New SFoodie Editor Out to Lunch

blake_gray.JPG
​Hi. I'm the new SFoodie editor.

I should probably use this post to introduce myself, but Jonathan Kauffman, who has the desk next to mine in this spacious office overlooking Alcatraz, already did that. Or maybe I should use this post to deliver my food manifesto. But I put the manifesto down while I was having an empanada at Fisherman's Wharf, and the next thing I knew, a homeless guy was running away with it. It'll probably be for sale soon on Craigslist under "Food Manifesto, never used."

Sigh. Tough new job, this one, trying to sort out for you which dumplings are worth driving across town for. And it doesn't pay as well as, say, being San Francisco Chronicle publisher. But at least I'll eat better.

The day before I started this job, I found myself at the lunchtime Off the Grid food-truck gathering on the road that bisects my former employer, the Chronicle, every other Wednesday.

There were long lines at some trucks, especially Senor Sisig. Liba Falafel was boasting of its appearance the next night on a TV network I don't get, the Cooking Channel. Nobody was queued up at Chairman Bao, which put me off. The line in front of Ebbett's Good to Go, a truck that asked me to "Admit it, you need a sandwich," was just the right length: enough people to indicate interest, not so many that my hunger wouldn't be abated soon. And they were right about my needs.

Suzanne Schafer, working in the truck, told me its Cuban sandwich is Chronicle publisher Frank Vega's favorite. "Those three up there are for him," she said, gesturing at some foil-wrapped sandwiches above the grill. I ignored my instinct: Though I saw dozens of already made, wrapped sandwiches and no fresh food preparation, I said, "I'll have what Frank's having."

Ebbett's version of a Cuban ($8.50) has the traditional slow-roasted pulled pork and Black Forest ham with gruyere, along with its own additions of chipotle mayo and jalapeno relish. Cuban bread being nearly impossible to find locally, it's on an Acme roll.

I was really hungry after running earlier, but I couldn't finish it. The spiciness overwhelmed all the other flavors; No, your honor, I cannot say with certainty that there was cheese on that sandwich. And the texture was that of leftovers. The crunch was long gone from the roll, making it a chewing exercise; the roast pork was dry. Ebbett's gave it heat, but it needed life.

While I was deciding that rather than finish it, I was going to go home and reheat some leftover pizza from Little Star, two guys sat down next to me with just-sliced sandwiches bursting with moist meatloaf and bright greens. "Where are those from?" I asked. "Chairman Bao," they said. So much for my food instincts.

The next time that I decide to eat under the Chronicle, I guess I better have what Michael Bauer's having.

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6 comments
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Shari Washburn
Shari Washburn

Zak, thanks for your kind words and forsticking up for us. Haven't had anyone come to my defense like thissince middle school bullies. Not a dissimilar experience,unfortunately.

Technically, Blake, even if it wasn'tmy business you were trashing, your review is snarky andmean-spirited, not ironic. But people have difficulty with irony –just ask Alanis Morissette. So, you're in good company, or at leastnot alone in your error. And lots of people find snarky humorous;many internet trolls think of themselves as hilarious.

I very clearly remember your visit toour truck. You asked a lot of questions and surreptitiously wrotedown our answers. But when I asked who you were and why you weretaking notes, you mumbled something about how you “used to be areporter.” Maybe I'm just a nostalgic kinda gal but I miss yourpredecessor, John Birdsall. He at least introduced himself when hewas at our truck. You got the feeling that John was, if not in yourcorner, at least rooting for you. But you chose a different approach,which is your prerogative of course. But it also makes it seem likeyou were out to screw us. Not sure why you felt the need foranonymity; you're not Michael Bauer (and even Mr. Bauer would'vegiven us at least a 2nd try before writing his review).

As for your assertion that you wantedto like our sandwich: Please. You hardly seem like a shrinkingviolet. Why didn't you just bring it back? Like with any customer, ifit's not to your liking, we want to know so we can correct it. Asowner-operators, Suzanne and I really do care if you have a goodexperience at our truck. Despite our best efforts to ensure thatevery Cuban that goes out the window is perfect, sometimes we (onthis day in particular, it was my responsibility) miss one. For everycustomer that tells us our Cuban is too spicy, we have 5 who wantmore spice. We can adjust the spiciness to your liking, which youwould have known, if you had come back to the truck. As for thechewiness, I will admit, sometimes the bread gets that way duringgrilling. We're adept at knowing when a sandwich was over-grilled andwe won't serve it. I apologize that I missed yours – I might'vebeen a little distracted by this guy taking notes and peaking intoour windows.

Tone of your review aside, I reallytake offense at your suggestion that there is no fresh food on ourtruck. Of course you couldn't see any fresh food production while youwere standing on your tip-toes and peering into our service window –from that vantage point, all you can see is our grill and the shelfabove it. That's not where our sandwiches are made. And yes, you didsee sandwiches on the shelf, waiting to be grilled. Right after youskulked away, those sandwiches went on the grill. What you didn't seewas the steam table full of roasted and pulled meat, the fresh slawsin the cold table, our house-made pickles in their barrel, bags ofAcme bread.

Like a good reporter, you did ask aboutthe sandwiches you saw. But that's where the hard-hitting journalismended because as I started to explain our process, you walked away.Seems to me that you weren't really interested in my answer and thatyou had already made up your mind about our food.

So, I will set the record straight nowby explaining about those foil-wrapped sandwiches. We sell 100+Cubans each day. We press them on our griddle until they are hot inthe middle and the cheese is melted. Depending on how our griddle isbehaving that day, it can take up to 15 minutes for a Cuban to beready to sell. We know that no one wants to wait that long to gettheir sandwich. So, we get some on the grill early and have themgrilling throughout lunch. In order to do this, we need to make thembefore we open. They are made on bread that we pick up from Acme inthe morning with ingredients we freshly prepare in our prep kitchen afew times a week.

It is impossible to serve 100s oflunches quickly without some of the items being pre-made. In prepkitchens all over the Bay Area, french fries are cut, falafel ballsare rolled, rice and beans are cooked, chicken is breaded, pork ispulled, lumpia is rolled, and so much more, before food servicebegins. Everyone has to undertake some level of preparation beforethey can serve the hungry masses. Even the chefs at restaurantswhere Michael Bauer dines.

W Blake Gray
W Blake Gray

Shari: Thanks for taking the time to read the post, and to respond.

I guess, though I hadn't started the job yet, I could have introduced myself as the soon-to-be SFoodie Editor. Is it possible that if I had done so, you would have rooted through the sandwiches to give me a fresher one?

W Blake Gray
W Blake Gray

Zak: I appreciate your loyalty in defending the food truck you apprenticed in. http://blogs.sfweekly.com/food...

I'm sorry you didn't like the post. I'm not going to belabor the point about the sandwich because that will only exacerbate matters. But believe me, I wanted to like that sandwich; I was hungry. Admittedly I wrote the post because I thought it was funny and ironic, and you thought it was narcissistic and negative. So if I have screwed up, it is in my judgment as a writer. I'm going to do that; one man's humor is another's insult. I'm not going to stop trying to be funny. All I can do is hope to succeed with most of the people most of the time.

W. Blake Gray

Zaksilverman
Zaksilverman

Thank you for this respectful response.

I certainly don't mean anything personal, but it is a shock to hear Ebbett's products written about that way, regardless of whether you liked the sandwich or not. I think it is possible to give a more encouraging, less damaging review, even if it is negative--which is of course your prerogative as a reviewer. It's more becoming. Just my opinion as a reader of this blog.

I hope to see you out at my truck sometime soon, and have a happy Fourth!

Zaksilverman
Zaksilverman

As a frequent reader of SF Weekly I'd like to express my dismay at the tone of this article and the level of un-professionalism it displays. This should not be the venue for backhanded jabs at one's former employer.

It strikes me from the tone of this review that Mr. Blake has decided to deride Ebbett's Good to Go's Cuban as a means of disagreeing with Mr. Vega at The Chronicle, who loves the sandwich.  As anyone can read for themselves from their reviews elsewhere and from their customers on Yelp, Ebbett's Cuban sandwiches have become one of the Bay's unique and premiere eating experiences. Certainly, if Mr. Blake had a fluke bad sandwich, Ebbett's reputation would seem to justify a second try before the publication of such a scathing review.

Mr. Blake should not let his personal jealousies poison his palate. To see such negativity and baldfaced narcissism from Mr. Blake's first post on this site is very discouraging.

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