Jim and Judy Harnish have been making candy for more than five years. With a natural sweet tooth and a fondness for giving candy gifts during the holidays, Jim—a city planner and lawyer—created Fog Mountain Candy Co. The fog, Judy said, is the fog of the San Bruno Mountains, which she complained about nearly every day during their years in South San Francisco.
A decade after the entrepreneurial health-food trends of the 1990s, the Harnishes turned to an older art form—the art of making toffee, peanut brittle, chocolate-and-peanut-butter squares, and candied walnuts and pecans. In the early years, they rented out a church kitchen to make their sweet treats. Today, their business not only serves customers throughout California, but also mails directly to confection-lovers in the Bahamas, South America, Japan and Egypt.
But candy like this is a seasonal business. So, when their son Eric Harnish and nephew Daniel Branham joined Fog Mountain, it wasn’t long before the younger generation was bucking to branch out.
Eric never went to culinary school. In fact, he was talked out of it during his five-year stint as a sous-chef at Mace’s Restaurant & Bar. He was already learning on the job. From Mace’s, he went on to an even more prestigious job at the Old Bath House Restaurant in Pacific Grove, where he spent an additional six years before coming home.
After a summer of making candy, the idea for a cafe emerged. It sold 10 or 12 lunches on the first day. A year-and-a-half later, Fog Mountain has a reputation for crafting the best, most sophisticated sandwiches in town. There are unique details, such as balsamic-vinegar dipping oil for the grilled cheese, citrus in the seared yellowtail, sautéed asparagus in the Black Forest ham sandwich, and watercress aioli. These ingredients combine with favorites like apple-wood-smoked bacon, house mesquite-smoked turkey and house-made brisket to form delectably distinctive sandwiches.
We tried the vegetarian roasted-portobello sandwich, which was filled with thin slices of firm yellow squash and zucchini, roasted red pepper, portobello mushrooms, a layer of spinach, a thinner layer of sprouts and some kind of sweet red-pepper purée. Garlicky in flavor, the sandwich was perfectly cool in temperature, with each vegetable contributing equally to the whole. The toasted ciabatta was crisp yet delicately moistened with the purée.
Another sandwich held an ample portion of delicious Black Forest ham, a modest amount of melted Swiss and jack cheeses, sautéed asparagus and a delicate aioli. Unlike the marriage of equals in the vegetarian sandwich, ham was the unequivocal star in this sandwich, with other ingredients playing a supporting role.
As impressive as the sandwiches were, we deemed the soups—six to 12 varieties prepared daily—worthy of a dogmatic militant regime’s control, to be rationed only to the enlightened. After talking to Eric, it wasn’t hard to see why. He and Branham, his sous chef, make their own stocks—veal, duck, lamb, beef and chicken—for all the soups. To make the right stock, they take into account the cooking time, the proper roasting of the bones and, of course, the mirepoix (the mixture of carrots, onions, celery and herbs that are cooked down to form the base of the soup). The mirepoix also acts a natural thickener, which is less fattening than roux. Both the mushroom and asparagus soups were incredibly rich and flavorful, with bits of puréed vegetables adding even more body to the velvety textures.
Surely, I insisted, some of the soups’ richness must come from cream. With a small measure of pride, Eric revealed a stock-to-cream ratio of something like 32-to-1. I was awed.
Highbrow cuisine in the form of soups and sandwiches is not something you can find anywhere. But Eric feels his cuisine fits the community of the cafe’s Midtown location. He also gets to exercise his creative culinary muscles by catering business lunches, weddings and graduations. His credo, as well as the cafe’s motto, is: “No limits. Challenge us. All needs can be met.”
Just when I thought the child had clearly surpassed the parents, a sampling of the dark-chocolate-peanut-butter squares elicited hesitation. Luscious, rich flats of chocolate sandwiched a speckled filling, whose texture played a perfect foil to the chocolate’s smooth creaminess. The apple clearly had come from the tree, the sandwich from the confection.
But alas, there are two imperfections to note. First, there is hardly any place to sit. And sadly, there is nothing for dinner. In winter, the cafe seats only about six, at three small tables, and the hours are 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The family has talked about expanding in and around its current space or possibly opening a second location in Folsom. But the family already works hard: seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day.
We hope the Harnishes find a way to expand. As my husband, the critic’s critic, put it, "Food like this deserves to play on a larger stage."