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A Knish Like Your Hungarian Grandma Would've Made

Inside Michelle Polzine's 20th Century Cafe.

"People have told me that some of my cakes remind them of their Romanian mom or Hungarian grandmother,” says Michelle Polzine, a former Range pastry chef who opened 20th Century Café in Hayes Valley this summer. Despite having no roots in Central Europe to lay claim to, Polzine is channeling the traditions of cities there that she’s fallen for: Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. “I feel like this food just comes out of me,” she says. “I know that sounds a little hokey.”

We’ll take hokey if it results in a cake made of countless thin layers soaked in a cloud of honey-cream frosting. That, and Polzine’s housemade ice creams served in Depression glass bowls—not to mention her knish, an addictive and buttery humble brag of sweet onions and potatoes. Just because everything at the café— from the counter wrapped in metallic tiles to the green linoleum floors to Polzine herself, who dresses in vintage from head to toe—is grounded in nostalgia doesn’t mean that there aren’t hints of 2013: After all, that honey cake is named the Krasinski Törtchen after one of the café’s Kickstarter patrons. 198 Gough St. (at Oak St.), 415-621-2380

 

Originally published in the September 2013 issue of San Francisco

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