Many visitors to San Francisco only know about the famous restaurants in the heart if the city or in Berkeley or Napa/Sonoma. They think of the outer districts as somewhat alien neighborhoods with undistinguished cafes. Nothing could be further from the truth, and many a resident delights in discovering a new gem to try to keep to themselves.
Outerlands is well past the “secret gem” stage, and it is a favorite among chefs and other culinary professionals. The restaurant is in the Outer Sunset District, and sits on a corner of Jonah Street just a few blocks from the Great Highway and the beach on one side and Golden Gate Park on another. It has an unassuming facade that, along with the interior, was built by the owner, Dave, much of it from driftwood and surplus lumber.
The restaurant fits into the neighborhood that serves as a turn-around point for the Muni and is filled with the kinds of rag-tag shops that give much of the city its charm. Outerlands is almost always busy, but the staff tries hard to minimize your wait. You can sit inside, outside, or at the bar, but usually you’re happy with whatever is available.
Inside, the place is a beehive: friendly staff to take your order and keep your water glass full, cooks in front of the stove in the open kitchen, and pastry cooks making bread and delicious desserts in a back little cubby hole.
The menu is filled with interesting choices,but the restaurant is perhaps most famous for its bread. Much of that is because Dave learned to bake bread from Chad Robertson, the famous baker and owner of Tartine Bakery in the Mission District. In fact, you can read about Dave’s learning experience with bread on pages 84-87 of Chad Robertson’s classic cookbook, Tartine Bread, (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2010).
Bread forms a base for many of the restaurant’s best known dishes. You really should not miss their grilled cheese sandwich. This is no ordinary grilled cheese. It is made from thick slices of freshly-baked bread filled with delicious cheeses and toasted to perfection so that the cheese just oozes out, begging to be eaten. If you want, the sandwich comes with a well-made, well-seasoned soup of the day.
The pastrami sandwich is another good choice. The thinly-sliced pastrami comes dressed with a lightly brinded cabbage that has the sourness of sauerkraut but remains crisp and fresh.
If you feel like a salad, they have those, too. The charred chicory salad comes topped with a perfectly poached egg that has been lightly dusted with freshly grated Parmesan. The bitter greens balance off the vinaigrette and the creamy egg yolk.
On weekends, check out brunch. The grilled cheese has disappeared from the menu, but other bread-based treats replace it. On a recent day, I had “eggs in jail”, which is a riff on the old standby of my childhood, toad-in-the-hole. But this version comes with a thick slice of bread toasted on the grill, egg nestled in the middle and topped with tasty wilted greens and a thick slice of perfectly fried bacon.
Excellent mixed drinks any time of the day, and a small but good selection of wines.
The wait staff reflect the neighborhood and many of the clientele – young, well-inked, wearing knitted caps, outgoing, and enthusiastic.
Outerlands is well worth the trip to the outerlands of San Francisco.