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  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Books Inc. has 12 outlets in the Bay Area, but the Burlingame store reflects the high-tech interests of the locals.

  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Aida Opera Candies, a fourth-generation family business owned by Tony Basques, tempts passers-by with rocky road candy on display.

  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Burlingame Tobacconists carries 1,400 types of cigars in 700 styles. Owner Mario Cruz serves many third-generation customers.

  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Customers can build their own burritos at La Corneta Taqueria.

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Break up a trip to SFO with a stop in Burlingame

Published: Sunday, Apr. 1, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1H
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012 - 7:20 pm

BURLINGAME – Any plans to drop off friends or pick up relatives at San Francisco International Airport? Or maybe somebody will be picking you up from an upcoming flight.

For Sacramentans the round trip can be a four- to six-hour drive-time investment, depending on traffic.

Instead of immediately making tracks back to Sacramento from SFO, we suggest a detour to Burlingame for some chill time. The San Mateo County town of 28,800- plus is only a five-minute drive south of SFO on Highway 101, via the Broadway Avenue exit, and an ideal place to unwind before the trek home. Stroll, shop, dine.

One way or another, lots of folks are opting for that scenario.

"There is definitely a connection between Burlingame and the airport," said Burlingame City Manager Jim Nantell. "(Our town offers) a unique opportunity for people going to or coming from the airport. (For instance) if someone discovers a flight has been delayed and they've got an hour or two to kill, Burlingame is a great option while they wait."

Nantell also pointed to the town's 13 bayfront hotels, where business travelers take shuttles to and from downtown.

"Downtown Burlingame is not a typical Peninsula city," he said. "It's charming, but it has a depth of corporate retailers along with mom-and-pop retailers."

All true. The locals will tell you they love their town for its dining and shopping scenes, its merchants' friendly attitude toward children and dogs, its quiet neighborhoods, its strong sense of family and community, and its sunny weather.

"The fog stops in Millbrae" is an oft-quoted line.

Though parts of Burlingame have almost a European feel of wide sidewalks and vintage architecture, it could be Main Street, U.S.A – if Main Street U.S.A. commuted to six-figure jobs in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

For visitors, Burlingame Avenue between California Drive and El Camino Real is the place to hang out.

On weekends, 30-something couples push VW Beetle-size baby strollers or walk their Labrador retrievers and tiny yap dogs past brick-and-stucco buildings that went up between the 1920s and 1970s. Friends meet and exchange hugs and air kisses. Sidewalk cafes (Copenhagen) and patios (Crepevine) fill with diners who carry on animated conversations while texting on their smartphones. Newspaper racks empty quickly. A Maserati may cruise by, followed by two BMWs and a Lexus SUV. Laughter is everywhere, along with bakeries and the luscious aromas of cooking.

Burlingame once was the Beverly Hills of the Bay Area, a wealthy enclave connected to San Francisco by train. Actor-singer Bing Crosby lived in next-door Hillsborough until his death in 1977, and was often seen around Burlingame.

When a century-old building was renovated in 1986 and made into a business plaza, it was dedicated to him and named Crosby Commons.

Later, through intervention by his widow, Kathryn Crosby, the Crosby connection was severed and the plaza renamed the Landmark – though merchants there still get mail addressed to Crosby Commons.

Strolling downtown

We recently spent a 12-hour day walking Burlingame Avenue and its side streets, and, later, nearby Broadway Avenue. We passed dozens of small stores – clothing boutiques, jewelry caches, gift stores, personal-care shops.

Upscale chain stores have followed the money trail to Burlingame Avenue, bringing a condensed version of the shopping-mall experience to downtown. Banana Republic, J. Crew, Pottery Barn and Sur La Table are among the usual suspects. Mollie Stone's gourmet supermarket carries Chilean sea bass for $30 a pound.

It's the dining scene that's the most impressive to visitors, though. The restaurants are many, the cuisines diverse – Japanese and Burmese, Afghan and Italian, Indian and Chinese, Thai and American.

We arrived in town early, so easily found parking in the large metered lot along Donnelly Avenue, which parallels Burlingame Avenue and is perpendicular to Lorton Avenue.

We hopped in and out of storefronts as curiosity struck. Here's a sampling of what you'll find:

Given the SFO connection, it was natural to chat with manager Jeffrey Noga at the Luggage Center, in business since 1978.

"We get a lot of traffic to and from the airport," he said. "Travelers might need an extra suitcase or bag, or their luggage has broken."

The store's 1,000 travel accessories make for good browsing.

Grab a brew

The eight hand-crafted draft beers at the Steelhead Brewing Co. are tasty, and the children's and adult menus are well-stocked.

But there are other reasons to visit besides the spacious dining room, wood-fired scallops and root beer floats.

The building itself is a marvel, built in 1911, with 30-foot ceilings, towering windows, worn red-brick walls and huge wood beams. The six-table billiards room in the rear is a comfy lounge, with couches and big-screen TVs.

Though manager Denise Brown doesn't drink beer, she won't mind showing you around the small, great-smelling brewery behind the bar.

"The big silo out back is full of grain," she said.

The beer sampler is a bargain – five ounces of all eight brews for $8.50.

"A lot of our customers eat their candy while they tell us their stories," said Michele Porrazzo, a candymaker at Aida Opera Candies. "We listen and they feel better. I call it the Happy Pharmacy."

The fourth-generation family business, owned by Tony Basques, opened in the 1930s in San Francisco, and the founder's recipe for superb peanut brittle is still used.

Don't miss the hand-made bark (lemon, honeycomb, pistachio), chocolate greeting cards ("You eat the card instead of throwing it away"), the many flavors of marshmallow (mint, mocha, raspberry) and exquisite chocolate-dipped Italian orange peel.

By the book

Books Inc. has 12 outlets in the Bay Area. What makes the Burlingame store interesting is its extensive children's and young readers' section, and how the adult stock reflects the tastes of the locals.

"Our inventory changes based on what the neighborhood folks are buying," said manager Earle Peterson. "Our customers are very aware of new releases by major authors. Being close to Silicon Valley, books with a technology or business bent sell well, (as did) the Steve Jobs biography. We keep those front and center. This is definitely a literate town and we sell to a lot of parents. They raise readers."

Let's eat!

Before lunch, we left the bustle of Burlingame Avenue for a soothing cup of tea at Rue Du The.

"We have 40 different blends of teas, and European-style hot chocolate," said associate Joy MacDonald. The house-made scones and chocolates are delicious.

The only decision to make about lunch is how plain or fancy you want it. We considered the classy Sapore Italiano (house-made pasta), then pondered casual with the Burger Joint (Niman Ranch beef), La Corneta Taqueria (great build-them-yourselves burritos) and C.J.'s Gourmet Sandwiches (fresh-roasted turkey and chicken daily).

We settled on Straits, specializing in Singaporean cuisine, rooted in Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese and Indian cooking. One highlight was the incredible house-made ginger "soda."

At Burlingame Tobacconists, we asked owner Mario Cruz about his client base.

"We have third-generation customers buying cigars and pipes," he said. "We carry 1,400 types of cigars in 700 styles and do a lot of shipping out of the country. (The best) are Dominican, Nicaraguan and Honduran. Cuban cigars are overrated."

In the back of the shop is a ventilated smoking lounge with temperature- and humidity-controlled lockers – called "keeps" – for members to store their cigars.

Reflecting the dog-loving side of area residents are next-door (but unrelated) neighbors Plaza de Paws and Avenue Pet Salon.

"We're a pet boutique with everything for dogs and cats," said Plaza de Paws sales associate Jessica Yifrach. "We have some products for gerbils and guinea pigs, too."

The "dog pharmacy" stocks holistic supplements and vitamins, and they're not inexpensive.

The sign at Avenue Pet Salon says, "Pets welcome, children must be on a leash." Inside, two groomers scissored and combed a 95-pound Bouvier des Flandres.

"We don't cage the dogs all day long. They get play time (out back) as long as they're social," said owner Veronica Shea.

The regulars' spot

We left Burlingame Avenue heading east, crossed California Drive and found Original Royal Donut, family-owned for 30 years. Inside, ham-and-cheese croissants are stacked next to glazed doughnut holes.

A group of regulars gathers there each morning for coffee and conversation. Among them is Robert Coles, 77, who for 46 years was a dance instructor for Arthur Murray Dance Studios.

"I've been coming here since 1980," he said. "It's a home away from home."

All about Pez

The Museum of Pez Memorabilia is a short walk south of the doughnut shop. It houses examples of every Pez candy dispenser made over 60 years – more than 900.

"My collection grew to the point I had to have a place to house it," said curator Gary Doss.

Also displayed are classic toys and banned toys, "pulled off the market for one reason or other," Doss said. Such as the 1951 Atomic Energy Laboratory, complete with Geiger counter and jars of "radioactive" material (disposed of long ago).

A mile or so north on California Avenue is Broadway Avenue, which parallels Burlingame Avenue. The sidewalks are narrower, the stores more utilitarian, the edges rougher. But, this being Burlingame, restaurants abound.

The 5-year-old Broadway Grill resembles a classic San Francisco chop house, with dark wood, plush booths and a serious bar. Prime meats and seafood are cooked on a wood-burning grill, and aged prime rib is served in three cuts.

The restaurant is really a supper club – Motown Mondays, a Dean Martin tribute Wednesdays, Dinner & Dance Party Fridays, jazz brunch on Sundays. Santana lead singer Tony Lindsay performs when he's not touring with Carlos Santana.

"(The supper club concept) is rare these days because it's costly, but it is working well with a younger crowd," said general manager William Bourmier.

Treats and treats

Across the street, John Kevranian, known locally as the Mayor of Broadway, has co-owned the old-fashioned Nuts For Candy with his wife, Nora, for 17 years.

"My dad was a cobbler and our family has been (in business) on Broadway for 31 years," he said. "I grew up on this street."

Along with 45 flavors of Jelly Belly beans and licorice from Australia, the Netherlands, England and Ireland, Kevranian sells nostalgic candies such as Abba-Zaba, Bonomo Turkish Taffy and Jujubes.

It was time to head home, but there was one last stop for "souvenirs." The 34-year-old Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe lovingly makes some of the best pastries we've had the pleasure of demolishing – palmiers, croissants, cherry Danish, bear claws, scones, eclairs, Napoleons, fruit tortes …

Would an order of "one of each" be over the top? We thought not.

BURLINGAME

From Sacramento: Take Interstate 80 west over the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Take Highway 101 south to the Broadway exit, a few miles past San Francisco International Airport. The driving distance is 101 miles; one-way drive time is two to three hours, depending on traffic conditions.

HISTORY

Burlingame was incorporated in 1908, but its roots extend back at least a century to when the Ohlone Indians lived there. The Burlingame Historical Society has an in-depth perspective on the town's history. For details, and to see an interactive map/historic walking tour, go to www.burlingamehistorical.org. While there, click on the "Memories" tab, where hundreds of former and current residents share their memories of the town's past.

The BHS maintains a historical museum within the Burlingame Train Station, a registered historical landmark that opened in 1894 for Southern Pacific rail service (1190 California Drive). The museum is stocked with vintage photos, artifacts and displays. It's open 1 to 4 p.m. the first Sunday of each month, but private tours of five or more people can be arranged at other hours by calling (650) 340-9960.

In 2008, BHS published the definitive "Burlingame Centennial" by Joanne Garrison ($70), available at the BHS website, at Books Inc. in Burlingame, and amazon.com.

DINING

• Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe, 1216 Burlingame Ave., (650) 344-4937, www.copenhagenbakery.com: World-class pastries and cakes; breakfast, lunch and dinner.

• Crepevine, 1310 Burlingame Ave., 650) 344-1310, www.crepevine.com: Savory crepes and sandwiches with Mediterranean flair.

• Steelhead Brewery Co., 333 California Drive, (650) 344-6050, www.steelheadbrewery.com: Go for the eight brews, stay for the beer-braised baby back pork ribs.

• Rue Du The, 1223 Donnelly Ave., (650) 558-8515, www.rueduthe.com: Dip house-made scones into 40 blends of tea.

• Sapore Italiano, 1447 Burlingame Ave., (650) 348-3277, www.saporeitaliano.org: Try the fettucine with salmon or the chicken scaloppine picatta.

• Burger Joint, 1401 Burlingame Ave., (650) 558-9232, www.burgerjointsf.com: Good beef burgers and onion rings, but consider the Diestel turkey burger with cheese.

• La Corneta Taqueria, 1123 Burlingame Ave., (650) 340-1300, www.lacorneta.com: Fresh Mexican fare; tops are the "super" prawn taco and the chile relleno burrito.

• C.J.'s Gourmet Sandwiches, 290 Primrose Ave., (650) 348-3117: The area's best deli offers 64 luscious sandwiches, made to order while you wait.

• Straits, 1100 Burlingame Ave. (650) 373-7883, www.straitsrestaurants.com: chicken curry, noodle soups, lemongrass beef – keep going.

• Broadway Grill, 400 Broadway Ave., (650) 343-9333, www.broadwaygrill.biz: Wood-fired premium steaks, but stick around for the music.

SWEETS

• Aida Opera Candies, 1375 Burlingame Ave., (650) 344-3333, www.aidacandies.com: Stock up on peanut brittle.

• Nuts For Candy, 1241 Broadway Ave., (650) 343-8758, www.nutsforcandy.com: More than 500 different candies, including imported licorice (plain and salted).

WORTH A LOOK

• Luggage Center, 1200 Burlingame Ave., (650) 579-0435, www.luggagecenter.com: More than 1,000 travel accessories.

• Books Inc., 1375 Burlingame Ave., (650) 685-4911, www.booksinc.net: An impressively informed staff guides customers to under-the-radar titles; the children's section is impressive.

• Burlingame Tobacconists, 1404 Burlingame Ave., (650) 343-3300, www.burlingametobacconists. com: Top-quality cigars from the world's finest rollers.

• Plaza de Paws, 429 Burlingame Ave., (650) 579-3647, www.plazadepaws.net: Everything for dogs and cats.

• Avenue Pet Salon, 1427 Burlingame Ave., (650) 340-7387, www.avenuepetsalon.com: Complete grooming services for dogs.

• Museum of Pez Memorabilia, 214 California Drive, (650) 347-23017, www.burlingamepezmuseum. com: The classic candy dispenser is memorialized.

– Allen Pierleoni

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Allen Pierleoni



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