Last weekend was the first official Underground Market since it was shut down about a year ago (the health department found some vendors didn’t have proper paperwork). I talked with founder Iso Rabins about its resurgence and his new ForageKitchen venture, and ate an embarrassing amount of food.
The line outside Public Works is getting thick by 6:30 p.m. Elbowing through the crowd, I start with Rice Paper Scissors, who debuted homemade snickerdoodles and handled bomb banh mi business as usual. About five bites later, I’ve made their banh mi dac biet disappear.
Behind me, O’Brian Matterson is surrounded by a thin wall of smoke. The proper name for his operation is Mattersons Authentic Jamaican Cuisine, which is exactly what he’s serving up. But he’s known around the Underground Market simply as “Jerk,”and they mean it in the best possible way. Although his jerk chicken isn’t super hot (traditional Jamaican jerk can make your gums bleed), it’s smoky and juicy like I haven’t had since childhood family BBQs.
Upstairs I find Kai Kronfield, owner of Nosh This, dishing out his last bowl of chili. I’m bummed he’s sold out, but scan the table to find a basket of “Bacon Crack.” Huh?/ Yes! It’s bacon and chocolate in such a delicious dose that you’re scratching your neck like a crackhead for more. Bacon crack is butter-toffee, bacon, organic almonds, and sea salt dipped in E. Guittard chocolate. Mmmhmmm.
I haven’t had anything to drink, but the adult beverage line is crazy. Besides, I’m distracted by Dan Jablow’s pastrami sandwiches. It’s his classic pastrami: peppercorn and coriander crusted beef brisket that's smoked for six hours, served with crispy red cabbage-slaw and creamy mustard aioli on fresh baked Acme bread. Yum.
I doze off a little in the coat check, but not for long – there’s dessert to be had. I break through the bustle at the Frozen Kuhsterd booth and owner Jason Angeles hands me their from-scratch, frozen custard strawberry sundae. As I’m stumble-eating my way through the crowd, eyes are bulging as if they know how good this tastes in my mouth, and some girl’s like, “Oh. My. God.” I wish I could laugh but my mouth is full. I finally find Iso, which gives me an excuse to stop eating as he fills me in. He tells me almost all the vendors that night started out as newbies at the market, and it makes him happy to see how far they've all come. There are about half the usual number of vendors, and most sold-out. His successful Kickstarter baby, ForageKitchen, is still in lease-negotiation stage for a huge 8000 sq. ft. old factory in the Dogpatch. He’s looking at July 2013 to open it. All the vendors expressed gratitude to Iso for growing their fanbase, and each plans to use ForageKitchen in one way or another.
I speak on behalf of all food-lovers in SF when I say the Underground Market has been missed. Needless to say, I’ll be back next month. All of these vendors, and Iso, are on the move. Follow them on Twitter (or Facebook, in the case of Mattersons Jamaican Cuisine) to catch them at their next stop.
All photos by Summer Sewell