Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Greenburger's is a restaurant located in the Lower Haight, not a neighborhood I frequent often, so even though it has been there for a few years, it was new to me.

It caught my radar recently when I was telling a friend about "B-night", a weekly outing friends and I used to do where we would eat burgers.  It eventually evolved to include burritos as well, and, eventually, any restaurant or food that started with the letter 'b'.  (Little known fact: B-night is actually what started Julie's Dining Club, as I got very into the fun of picking the restaurant we'd visit each week.)

Anyway, I was thinking about burgers, and somehow wound up on Yelp, reading about burger places. (Does this happen to you?  Late at night, long after you should have gone to bed, you get lost on Yelp or Wikipedia?  Yeah, totally my weakness!)  I was intrigued by Greenburger's.  Yes, they offer burgers, but I would not call it a burger joint.  It is almost more of a soda fountain or diner, except, not at all decorated like either of those types of places.  And ... totally not a greasy spoon.  They serve classic comfort food, but focus on using locally owned, eco-friendly products.

Greenburger's is one of the most unique places I've visited in San Francisco, and I'm eager to return.

Sadly, after my first visit, I was very excited to return.  I had my eye on their Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes for brunch.  I went last weekend to get them, only to find out that they had stopped brunch service, and, were closing for good on May 30.  So, if you want to check them out, you have 2 days left :(
Vendors: all local and eco-friendly.
On each table is a card showcasing the vendors they work with.  It provides the basis for the restaurant: free-range, hormone-free, organic, sustainable, local, etc.  The most surprising item on here was the soap.  Yes, the soap.  The vendor they work with, Further Soap, "recycles our kitchen grease into biodegradable hand soap, and sends it back to us to use in the restaurant".  When I used the bathroom, indeed, the soap was labeled as being from Further Soap.

A lot of establishments in San Francisco do the trendy thing of mentioning their vendor's names, or throwing in organic labels, but Greenbuger's really does seem to stand by this.

It shows also in the way they handle their condiment station.  Since the menu does feature quite a few burgers and sandwiches, and things you'd dip in sauces, there is a condiment station, full of their own housemade sauces.  That part was nice, but not particularly novel.

The condiment station also includes all the standard burger toppings: lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, etc.  I've never seen this done before.  Most places include them on your platter.  Greenburger's realizes that this is a big source of waste, because people throw them out all the time.  (Side benefit: people like me, who love adding a slew of pickles, also win, as we can put on as many as we want, without having to scavenge from our pickle-hating dining companions).

As I mentioned, Greenburger's is almost like a diner or soda fountain, but not in decor.  It is a casual place, where you order at a register, and are given a number, which you take back to your seat with you.  Orders are delivered individually to you directly from the kitchen, from someone wearing chef's coat, rather than a dedicated food runner.  I thought that was a nice touch.

The staff were all very friendly, from the person taking my order, to the person who delivered my food.  The staff who brought out meals always remembered to point people to the condiments station, instructing them to take whatever they needed.  Along with the aforementioned condiments, the station also contained the silverware and self-serve ice water.

The feel of Greenburger's was certainly unique.  Like I mentioned, you order at a register, but, it almost felt like there was full table service, as the people bringing orders out would stop by other tables to check in on people, and someone noticed when I finished and cleared my plate away.  It was not self-bussing.  I really liked this mix of casual but attentive.

The menu, at first glance, is not unique at all.  It reads like a diner menu, full of American classics, all comfort foods, all crowd pleasers.  I am quite certain that there is something for absolutely anyone here.

As you would expect, there are burgers of course (made with sustainable beef or lamb) and sandwiches (pulled pork, turkey club, chicken cobb, fried fish).  And all your classic sides: wings, slaw, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, fries, sweet potato fries, onion strings, cornbread, salads.

The other section of the menu contains the (non-sandwich) entrees, crowd pleasers like fish and chips, meatball parmesan over spaghetti, and grilled chicken.  Daily specials include fried chicken or bacon wrapped meatloaf.  All classics, but they throw a curveball in with the incredibly interesting sounding Fried Thanksgiving Dinner, "panko crusted balls of turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, served with gravy, seasonal veggies, and homemade cranberry sauce".  I don't like turkey, but something about this sounds pretty amazing.

Being a San Francisco establishment, vegetarians and vegans are well catered for, with housemade organic veggie burgers, vegan sloppy joes, and "chicken fried tempeh".  Even kids can eat here, with a menu showcasing hot dogs, grilled cheese, and mac and cheese.

And then ... desserts.  A separate area behind the registers houses the dessert preparation station, featuring Straus organic ice cream, made into decadent sundaes and milkshakes, or served atop housemade pies and bread pudding.  The milkshakes in particular looked legit, made to order, served in a classic milkshake cup, with the extra delivered in the metal mixing cup alongside.   The best part?  Sundaes or shakes are available in half sizes, so you can easily add one on to your meal.

I was there for brunch, where the menu is again full of the classics: breakfast sandwiches, eggs benedict, scrambles, eggs any style, pancakes, french toast.  The curveball here seemed to be the hash, buffalo chicken style: "pulled chicken, sautéed onions, bell peppers, and Yukon gold potatoes tossed in buffalo wing sauce, served with 2 eggs any style and bleu cheese dressing on the side".

The menu for Greenburger's seemed just as unique as the style of the establishment.  At first glance, simple, but I like how they focus the menu on the crowd pleasers, classic diner-style food, but then throw in an interesting dish on each menu, and, I assure you, the food is not diner-style at all.
Classic French Toast (child size).  $3.50.
I love breakfast foods like french toast and pancakes.  But, I don't actually enjoy eating an entire loaf of bread as a single order of french toast, or a stack of pancakes so high it topples over, for a simple breakfast.  Sure, there is a time and a place for that, but on a regular day, I prefer to eat a smaller portion, and then enjoy another meal soon after.  But when is the last time a restaurant served a reasonable portion?

The regular menu listed both the french toast and pancakes for $8.50, but I noticed that the kids menu had smaller orders available.  I wasn't trying to be cheap, I just wanted a smaller portion.  Most kids menus have very aggressive messaging: "UNDER 12 YEARS ONLY", or the like.  Greenburger's did not.  I'd also noticed that under the desserts section, it said they could all be made half-size for half-price.  I thought there was a chance that perhaps this was the sort of place that wanted to actually please its customers, rather than forcing them to be gluttons, waste food, or split meals.  I sheepishly asked if I was allowed to order off the kids menu.  The guy taking my order said, "of course!"  So refreshing and much appreciated.  I personally have a huge problem with food waste, so this is often a source of angst for me when I'm dining alone, since I can't just split with someone, and I'm forced to either waste food, or stuff myself.  I was so happy to be able to just order a child's size.

I was completely torn between the Classic French Toast or the Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes.  I asked the guy taking my order which he recommended, and he said he hadn't had either.  Since I'm more picky with french toast, I was about to order the pancakes, when he said, "I think you feel like the french toast".  So, I agreed.

The regular menu said the french toast and pancakes were both served with seasonal fruit and organic maple syrup, but the children's menu did not, and, given the price, I assumed I was getting a very basic offering.  I was thus delighted when my order arrived, and wasn't just a lone slice of french toast.  It looked great.

The french toast lived up to its name of "classic".  To me, classic mostly means that it will be dunked in an egg batter, slightly spiced with cinnamon, topped with powdered sugar, and served with little else.  There can be a fair amount of variance even in classic french toast, based on the type of bread used. Greenburger's used thick cut brioche, a much better choice than the white sandwich bread version from Soma Inn Cafe or the wheat sandwich bread version from Sausalito Cafe, and they did a better job with the brioche than Axis Cafe.  However, the french toast itself was highly unremarkable.  It wasn't too eggy, and I think it had a slight cinnamon spicing, but it was hard to tell given the other toppings.  It wasn't overcooked, or burnt, or anything, fairly moist.  It was clearly made to order, delivered hot and fresh.  But again, very standard, unremarkable.

In terms of bread choice, the most memorable I've ever had is from Lou's Cafe, in my hometown in NH, that makes theirs from ... glazed crullers (yes, the donuts). A serving of their french toast is literally, three full size glazed crullers, dipped into french toast batter, grilled, topped with fruit and whipped cream, served with syrup, and a side of bacon fat fried homefries. Oh my.

But back to Greenburger's version.  It looked beautiful, due to the toppings.  Toppings are always a crucial aspect of french toast.  A truly classic version would just be sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with syrup, which this was, but it was also garnished with fresh blackberries, and covered in a berry sauce.  I always like powdered sugar on french toast, so that was a good touch.  The blackberries were plump, juicy, and tart.  I don't love blackberries (I can't stand the seeds), but these were clearly a quality product.

The description said it was served with seasonal fruit, which the blackberries certainly were.  It didn't say anything about the sauce, but honestly, it looked great, so I eagerly dug in.  Unfortunately, the sauce totally ruined it for me.  It was very, very sweet, and I just didn't care for the flavor.  French toast slathered in berry sauce can totally be delicious, but in this case, it really was the downfall.

Served on the side was a little pot of maple syrup, the real stuff, organic even.  Unfortunately, since the french toast was absolutely covered in the berry sauce, it was impossible to use much of the maple syrup, as the berry sauce was cloyingly sweet on its own.  I scraped off as much as I could, and dunked the unspoiled edge pieces in the maple syrup and enjoyed them, but the berry sauce just killed this dish for me.  I was very glad I didn't get the bigger portion.

The best french toast I've had to date is the brioche french toast bread pudding with stewed apples and quince, crème fraîche whipped cream, and candied pecans at Baker & Banker, although, calling that "french toast" isn't quite fair, as it really is french toast + bread pudding + pie, all in one.  And really, more of a dessert than a breakfast or brunch item.

While I was dining, I saw a child next to me get the buckwheat blueberry pancake.  A huge pancake, loaded with blueberries, garnished with more blueberries.  No blackberries nor berry sauce in sight.  I was highly regretful of my decision to get the french toast.

But to be fair, this was classic french toast, executed well, and if you liked the berry sauce, I'm sure it was good.

The $3.50 price tag was insanely good, for a full piece of french toast, plus fresh (probably local and organic) berries, plus real organic maple syrup?  Some places will charge you $2 just for the syrup.

I'll be returning, but I will most certainly go for the pancakes next time.  Or, I'll go for lunch, since the fish and chips is also calling out me, as are pretty much all of the side dishes!
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