I'm not sure when I would have finally gotten around to looking into Citizen's Band had not a couple of my good friends (also enthusiastic connoisseurs of good food and drink), K plus D, checked into it recently and given it a thumbs-up. As it happens, we would be in the neighborhood attending the Almanac Beer inaugural bottle release party of their first-ever brew: a Summer Belgian with Blackberries aged in oak. The party was at City Beer Store, a few storefronts away from Citizen’s Band.
So after we had managed to consume one of the last few glasses of Almanac's Summer 2007 sour brew, we trotted over to the corner of Folsom and 8th. Narrow, dominated by a long 12-seat old-school soda fountain-like counter on one side, and a series of two-and-four tops on the other, the restaurant (CB) looked small but bright and cheery, the walls plastered with postcards, vintage photographs and old prints.
Once upon a time, I had been a fan of a pop-up lunch service that sold boxed meals in Potrero Hill, out of a space I had once gone dancing in every Sunday. Bento 415 was Chris Beerman’s genius contribution and complementary business to Pinkie’s – a small, artisan bakery initially selling in small batches to restaurants about town. I really enjoyed the themed lunches, named after San Francisco neighborhoods, and would make the drive across town on the rare occasion I found myself working from San Francisco. More often than not I always selected the Chinatown – unable to resist the fried chicken, sweet potato and spicy asian greens sandwich, served with a small container of pickled daikon and cucumbers, salad, and a crisp shiitake mushroom and cabbage eggroll.
I had lost track of the Bento 415 group when they abruptly lost their lease in Potrero. Pinkie’s relocated on Folsom, but it was only when I saw how CB was attached to the new Pinkie’s did I finally make the connection. The restaurant takes its inspiration from truck stops; the initials and name not only speak to the CB radios oft-used by truckers, but are those of the founders themselves.
Generally, good old American truck stop/ diner fare is not something that gets me too excited, but at CB, these tried-and-true dishes are done exceptionally well. The smell of pork, fatty, earthy, bacon-y, hits you as you enter and walk through the restaurant. For someone with nothing but beer in an otherwise empty belly, these wafting porky scents were almost unbearable.
We were early for our reservations, and temporarily sat next door in the bakery, then closed and shelves fairly empty.
The smell overcame us, and we eventually volunteered to sit at a narrow counter by the door, unwilling to wait for a proper table any longer. The space is cozy, and tall folks with long legs may not be completely comfortable. It overlooks Folsom Street, so be prepared for passers-by coming up to peer at the menu posted on the large window.
We ordered the Mac and Cheese and House pickles to start – these turned out to be perfect complements to each other. CB’s Mac and Cheese is a fairly hefty rectangular block of macaroni and fontina cheese, topped with a Sonoma Jack fonduta, 3 beautifully fried Onion rings and shaved pecorino. The onion rings provided an additional bit of rich texture to an already super-lush dish. For an additional $3 each you can opt to add even more decadence: bacon or truffle oil or both.
To counteract all the richness, the House pickles definitely came in handy. We liked the variety – unlike Monk’s Kettle, which once set before us an entire platter of just sliced bread-and-butter pickles, CB provided a varied selection: asparagus, some sort of thinly-sliced radish, cheddar cauliflower, served with a dill cream sauce that tasted faintly of egg, in a good way, and some grilled levain. Each pickle tasted slightly different - the cauliflower being the most tangy; the radish the most mild.
We had also ordered a nice local beer from Fort Bragg - a Saison that also had a nice subtle acidity that served as a welcome counterpoint to our rich dishes.
It was somewhat a stretch to see this masterpiece as part of something one might have placed into a bag and shook all 'round, but there it was: 2 sizeable hamburger-shaped slow-cooked Berkshire pork patties coated in crumbs, served up with house-made molasses and sage pork sausage, grilled asparagus, and hasbrowns hiding underneath that beautiful fried egg. Even DD couldn't finish it all, and we took one of the pork patties home with us.
And, just as I was unable to resist Bento 415's Fried Chicken sandwich, so was I unable to avoid ordering this version: 4 generous pieces of young poussin, buttermilk-battered and served with red-eye gravy, wilted Marquita Farms escarole and mashed potatoes. With the first bite the crunchy outer layer gave way to juicy, well-seasoned (brined?) flesh; even the white meat was perfectly cooked. So huge was the portion I did not manage to consume it all - leftovers were still very tasty (and plentiful!) the next day, if a little less crunchy.
And dessert, we had to take dessert to go; alas no photos to show here, but the staff kindly boxed up the Strawberry Shortcake with vanilla chiffon for us, as well as the Sour Cream Cheesecake with blueberry compote and candied almonds. These traveled well, and tasted fantastic at home.
I've vowed to return. Just for more photos, of course.
1198 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94103-3927