STRAW IN HAYES VALLEY....YES, IT REALLY IS CARNIVAL FARE
Concept restaurants abound across the US and come and go with seeming regularity. Occasionally, they even make their way through San Francisco, though most are down by Fisherman's Wharf and aimed at tourist clientele instead of those of us who actually live here. (Yes, I'm talkin' bout you Bubba Gump whatever Co.) Every now and then a neighborhood spot opens with a gimmick but sometimes they don't stay around long as the schtick wears thin and people get bored--you know how foodies are. But sometimes an idea comes along that sounds interestingly odd and manages to overcome the kitschy factor and survive in this notoriously tough food town. One such place is Straw in Hayes Valley. A tiny little establishment specializing in carnival fare or circus fare or state fare food, whatever you'd like to call it. From deep fried to covered in powdered sugar, they are serving it up old school. I've known about them for some time but for whatever reason, just never went there. Thus I figured it was time to see what it was all about.
It's a tiny spot with a slight carnival motif including that red tilt-a-whirl you see in the photo. Since it was just me and my friend and the place had just opened we opted not to sit there and leave that experience for others. Perusing the menu it comes across with a little of the carnival vibe, but the vast majority read more Southern inspired to me with the mix of ribs, shrimp and grits, pulled pork, etc. We decided to do a mix of things because I'm a glutton and was really, really hungry.
First up is old school mac and cheese with cheddar jack béchamel, diced apples and maple glazed bacon. What can I say, it was a rich, creamy bowl of comfort foodness. I was dubious of the apples but they had a nice tangy sweetness that offset the richness of the béchamel. I did want a bit more of the bacon (surprise!) which got a little lost under the heavy cheese and apple chunks. Still, this was a lovely side dish that could just as easily have been a main one.
Now this was carnival fare--mini corndogs with ranch, nacho cheese and remoulade for dipping. Served up piping hot and crispy on the outside I could have eaten all of these myself, but sadly I had to share. Inside each ball of corn meal breading is a juicy all beef hot dog. I liked them by themselves and didn't necessarily need the dip but of the ones I got I did like the remoulade with them the best. The cheesy one was okay but weirdly, for me, the ranch just didn't work at all. Go figure, it usually goes with everything. Though I would suggest just enjoying them as they are. Between this and the mac and cheese dish I would have been happily satisfied with the food, but there so many intriguing things being offered we just had to try a few more.
First entree was the Philly cheesesteakadilla--and it is exactly that--seasoned ti-tip with sautéed peppers and onions, cheddar and jack cheese in a grilled flour tortilla with a side of cheddar béchamel for dipping. Well, while this wasn't my favorite thing, it did taste exactly like a cheese steak so I'll give them that. Otherwise, it really was just a gussied up quesadilla, even with the dip sauce. Good, but not something I'd put on the carnival fare list.
Now this is one of their signature dishes, of course I couldn't pass it up. The ringmaster--Golden Gate Meat Co. organic ground beef, melted cheddar and jack cheese, maple glazed bacon (a $2 upgrade) on a house made glazed donut bun. Yes, it tasted exactly like it looked--sweet, smoky, salty, meaty and for the most part I actually enjoyed it in all it's cholesterol filled fatness. I did have a slight issue with the donut with was thicker than standard ones and a little harder than I was expecting. Sort of somewhere between a donut and a bagel. I think I might have liked a little more lightness in my donut. The meat was cooked perfectly medium rare and very juicy. It's a total diet buster and if you are not into salty sweet this isn't for you. I couldn't see eating this all the time but as a one off, I liked it and kept thinking I should have gotten the egg upgrade too. Oh well.
And here is another of their signature dishes--the fried chicken-n-waffle Monte Cristo--cornmeal Belgian waffle, crispy chicken bites, melted swiss, raspberry jam, syrup and powdered sugar with a side of sweet potato tater tots. Lord, this was like that donut burger double everything. More sweet, more salty, more crunchy meaty. I needed to lean back and unbutton my pants to get through this gut bomb of a sandwich. Is it good? For the most part, yes, but I say that as someone who eat junk food like a junkie. This sandwich, though, is not for everyone. There is a lot of everything in here. I did like the savory take on the waffle and you get plenty of chicken nugget bites inside. The raspberry jam when you add in the syrup as a dipper was a bit much, even for me. Once I scrapped a bit of it off and made it more a hint of jam I liked it better. I mean sugar, syrup, jam--c'mon! That's a lot for most folks, including this one. I would also put this down as a one to share. It is a large hearty serving and there is plenty to go around. Like the donut burger above I see this as a try at least once in your life thing. I can't see having this very often unless I was some carbo loading football player. Even then, I'd need to take a nap after having it. The tots were tasty, though I think they could have benefited from some kind of spicy bbq sauce dip or something to offset all that sweetness rolling through this dish. Even so, I'm giving it a thumbs up to try--at least once.
In case you were interested, after all that, no we did not get dessert. They have choices including funnel cake, hand-spun cotton candy and deep fried candy bars. All things I've had at innumerable county fairs and what not. Add in all the sugar from the entrees, believe it or not, I'd had my fill and didn't feel guilty at all passing dessert up. A phrase I don't normally type, but there it is.
Straw is exactly what they say they are. A funky restaurant serving up unique variations of carnival food. It is not the place to go if you are on a diet, diabetic, gluten free, vegan, whatever. It's a kitschy fun restaurant with some hearty food that is going full on with their concept. Knowing that going in is very handy, it will allow you to just relax, forget about calories and eat some tasty dishes that could bring on some childhood memories (good or bad depending on your circus experiences). Either way, it's a good place to go with friends or family when they come to visit and just go with it. Me, I'll just need to run a few (hundred) miles before I can chow down there again.
On a side note, 10% of all food sales on Mondays go toward a local non-profit, making it a good day to stop on by and stop counting calories.