On my last morning in San Francisco I decided I’d get up extra early and be first in line for a breakfast at Plow in Portrero Hill. Of course, owing to some insomnia and a desire to make the 2.5 mile walk, I got up even earlier than expected and made my way out of SoMa on foot…in the “light” rain. I’ll get to the meal, but first let’s talk about the walk.My initial reason for making the trek from SoMa to Portrero Hill was to get at least a little exercise. Being in San Francisco I figured I’d have some hills and get some good work in early. Nope. Totally flat. What are the chances? But this was beside the point. About 10 minutes into my walk I realized two things: (1) there was nothing light about the rainfall and (2) there were a number of people fighting through the rain not at all by choice–they were homeless. It looks like California is getting more engaged in homelessness (see this), which I can appreciate. So is San Diego, specifically, with a pretty innovative concept (here). There I was, trudging in my new Aldo wing tips, jeans and a collared shirt…and getting drenched because I bought a janky umbrella for 3 bucks that was barely keeping the top of my head dry. And I look around and every so often I see dudes not nearly as well dressed, struggling along with their belongings, underneath tarps or whatever they could find to stay dry, just trying to make it. Whenever I walk in the rain or cold I can’t help but think about the large number of people who have no choice in this matter. I could have, with little effort, ducked in a doorway, called a cab and chilled out until I was whisked to my delicious destination. I’m not so naive as to think that every instance of homelessness is a byproduct of some societal deficiency, but I prefer to focus on the conditions that are societal deficiencies–and there are plenty–so we can find ways to help as many as we can. But I’d like to speed up the story to my arrival at Plow, here
I hit the tiny entry way about 25 minutes before they opened–first one there! This may seem a tad anal to some of you, but just stay with me a bit. I had a wool blend sweater on (not a Cosby sweater, just something light)–it was so wet I stood outside and literally squeezed out water. My jeans were so wet the die bled through. Ugh. I looked briefly in the window and hoped they’d open the door and let me wait inside. With no one in line it didn’t seem like a big deal. Not happening (which I later realized made perfect sense). I stood there for about 15 minutes until this lovely 30-something woman who looked like an actress I can’t quite place came up and said hello. Nice. I love friendly people. I struck up a conversation with this actress look alike (think classic Brit) named Melissa. Melissa, I learned, was a mother of two similarly delightful children, married to Andrew and a former local who’d moved away to give the kids a little safety (apparently Portrero is divided into ‘hip design district’ on one side of the hill and ‘guard your grill’ on the other side. Neighborhood history received, we turned to the food.
Actually, what Melissa did next really struck me as uber polite. “You’re not from here?” she continued. “Let me know if you’d like a recommendation.” I think that’s a perfectly lovely way to let someone know you are willing to help without hitting them with your unsolicited opinion. Yes, I recognize the irony of this observation given I am writing my opinions about food, but that’s a separate issue. “Sure, whatchoo got?” I shot back. “Weeell, if they have the salmon, get it. It’s possibly the best I’ve ever had. Also, the potatoes are great. They are known for their egg dishes, but, ya know, they are eggs.” This is a good point, eggs can generally be done anywhere with a skillet. She also told me about the sausage they made in-house, the bacon and the almond flour pancakes. By this time, Andrew had joined our front porch party. Andrew was exceedingly nice once he quickly realized I was just another guy waiting to get in. I can’t remember his recs, but they seemed like a delightful family. Mom-in-law rounded out the fivesome and she was the type of warm person you want to meet in the morning when you are soaking wet and hungry. I forgot to mention above that the line of 35 or so people outside was even more amazing than the line in my post about Statebird Provisions, primarily because these people a) got up early and b) were standing.in.the.rain. Wow. Moving right along. I’ll gloss briefly over my server, Kirby, for the moment to show you this
Unable to make a real choice between a ton of options I adopt Melissa’s anti-egg stance and went for ‘The Plow’, a sampler that included two eggs, but also two small pancakes (I chose almond flour), bacon and potatoes. The bacon was done just well enough not to be all gristly but not crumble into pork dust when you bit into it. It had a nice smoky flavor, too. If it were a student I’d give it solid over-achiever status. It wasn’t insane like the bacon here, but not many places are. The eggs were, well, eggs. I can say they were exactly over medium, which is what I ordered. Having harbored chickens when I was a teenager, I am quite familiar with the fresh egg. ‘Harbored’ isn’t exactly the word I want, but we didn’t raise them, so I’m not sure what it’s called when you just let them run around and then snatch their eggs. I digress, these eggs at Plow were fresh (link to the egg producer below, FYI). But properly cooked eggs in a restaurant are like properly edited articles for a journalist. It is an expected level of competence and you only really ever notice if they aren’t done correctly.
Unable to decide between the lemon ricotta and the almond flour pancakes (and, sadly, unable to get one of each on the same plate) I picked up a solo lemon ricotta on the side. It looks just like the two above, about 5 inches in diameter, so I won’t post its photo. But unlike my new friends Tamer (pron Tam-ur) and Deena–more on them in a moment–I actually liked the lemon ricotta pancake better than the almond flour. It had a strong lemon flavor, which worked for me, but is a personal preference kind of thing. As a general matter, the pancakes were all very good. To me, good in the context of pancakes means a few specific things. Enough of those little gases should have released to make it a light cake. Dense pancakes are a no-no. A good pancake should have flavor even before you hit it with butter and syrup. Both of those additions are cool, but they shouldn’t be essential to enjoyment. Finally, they need to be done enough to pass the paper bag test. Okay, not that test, I just added that link as a bit of free information. I just mean the pancake should be at least darker than one of those brown lunch/grocery bags (back before we all had reusable bags–cuz we all do reuse, right?).
Kirby, my cool server who I glossed over earlier but who was super pleasant, knowledgeable and just-right attentive, reminded me of the house made sausage and I felt I would do myself a disservice if I didn’t try an order, which I got.
Look at it! Nicely seasoned. And moderately spicy, too. I wish there was a way to have you smell this. Two patties was too much for me with all the other food, but the sausage was worth it–and even better because it was made right there. Before I get to the last two items, I should mention that I was unnecessarily exuberant for a rainy Saturday morning. So much so that my table-neighbors–who were so close we could almost have snuggled–were happy to chat about the meal. Deena, a dark-haired woman of what I’d guess was Indian-American descent, asked how my food was. She was from NYC, though I didn’t hear any hint of an accent, and she was a nice as all the other people I met when in New York a couple weeks ago. I told her the best thing on the plate was the rosemary-laced crispy potatoes. It’s hard to describe what about them was so good. The rosemary was so pungent I could smell it as soon as Kirby put the plate down. They were like regular, soft potatoes on the inside, but encased in this crispy, slightly salty outer shell (not the skin, just, I don’t know, you chefs probably know how to do it). Very, very good. Tamer (Deena’s husband) got in on the conversation to ask about the pancakes. I ordered the almond flour on the strength of recs from Kirby and Melissa, but actually liked the lemon ricotta more. Just the same, Tamer made quick work of his own almond flour pancakes when they showed up and they both favored that one. Diff’rent strokes, I say.
The cool thing about eating in San Francisco is meeting people in restaurants. I mentioned the farmer and the business owner/mom I met at Statebird (here), and this was equally cool. Melissa, Andrew and kids (and mom-in-law) were warm and pleasant and added character to my morning. And sitting close enough to share Christmas recipes with Tamer and Deena if we had been so inclined lended itself to having a nice conversation about the food and even our lives a little. Sharing experiences is a great part of getting out and trying new restaurants. I also had a muffin, which I’d recommend, too. But I realized I’ve again gotten a little long in the tooth on this post. One last thing, here are the farmers and producers who made my meal possible
A couple takeaways: homelessness isn’t some cushy life choice for the vast majority of homeless. We can do more. If you don’t like the moral argument, there are plenty of economic ones. Second takeaway, the food at Plow is well, well worth the trip. Get there early, as the line was 40 people deep–in the rain–and there aren’t many tables. Oh, it was a $15 plate plus about $2.50 for Equator coffee. Perfectly reasonable given the care they take in their food. Anyway, thanks for reading. Have a good day.
If you want to read a little more, I wanted to point out that Plow took the important step of thanking all of the farms and producers of their food items. It was on the menu! But let’s take it a step farther. For each of them that have a link, I’ve copied them here so you can check out how cool (and healthy and committed and sustainable) they are (or report back if they aren’t):
List with Links (shocking how informative many of these links are)
Fish: Monterey Fish Company
Eggs: Glaum Egg Ranch
It’s impressive that the people at Plow would go to these lengths to provide quality food that doesn’t destroy our planet. Please feel free to share this page with any of your favorite restaurants so that maybe they can source from good companies (if they aren’t already). Cheers