Everyone always asks me where do I eat when I venture north to the other city by the bay, San Francisco. My column this week included a roundup of two spots in the city that serve up good food that won’t break the bank. Here’s a more in-depth look at my recent food adventures in the city, starting with dinner at Sweet Woodruff.
Last week, my friend and I headed up to the city for the Sleigh Bells concert at The Regency. It was a great show—but what stuck with me more than the music was the delicious food we consumed beforehand. We found a hotel just two blocks from the venue—and three blocks from Sweet Woodruff, a restaurant that’s been on my “to try” list since it opened earlier this year.
Sweet Woodruff is a casual lunch/dinner spot from the dynamic duo behind Sons and Daughters, Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarty.
The menu is simple and straightforward: sandwiches, salads and a weekly dinner special.
Between the two of us, my friend and I sampled pretty much the entire menu. (I wish I could say that was a joke—it’s sadly pretty much true.)
We started with the day’s special soup—green garlic soup, with a poached egg ($6)—and the roasted fingering potatoes with blue cheese and pickled onions ($5).
You know how much I love eggs for dinner, so needless to say, I was thrilled by the addition of the poached egg in the soup. And breaking the yolk added that extra creamy touch that was a perfect companion for the green garlic.
The roasted potatoes were a classier interpretation of home fries. The kick of blue cheese and pickled onions made a nice counterpoint to those starchy little potatoes.
The evening’s dinner special—pork shoulder with gigante beans, mirepoix and chicory ($18)—was awfully tempting, but the siren’s call of the sandwiches was too great to resist. As much as I loathe having sandwiches for dinner—sandwiches are strictly lunchtime fare in my book—Sweet Woodruff’s sandwiches sounded too good to pass up. Even if the sun had already set outside, I was going to order one.
The Brie and apple sandwich—with apple chutney, mint, cilantro and peanuts ($9.50)—had a flair of Southeast Asian flavors that nicely accented the sweet apple and creamy cheese.
But the real stand-out was the suckling pig sandwich, with ghost pepper aioli, salsa verde and pickles ($11.50).
Honestly, I was a little wary of the ghost pepper aioli. Ghost pepper has quite the reputation, taking the crown of the world’s hottest chile pepper. I had always been a little reluctant to try it, fearing I’d reenact that episode of Modern Family—running out of the restaurant screaming “I feel like I ate the sun!”
But the ghost pepper was properly put in its place in this sandwich—it made a flavorful base for the aioli, but wasn’t overly hot.
The combination of the crispy bread, tender pork, spicy aioli and that crunch of pickle was reminiscent of a pressed Cuban sandwich.
I wanted to try the roast chicken sandwich with citrus aioli, pomegranates and celery ($10.50), but was pretty stuffed from the soup, potatoes and two sandwiches. Even split between two people, that was a lot of food. But I went out on a limb and ordered the roast chicken sandwich to-go, figuring I’d stash it back at the hotel in case I had any late-night munchies.
Finishing up, the cashier asked if were interested in trying dessert. It didn’t take much arm-twisting to convince me! I’d been eyeing the housemade Meyer lemon ice cream sandwich ($3) throughout dinner.
The ice cream sandwich was a clean, sweet treat to finish up the meal. It was a modern take on the ice cream sandwich, with a thin layer of ice cream between two equally thin cookies. The flavors were sweet, but not overpoweringly so, tempered by the tartness of the Meyer lemons.
Sure enough, about midnight, when my ears were still ringing after Sleigh Bells’ epic show, I dug into the sandwich.
This one was served on focaccia rather than the crispy ciabatta. The bread was flavorful, though a little too light to handle all the ingredients packed inside.
This sandwich reminded me of a deconstructed chicken salad—the juicy chicken was served with sweet grapes, raisins, pomegranate seeds and celery. The sweetness of the grapes and the citrus aioli was a pleasant pairing with the chicken. I liked the mix of textures—the crisp lettuce, the crunch of pomegranate seeds.
Also about midnight, my friend and I dug into the takeaway desserts we’d picked up from Sweet Woodruff—banana cream pie ($3) and a chocolate financier ($3). Pastry chef Kevin Gravito put together a menu that’s simple, but sophisticated. Everything we sampled, dine-in or takeway, was delicious.
This was a fancier take on the classic banana cream pie. The pie was deconstructed—the takeway bowl has a dollop of banana cream, topped with chopped banana slices, whipped cream and a buttery cookie. Individually, each component was mighty tasty, but taken together, it was amazing. The crust “cookie,” for lack of a better word, was my favorite part—perfectly buttery to counter the sugary bananas.
I approached the financier with a bit of trepidation. I really don’t quite get financiers—these mini cakes never seem to wow me. But my friend wanted to try it, and I figured why not. Well I’m singing a different tune now—that chocolate financier was quite tasty. Topped with vanilla cream and almonds, this little cake was delicious!
The two cookies—a chocolate chip cookie ($1) and a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie ($2)—managed to survive the night, winding up instead as a snack for the trek back to the Peninsula the next day. These were thin, buttery cookies, just how I like them. They’re perfect for a road trip or a sweet treat to nibble on while wandering around downtown San Francisco.
Sweet Woodruff has jumped to the top of my list of favorite places in San Francisco. I’ve been having inappropriate thoughts about that suckling pig sandwich all week. It reached a fever pitch the other day when I was munching on a boxed Caesar salad—sadly a far cry from Sweet Woodruff’s more elegant lunchtime fare. No doubt about it, next time I’m in the city, I’ll be dropping by Sweet Woodruff. Yes, I’ll probably order everything on the menu again. But no, I’ve got no shame about that whatsoever.
Sweet Woodruff is located at 798 Sutter Street in San Francisco. 415-292-9090. www.sweetwoodruffsf.com