Specialty’s

Ok, I realize that writing about Specialty’s in San Francisco is kinda like writing about a Seven Eleven in a lesser city. That’s an exaggeration. But still, Specialty’s is sort of the San Francisco version of your average bakery and deli. There are a handful of them scattered around downtown, a few elsewhere in the bay area, and a few out of state. But I write about them because I find them to be utterly amazing.

What do you eat for lunch if you live in a regular city? Like Subway or something? Pish posh. I work in San Francisco and I order a Specialty’s sandwich at least once a week. Here is my favorite:

Specialty’s Mediterranean sandwich.

It’s called the Mediterranean. (Try spelling that without spell check. I dare you.) The Mediterranean: Fresh mozzarella with kalamata olives, spinach, tomato, basil, red pepper pesto, basil pesto and balsamic vinaigrette on toasted thyme focaccia. Two types of pesto! Olives! And fine, I’m all snooty about it and I swap out the focaccia for ciabatta. Which is so easy to do with their online ordering system whereby I choose what I want (and sub in/out any ingredients!) and then go pick it up at the store 15 minutes later. It’s amazing.

And so is the sandwich. Soooo yummy. They have a whole plethora of inventive and traditional sandwiches, all made on their fresh baked breads and with their fresh ingredients! Warm sandwiches, cold ones, happy ones, sad ones, whatever. That doesn’t even make sense. Whatever. It’s delicious, their website is amazing, and you should go there.

ME COOKIE MONSTER.

AND LET’S NOT FORGET THE COOKIES. Which is actually the real reason for most of my Specialty’s trips. (And for this Heard About article of mine.) I go with my work husband at least three times a week, I’d say. Yes, that means my cookie intake is significant. But, as a result, so is my happiness intake. The semi sweet chocolate chunks are amazing. Simply amazing. And since I just re-signed up for email alerts (Yes, they will email you when fresh cookies are ready. This is dangerous but incredible all at once.), I am far too aware of the availability of freshly baked cookies a block away from my office every day from 2-6pm. Must… try… to… resist…

Specialty's Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Ironside

Atmosphere: 4/5  ♦  Service: 3/5  ♦  Food Quality: 4/5  ♦  Value: 3/5
Times Visited: One  ♦ Will I Return?: Sure

Ironside is a hip little restaurant on Second Street between Townsend and Brannan in San Francisco. It’s one of the (great many) places that makes SF what it is in terms of food and ambiance. The decor is a sort of modern wild-west: heavy timber framing (the stairway landing is a 4′ cube of solid wood pieces!) and steel connectors and accents fit in with the polished concrete floors and steel-railed mezzanine. Like other top SF restaurants, it looks great.

The order-at-the counter style adds a bit of casual-ness to your lunch (though they are also open for dinner, and brunch on the weekends), and the paper menu has lots of tasty things to choose from. The list itself is nothing particularly fancy: soups, salads, pizzas, and sandwiches; but the execution is key.

Inside Ironside

Entrance at Ironside

As I’ve only been here once, I can’t verify that everything on the menu is awesome, but lots of things sure did look really good. And my Pressed Veggie Cubano was pretty awesome: roasted seasonal vegetables (mine had spinach, squash, and peppers), melted gruyere cheese, and pickles really hit the spot. A side of big fat steak fries is $2.50 extra, and I had to try an agave soda.

Pressed Veggie Cubano with fries and agave soda.

Yes, agave soda. Instead of using sugar or corn syrup, Ironside serves soda that is sweetened with agave. Since I’ve never tried this, I splurged and spent the extra $2.50 for a soda.

And it tasted like Coke. To me. I’m just saying.

Other lunch menu items include interesting sandwiches such as The Pauline (garbanzo cream cheese spread, cucumbers, carrots, avocados, sprouts, and sunflower seeds on whole wheat ($8), add turkey $3); Pulled Chicken; Grilled Snapper (with jalapeno aioli, pickled onions, butter lettuce, cilantro, and Thai basil – $10); Vine Ripened Tomato and Mozzerella; Meatball Parmesan; and Cheese Steak. There’s also salads (Cobb, Nicoise, Mediterranean, etc.) and pizzas (Spicy Sausage, Roasted Mushroom, Fig and Prosciutto, etc.).

I can’t remember what Jesse ordered, but it looked like this.

I like this place a lot. My only complaint is that it was a bit pricey with my add-ons (fries were $2.50, soda was $2.50, and sandwich was $9), but overall a really cute place with a lively atmosphere, cool decor, and good food. Next time, I’ll have to try a pizza!

Ironside  on Urbanspoon

The American Grilled Cheese

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value:4/5
Times Visited: A Few  ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes!
 

This super-cute, San Francisco-worthy restaurant can be found serving up gourmet grilled cheese every day of the week just next to South Park at 2nd Street in SOMA. When a friend of mine first heard that I was going to be working in SOMA and that I’m a veggo, he promptly took me to The American. And for that, I am grateful.

The American is in a cute homey place with framed photos adorning the walls, lots of counter stools, and outdoor seating. They specialize in grilled cheese and make ‘em better than mom used to (sorry mom, but they’ve got Gruyère cheese, you know?). I love specialty shops like this that serve one thing and serve it with pizazz. And I love the word pizazz, just to let you know.

The majority of the menu consists of about a half-dozen grilled cheese sandwiches of different varieties (traditional, with ham, Mediterranean style, etc.) and a few soups and salads. In many respects I love a small menu because it makes choosing easier and quicker, and it gives me a feeling that the food they do offer will be done right. At The American, this holds true.

Granted it’s difficult to screw up a grilled cheese, but still. Fresh sourdough, melted cheeses, and add tomatoes or pickles for 50 cents each. Each order includes a piece of fresh fruit that seems to change with the seasons (it was strawberries the first time I went, an orange the last) and you can add a side salad or yummy tomato soup to put a bit more oomph into your lunch if you so choose. And, they have fresh lemonade and, I believe, a “lemonade of the day” every day. Yum!

On my last visit with Sean and Ryan (who insisted on being mentioned; I nearly had to fight them out of the photos) there were three sandwiches at the table: mine was the Mousetrap, the most traditional menu item with cheddar, havarti, and jack, to which I added pickles and tomatoes. It was crispy, crunchy (almost too much actually; I had the familiar soreness on the roof of my mouth reminiscent of childhood club sandwiches…), and deliciously cheesy inside.

Sean’s Piglet sandwich is a twist on a traditional ham and cheese using Tillamook sharp cheddar, artisan cured ham, apple mustard, and rosemary butter. He only had good things to say… between bites.

Ryan was a man of few words (I was only just getting to know him), but he seemed to enjoy his Feta Fetish sandwich that bypasses the traditional grilled cheese for a bit of Mediterranean flair: Crumbled feta, fontina, roasted eggplant, zucchini, and red bell peppers, Italian spices, and garlic butter. Yeah, yum.

And while no one ordered it this trip, I feel I would be remiss not to mention the Mushroom Gruyère sandwich which is totally amazing: fontina, Gruyère, roasted wild mushrooms + gold potatoes, melted leeks, caramelized onions, and thyme butter. This was the first sandwich I had from The American, and it totally got me hooked. So go ahead everyone, eat cheese and be merry.

Here is The American on Zagat: http://www.zagat.com/r/american-grilled-cheese-kitchen-san-francisco

My writeup of The Mousetrap sandwich was also featured on HeardAbout.comhttp://bit.ly/jrWMns

The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Lettuce

Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value:3/5
Times Visited: Once  ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes!
___________

Lettuce RestaurantI wish someone would just make a restaurant with affordable, healthy, delicious salads, soups and sandwiches. Lettuce: you have read my mind (or, my previously typed words). Order at the counter, fresh, made-to-order salads with sandwiches, homemade soups and daily pasta dishes? Sign me up.

I’ve really been looking for Lettuce all my life. Failed attempts include Fresh Choice, Sweet Tomatoes and other salad-based restaurants. Those places aren’t doing it right; Lettuce is.

The Menu

15 salads grace the menu which stands like an enormous road sign providing you the options for your Lettuce journey. The 16th salad is a make-your-own, allowing you the privilege of blazing your own trail if you’re wary (or weary) of the more traveled paths. Six sandwiches and five salads (and a partridge in a pear tree?) fill in the other half of the menu, while daily pasta specials are only displayed in the flesh (so to speak) as you round the corner to place your order.

Lettuce Menu

Lettuce Menu

The Bar

This bar is far more nutritious than the one where you spent St. Patrick’s Day. Containers of veggies, fruits, nuts, beans and cheeses are displayed in sneeze-guarded glory on the opposite side of the counter where you order. Rather than the conventional salad bar which encourages me to drip dressing everywhere and fumble to find a desired combination of foods, the Lettuce employees gracefully create each salad to order while the patrons look on with hungry eyes. Per the chosen salad, the ingredients are plucked from their fresh little buckets, placed into a large bowl with the correct dressing and then mixed thoroughly before being plopped on a plate ready for enjoyment.

Salad Bar

Salad Bar at Lettuce, Pasta Bar bottom right.

The Food

The salads are spot on. Lots of choices, fresh ingredients and interesting combinations. The ones at our table were fab. The soup was delicious. The tomato basil cream soup I had was tangy, flavorful and just really good. The only complaint I had was the awesome-looking garlic bread slice that I ordered was hard as a rock and detracted from my meal a bit. Next time, I’ll skip the garlic bread and try one of the dozens of other mouth-watering options of salads, sandwiches and soups!Soup and Salad

Salad and Sandwich

Soup and Salad

I want them to build a Lettuce next to my house. It’s relatively healthy, it’s fast, it’s delicious and it’s not extreme on the pocketbook. Thanks for having me, Lettuce, I’ll be back like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Lettuce on Urbanspoon