By Joycelin Hunter
Fact: I get more excited at restaurants about table freebies than about what I order. When the server puts a basket of hot, crusty bread on my table I feel so grateful I want to kiss his/her feet and/or sacrifice my dinner partner as a ritual offering to the food gods. Free shit over friendship erry’day.
Here are some of my favorite San Francisco restaurant freebies:
Hard Knox Cafe
Dogpatch southern food fantasy Hard Knox Cafe serves you pipin’ hot cornbread with butter. It’s perfect for combining with fried catfish po’ boys and BBQ pork ribs, and so soft it can make you forget about a life of hard knocks.
At Kokkari near the Embarcadero you can watch your server artfully cut through long rustic loaves in front a wood oven (where, presumably, your bread is rustically baked). With a bite of this extra-virgin-sopped-bread, you can also be transported to Santorini and your date transformed into a sexy Greek á la John Stamatopoulos (AKA John Stamos).
Pickles are healthy, right? You can tell yourself this as you chow down on Super Duper’s crunchy half-sour homemade pickles before your big, beefy (bodacious) burger. You can also snag as many as your heart desires from the ketchup/soda stand.
Popovers are the way to a woman’s heart. Especially at Wayfare Tavern in FiDi,where they are flaky, buttery, and warm. Tyler Florence, be mine?
Have you ever looked at an amuse bouche and thought: what am I supposed to do with this? My first time at Namu Gaji I was confused by banchan, the small plates of delicious spicy pickled kimchi and vegetables, but quickly learned all I had to do was pick them up and put them in my mouth. I am very skilled at that.
Remember when you couldn’t leave the table until your plate was clean? The same rules apply at this phenomenal Sardinian spot in Noe Valley. The sauces and stews are so flavorful you have to use La Ciccia’s dense, doughy baguette bread to sop up every last drop (or no TV for a week).
Mission Mexican sit-down Velvet Cantina has house-made chips that are fresh, thick, crispy, and not over salted. The salsa is perfectly spiced and bomb (the Queso is also divine, unfortunately costs money). The margs (sadly not free either) flow like the salmon of Capistrano. Enough said.
Do you like Tartine’s bread, do you have taste buds, and are you a living, breathing human being? If you said yes to all of those questions, then you will thoroughly enjoy the breadbasket the Mission’s Delfina has to offer (if no, then please stop reading this list now).
I’ve learned a lot about Scandinavians recently. From Hayes Valley’s Plaj I learned they like to present their flavorful rye bread in pretty paper bags on wooden cutting boards with salted butter. From a bearded man at bar down the street I learned they like to eat raw Puffin hearts. I’m not feeling so hot about the second fact.
I’m not a huge sharer. When I see someone’s fork moving towards my plate I become panicked, and sometimes attack. That’s why I love Sushi Bistro’s *individual* perfectly sour, fresh cucumber salads. No fingers need to be stabbed.
Lavash in the Inner Sunset has a freebie so big you could almost just order water and get away with a free meal if you didn’t want to look like a stingy a-hole. You get the lavash (armenian flatbread), herbs (mint, cilantro, tarragon), diced tomatoes and cucumbers, and feta.
I love everything about Chutney, a great TL Indian spot, but its free (unlimited) Masala chai takes me back to my travels in India, where you can sit down almost anywhere with a group of old men, sip chai, and listen to them tell hilarious stories involving goats.
I know this isn’t a restaurant, per say, but I’ve eaten whole meals here (for free!) that are nothing to look down your nose at. Lobster ravioli, tahini cucumber salad, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, mini turkey clubs. Don’t judge me…
Photos via Thinkstock