The sandwich explosion rumbles on in San Francisco. Naked Lunch, Deli Board, Salumeria, Wise Sons and now Market & Rye, Ryan Scott’s mini-chain of two.
In once sense, today’s sandwiches are a throwback to the overstuffed Italian deli sandwich made with layers of meats and cheese dressed with oil and vinegar. The current versions are imaginative masterpieces, still thick and rich, but nuanced. Eat one, and you’re had your main meal for the day, which may be a clue to their popularity in the sophisticated culinary nirvanas of San Francisco and New York. If you’re young and urbane, with a limited income and a work out-fueled appetite, these complex, over the top, sandwiches from chefs who have emigrated from fine dining become your go to meal.
I know Ryan Scott’s cooking from Myth Cafe, his ebullient lunch spot in the Jackson Square. (It is now Cotogna.) His buttery grilled BLT with melted cheddar and roasted tomatoes, and a chili and lemongrass chicken salad sandwich with mango, cilantro. avocado and melted jack, swept the Financial District five years ago.
When Myth Restaurant and Cafe closed, Scott bounced around various kitchens. In 2012 he opened the first Market & Rye on West Portal, his own sandwich shop, which showcases his uncanny ability to make a delicious whole out of seemingly way too many parts.
In fact, when I walked up to the counter of West Portal Market & Rye, I thought the endeavor was doomed. Not only was the menu confusing but I couldn’t imagine this seemingly inexperienced staff pulling it off–so many salads and sandwiches with so many ingredients. They proved me wrong.
They made me Scott’s new version of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich called Rosemary, Black Pepper and Brown Sugar Crusted Bacon BLT ($8.50), a saucy, utterly luscious bacon sandwich slathered with green garlic aioli amplified with roasted tomatoes and melted cheddar. Thin layers of ice berg set off thick, almost pancetta like slabs of sweet, peppery bacon. The take-charge counter man suggested having it on salted rye, a counter intuitive choice that worked. I had never tasted anything like it and now I’m completely hooked.
The West Portal counter also displays long trays of seasonal market salads sold by the scoop ($3.50 for one, $7 for two, $10 for three), that have every opportunity to be soggy, over dressed or tired. Not a chance. Conceived to be scooped, the salad’s components got better with marination. Grilled Melon Salad scented with mint and a whisper of smoke, set off by pickled red onions and the tiniest crumbles of mild blue cheese, stayed juicy and refreshing dressed in the sheerest citrus vinaigrette. Charred Cabbage Slaw with chicken, carrot threads, and golden raisins in a mild, toasty, curry vinaigrette bore Scott’s uncanny ability to merge diverse flavors and textures, to balance sweet, sour and savory. Both these salads and the BLT survived a trip to the Stanford tennis stadium from West Portal. This is food conceived to go.
At the second Market & Rye on De Haro at 17th, only sandwiches are made to order. All the salads are pre packed. However this location’s signature Cornflake Crusted Fired Chicken Sandwich with Old Bay aioli, pickles and poppyseed cole slaw on a brioche ($9) is reason enough to come here. The fried chicken cutlets are hot, moist and crunchy, nestling into the slaw and creamy dressing, buoyed by a layer of tangy pickle slices. For lovers of the fried chicken sandwich, the De Haro Market & Rye is a destination.
A pre-packaged peach and pickled beet salad ($9) with clunky piles of peach, gold beet, goat cheese, gigantic croutons, candied cashews and a thick slice of grilled red onion, all arranged on top of mixed greens, was not only impossible to toss in inadequate peach-sherry vinaigrette that came on the side, but lacked the coherence and flair of everything else I’ve had at Market & Rye.
If you want exciting salads, go to the West Portal branch. For fried chicken sandwiches head for the flatlands of Potrero Hill. The BLT is available at both places.
68 West Portal, San Francisco 415 564-5950
300 De Haro St., San Francisco 415 252-7455