The Saucy Tomato Bread I've Thought About Every Day for 16 Years

Inspired by Liguria Bakery in San Francisco.

October  5, 2018
Photo by Julia Gartland

The best bakery in San Francisco sells only one thing: focaccia.

Olive oil–drenched sheets of it, in 10 flavors (11 on Saturdays). Place your order—hurry; there's a line out the door—and Liguria Bakery's proprietors will wrap your stack tightly in white butcher paper and truss it with bakery twine so quickly, it'll be like watching a surgeon deploy emergency stitches.

It’s near-impossible to pick a favorite type. The raisin variety is perfectly, subtly sweet; the jalapeño-cheese kind implores you to eat it at the speed of light, before anyone notices you brought it home; I could live off of the plain.

But it’s the “pizza” focaccia— topped with tomato sauce and chopped green onions, and despite its name, lacking cheese of any kind—that’s always held my attention. The thin layer of jammy tomato sauce across its top lends it an almost doughy texture that, when coupled with the crunch of the crisp bottom and the uniquely tight, yet light crumb of the interior, makes for the world's most perfect bite. The heavy-handed scallion application infuses it with an indispensable savoriness that's at once gentle and intense. It's impossible for me to see bakery twine and not crave it.

Photo by Julia Gartland

The shop opened in 1911 as a corner bakery before evolving to offer only focaccia, as a means to outpace a commercial bakery boom. It’s a family-run operation occupying a postage stamp–sized storefront in North Beach, from which you can just barely get a glimpse of the kitchen, where the proprietors begin baking at the crack of dawn, and close down once the last sheet of bread's been sold.

The heavy-handed scallion application infuses it with an indispensable savoriness that's at once gentle and intense. It's impossible for me to see bakery twine and not crave it.

I first entered Liguria Bakery on a Saturday morning in August 2002. We’d just moved across the country, and everything felt like a fever dream—a sensation that was only exacerbated by the chilly weather of San Francisco’s "summer." Some family member somehow had found out about this place, a few blocks down from an apartment that felt so new and disorienting to me. We all shuffled over, like zombies. And then, the next day, we shuffled back again. And again.

You can add as much green onion as you like—the more, the better if you ask me. Photo by Julia Gartland

Who could blame us? The stuff was dead-perfect. I wish I could say the Liguria Bakery focaccia became our everyday, all-purpose bread-of-choice (Use it for sandwiches! Broil cheese on top! Pair it with a scrambled egg!) but the truth is, it never lasted more than an hour. We’d eat it bare, while it was somehow still vaguely warm despite the 10-minute walk home, standing around the kitchen counter. Most of the time, we wouldn’t even bother with utensils or plates.

When I moved to New York nine years ago, I felt its loss keenly, thinking of it sometimes twice a day. Every slice of focaccia—of any tomato sauce-slathered bread, really—I've had since has made me long for the one I love. Finally, I had to do something about it. If I couldn't have the real thing, I had to give making my own a shot. It’d have to be different, of course—not only was I not able to get the original recipe, but I also didn't have an oven that's capable of 1,500° F heat. I scoured message boards and Yelp comments. I maniacally quizzed my family members about what they remembered of the crumb. I researched the unique aspects of Ligurian-style focaccia, and during a recent visit to Italy, convinced a chef who knew the traditional Genovese method to tell me what I was doing wrong. I kneaded and kneaded, tweaked water proportions, and tried out all sorts of sauce toppings.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“My favorite was always the Pizza Focaccia, so I thought I'd look up "Marinara Sauce Focaccia" and sure enough, the first thing that popped up was someone trying to replicate Liguria Bakery!!! Gonna have to give this a try next batch!”
— DanDion

This is where I landed—it might not be quite Liguria Bakery status, but it hits the spot.

What's your best childhood food memory? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • mrsbride
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    Alicia "Lee" Danek
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    Lindsey Haberkorn
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    Michael Marston
Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


mrsbride March 30, 2023
Ever since I was born, my family has waited at the crack of dawn around the corner to puck up our order on holidays. The tomato and the raisin are daily favorites. I also dream of it often. The absolute best. Going to try your recipe.
Alicia ". September 30, 2020
I just made this, following your ingredients, etc., exactly. it is now resting for 60-90 mins but I notice that in the video, your dough looks so much more pliable than mine. Mine seems denser - yours is a bit soft and wet. Mine is harder. Hope it works out in the end.
Lindsey H. May 19, 2020
There is an Italian restaurant my husband LOVES in NJ that serves "pizza bread" as my husband calls it before the meal. It's his favorite thing ever. I found this recipe and figured I would give it a shot....and SCORE! He devoured it! The way the olive oil crisps the crust and makes it oily, oh my gosh. I am making this again and again! Thanks so much for this delicious recipe!
DanDion March 23, 2020
Ha! I just moved to Nashville and was homesick for San Francisco, and especially North Beach, where I lived for 10 years. I just made my first Focaccia (plain). Delicious, but not exactly "Liguria Bakery" delicious. My favorite was always the Pizza Focaccia, so I thought I'd look up "Marinara Sauce Focaccia" and sure enough, the first thing that popped up was someone trying to replicate Liguria Bakery!!! Gonna have to give this a try next batch!
Michael M. February 8, 2020
In the late 60's I lived a few blocks away from the bakery, their Focaccia was the best munchie food ever. I have tried to recreate it a few times without success but I'm excited to try this recipe and this very different one that coincidentally was just on Milk Street Radio. It's only free for a limited time.
Sue May 9, 2019
You must have been lucky on the day you went into Liguria's Bakery in August---they usually are closed for the whole month of August for their annual vacation.
Sue May 9, 2019
I was lucky enough to grow up in the neighborhood and back in the days you would be able to get the focaccia cut up and placed in a small paper bag on the way to school. I have tried baking my own focaccia that always ended up too crispy with just the olive oil. The secret to getting the crust to be similar to Liguria's is to make a brine of water and oil and pour it on top of the dough before baking. It took me over 60 years to figure this out with much researching but I found a Ligurian site that mentiioned the brine. Then recently I watched the episode of Salt Fat Acid on pizza where they made a brine of just salt and water. So you might want to try making your focaccia with the addition of a brine.
Ella Q. May 14, 2019
Will give this a shot! Thanks Sue.
Candy March 27, 2019
Correction... Salt in the dough is required but sprinkled on top is optional (not how Papa would prepare his focaccia).
Candy March 27, 2019
I had the pleasure of watching Papa Liguria baking process in the early 1980s. While I don't know the dough or sauce recipe I do remember Papa would slather his sauce on with a mop and sprinkle with green onions after removing the baking sheets from the brick oven. My only suggestions would be to omit the salt...add a bit of semolina flour to the bread flour. As for the sauce, Silver Palette marinara (made with San Marzano tomatoes) comes close to the flavor I remember. I do cook the sauce down for a thicker consistency.
Ella Q. May 14, 2019
Thank you for shaking your intel! Will need to try it like this.
Michael M. February 8, 2020
Putting the sauce on after baking is brilliant. All my attempts to recreate this have had very dry sauce after baking it on the Focaccia.
Fran M. October 22, 2018
My favorite childhood memory was a poppy seed roll that was like a cinnamon roll. I think they were Russian. They were from a bakery in Buffalo, N. Y. I still dream about them.
Amanda October 13, 2018
my grandparents, my parents, and I love this focaccia! my favorite pieces are from the doughy soft center. i'm so excited to try your recipe!
Ella Q. October 13, 2018
Thanks Amanda, I hope you like it! Agreed, re: doughy center pieces... I want to eat 100, just thinking about them.
Vanitha October 7, 2018
Can I use regular flour instead of bread flour? By the way, looks so, so awesome and delicious!
Ella Q. October 7, 2018
Hi Vanitha,

Yes, you can definitely use regular flour. It won't be quite as chewy/dense as if you'd used bread flour (which is why I prefer bread here), but it'll be close. Let me know how it goes!

Brinda A. October 5, 2018
I've only known about your take on this bread for, like, 16 days, but I've thought about it maybe as many times. NEED IT NOW.
Ella Q. October 5, 2018
Thanks Brinda! :) Next batch has your name on it.