit too much, hit the takehome, ultra-casual usuals. Tamales, like those from pop-up phenom Bolita Masa, just as excellent right now as just about any other time of the year, which ought to cover pupusas at Panchitas and cheese-drenched corn at Toyose, too. Beard thought corn was meant to be treated like a pantry staple anyway.