The Pork Store CafĂ© bursts onto the sidewalk on a lively stretch of 16th Street between Mission and Valencia opposite the Roxie. A deep red canopy and a red wrought iron fence partially enclosing the al-fresco diners beckon the hungry inside. The vaulted interior is airy, spacious and colorful. Vivid, almost gaudy artwork decks the walls, fresh flower arrangements abound and the dark red curtains and leather seating and well-worn hardwood floor echo the relaxed and friendly service. The light fixtures are a blend of tasteful opalescent lamps and wall fixtures together with a motley collection of over thirty densely packed lampshades that dangle from the ceiling like the tentacles of some vast jellyfish.
While pork undeniably features on the menu here, it would be a mistake to infer from the name of the establishment that pork dominates the choices available. The menu here is extensive and offers all that a diner should plus a little extra. A menu of entrees in the $8 - $10 range supplements the wide range of burgers, sandwiches and salads all priced between $6 and $7.
In addition to the lunch choices there is an extensive breakfast menu, which includes all the usual suspects plus some very tempting original suggestions such as the Chorizo Special (chorizo, mushrooms, onions, fresh salsa, cheese, basil and spices with eggs over on top). Both offer low-carb alternatives to the traditional diner fare.
On my last visit, I went with my serverâ€™s suggestion and opted for the Honey Dipped Chicken, four pieces of fried chicken served with mashed potatoes and steamed spinach (9.50). I added a Funky Monkey milkshake ($4.25).
My milkshake was a blend of banana, espresso and vanilla. The espresso pierced the delicate banana and vanilla notes with a blazing coffee fanfare and was perfectly chilled â€“ not icy. It slid down rapidly and I gulped with decadent abandon the two glass fulls that were provided, making those awfully vulgar sink-like gurgling noises as I attempted to suck up every drop with my straw. It was sooooo good!
As a reviewer I think it is incumbent upon me to follow suggestions on the assumption that the venue I am visiting promotes itâ€™s best and that itâ€™s best is good. Pork Store CafĂ© did not disappoint and my friend chicken was jolly good! The chicken was crisp, tender and juicy. The honey and spices in which it had been fried lifted but did not mask the flavor of the chicken, which had been fried (without being greasy or oily) to a beautiful golden hue. The mash was lumpy, yet buttery and creamy; the gravy not too thick but still cloying and a light beige color with a delicate flavor.
The two homemade biscuits that accompanied the dish were crispy on top and mirrored golden tones of the chicken and were airy and fluffy. So much so, that they compressed and expanded like an accordion between my fingers. The spinach was a deep penetrating green, fleshy and had a wonderful grassy flavor. It had been steamed to perfection and retained a hint of crunchiness. The portions were all a healthy size. All that remained on my plate when I had finished was a little pile of bones.
At the risk of sounding repetitive and clichĂ©d, Iâ€™ve said it before and I will say it again; good food begins with ingredients. It was clear to me that the ingredients that were used had been chosen with love and care. The chicken was fresh, clean and succulent. The spinach was verdant and grassy and so bold as to have those subtle iron flavors. The potatoes used in the mash were earthy in flavor and the color of ivory.
The point I am attempting to make is that good food does not need to be complex, intimidating, given a fancy faux-French name or dressed up in a pretension or a silly/inappropriate sauce.
There were some subtle touches here that I really appreciated, like the fact that my water contained no ice but had been chilled sufficiently so that a pleasant dew formed on the outside of the glass. They know what they are here and they do it extremely well. Itâ€™s not the place for a leisurely lunch or a romantic assignation, but if you are looking for great diner-style cuisine in a comfortable, lively setting at an affordable price then I really canâ€™t think of anywhere better.
My check including tax and tip came to $15.
The Pork Store CafĂ© can be discovered at 3122 Sixteenth Street in San Francisco between 16th and 17th Streets and is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and supper from 8 a.m., until 4 p.m. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday the restaurant is also open from 7 p.m., until 3 a.m. Most choices are also available on a takeout basis. For more information call 626-5523.