Lord knows we need a Jewish deli in San Francisco and the Wise Sons have made it their mission to bring us one, first as a pop up, then in a booth at the Tuesday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and now as a brick and mortar self serve restaurant in the Mission.
On the booth’s opening day, I scored a moist, warm, full flavored corned beef sandwich on light, cornmeal dusted rye which Wise Sons bakes themselves. Both Joyce Goldstein and I were some of the first customers and we marveled over the sandwich–just thick and fatty enough, with a juicy pickle and clean, horseradish dressed slaw on the side. My hopes soared, especially in light of Wise Sons’ dedication to using pure ingredients and making everything from scratch.
But one Saturday during a special pop up breakfast appearance at the farmers’ market, Wise Sons served me a stale bagel with mealy cream cheese and over smoked salmon; and on another Tuesday at the market, the pastrami was over smoked, dryish and salty.
When the permanent deli finally opened six months ago, a perpetual line formed, snaking out the front door onto the sidewalk. I’d check every time I drove by on my way from La Palma Mexicatessen. Finally, for some unknown reason, the line was relatively short at 11:30 a.m. the Wednesday after Labor Day, though I still had to wait for 25 minutes to reach the front of the line. When at last it was my turn, the young woman at the cash register delivered the bad news: Wise Sons was temporarily out of corned beef. It would take 20 more minutes if I wanted a corned beef sandwich at a Jewish deli. Oy.
So I ordered a half smoked trout sandwich and a cup of matzoh ball soup with a choice of side ($12), found a space at the rustic wooden communal table in the small dining room and waited for fifteen more minutes, watching all the kids around me try to eat laughably thick club sandwiches–yes, club sandwiches–made with three layers of challah and crispy pastrami instead of bacon. On a club sandwich, that over smoked pastrami would probably work.
The one page Wise Son’s menu–breakfast on one side, lunch on the other–describes their matzoh ball soup as “not as good as your bubbe’s,” and their self-assessment rings true. Instead of clear broth infused with the umami of pure chicken, this soup was brown and cloudy, tasting more of vegetables than poultry; and rife with noodles, bits of boiled meat and slices of al dente carrot. The huge matzoh ball holds down the heavy end of the tenderness spectrum. I like mine airy. The Sons get points for the snipped fresh dill scattered on top.
The smoked trout salad sandwich on rye was delicious–clean, moist, not too smoky, just tart enough–set off by red onion and butter lettuce. I’d order it any day, except when I crave a corned beef sandwich.
Inexplicably, at least to me, Wise Sons has become a phenomenon. The lines only get longer. Unlike the fast if brusque service at deli counters of my Chicago youth, Wise Sons has devised a system that enrages a crusty deli patron like me. Your best bet is the new corned beef sandwich express line at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market booth on Tuesdays. But come early, because this premier item runs out.
3150 24th Street (at Shotwell), San Francisco 415 787-DELI
Open Wednesday through Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Booth open on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market