Monday, November 03, 2014

Prime Dip

Prime Dip is a small chain around San Francisco, with 3 locations (2 open only on weekdays in the Financial District, and one open daily in Pac Heights).  It is "Gourmet Sandwich" shop, offering hot subs like lobster, crab, and shrimp dips,  plus classics like Italian subs, in addition to the namesake "Famous Prime Rib French Dip".

But I am not really one for sandwiches.  And while I do like lobster and crab, I was skeptical of the quality, even if Prime Dip advertises as a "gourmet" sandwich spot, it is still a fast casual establishment after all.  But what I do like is classic comfort food side dishes: cole slaw, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes ... mmm!  And Prime Dip had signs boasting that their sides are all homemade, so, I finally sent inside to check it out.

Prime Dip isn't fancy, you order at a register, and the sides are all pre-made.  The mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and other hot items are served from big vats in a steam table.  The coleslaw is in a big container in the cold foods area.  But I guess they are "homemade" at some point?

On every visit, the service was far better than I expected.  I was a bit shocked by how polite and friendly the staff are.  On my first visit, when the person taking my order asked how my day was, he genuinely seemed to want to know my answer.  As I left, he wished me a good day.  When I asked the style of the coleslaw (since I love mayo based coleslaw and find vinegar based slaw quite boring),  I was pleasantly surprised when I was immediately offered a sample, along with an explanation.  For a fast casual place, the staff are incredibly on top of things.

I've always gotten my sides to go, generally to serve with other food I have at home, so I haven't ever stuck around to check out the seating, although the Fillmore location does have a sizable dining area.

Overall, the sides at least are pretty good for what they are.  I've returned several times, which must be indicative of something.  Maybe one of these days I'll get brave enough to try the seafood?  

By the way, if you want to own a Prime Dip yourself, a license is available for $30,000.
Coleslaw.   $1.75.
The first side dish I tried was coleslaw, always a favorite item of mine.

The slaw had a mayo base as I like, but it wasn't that creamy (on the plus side, that meant it was certainly not heavy).  It was very tangy as well.  I didn't quite care for the flavor, but it was well seasoned and not over-dressed, just not my style.  The cabbage was fresh and crispy, even though it was pre-made.  I appreciated the carrots and red cabbage in the mix too.

$1.75 was a fine price tag for a large side portion, and I brought it to Ojan to try, since I'm still trying to figure out his ideal coleslaw.  He liked it, and asked for seconds, so clearly, this is the right coleslaw for someone.

Update: On another occasion, I picked up coleslaw again, mostly for Ojan.  I of course tried it again.  And ... I liked it.  The cabbage was fresh and crunchy, the base was creamier and a bit heavier than last time, and the tang was gone.  Which, made it much more my style.  Hmm.  Granted, it was from a different Prime Dip location (this came from the Market Street location, the first came from Fillmore), but I assumed their recipe is standardized.  I'll have to continue doing "research" to get to the bottom of this!
Mac and Cheese.  $2.75.
The next side I picked was mac and cheese.  Who can resist good mac and cheese?

The quality of this was questionable.  I know it says homemade but ... it tasted like it came out of the freezer section of the grocery store.  The noodles were mushy, the sauce was kinda creamy and cheesy, but tasted very, very plain.  And yes, it had clearly been sitting in the steam tray for hours.  Meh.

But $2.75 was a fine price for a side of mac and cheese, and if you are looking for KFC or Boston Market quality mac, it is fine.
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy.  $2.25.
Next, I went for mashed potatoes, with gravy of course.  The mashed potatoes were better than the mac and cheese.  I was a bit shocked to discover that they seemed to actually be made from real potatoes.  There were lumps and bits of skin throughout, so, clearly not instant.  The potatoes weren't particularly smooth, nor creamy, and somewhat reminded me of what you'd get in anyone's home.  So, a different style that most fast food/fast-casual mashed potatoes, and indeed homey tasting, but not remarkable.

I'm not sure what kind of gravy it was, but it was brown, thin, and had bits in it.  I'm assuming they use the signature prime rib drippings?

As with all the sides, both the mash and the gravy were just sitting in steam trays, but it was served piping hot, and was somewhat comforting.  Not sure I'd really want it again, but, it was not awful.  $2.25 price for a full size side dish was absolutely fine.
Creamed Spinach.  $2.75.
Getting more adventurous, I went for the creamed spinach.  Now this was an absolute winner.  OMG.

Sure, it is difficult to go wrong with something based on cream.  But this is really well done.  Chopped spinach, that actually tastes fresh.  A cream sauce that isn't totally overwhelming and heavy (sure, it is creamed spinach, but it doesn't just taste like a bucket of cream).  And, the extra magic ingredient: red onions.  Soft, well cooked, perfect size, they added a great flavor.  I wouldn't have ever thought to add red onion to my creamed spinach, but it totally works.

This was such a treat, and by far my favorite side.

$2.75 is a fine price for a large side dish.

Update: I've returned to all the different Prime Dip locations to get this several more times.  And I've loved it every time, even though it is different every time.  The only thing that seems to not be consistent is the onions.  The first batch I had had tons of red onions, later batches seemed to only have a little bit of yellow onion or green onion.  Still quite tasty, always somehow fresh tasting, and perfectly creamy.  Comfort food at its finest!
House Side Salad, French Dressing.  $2.25
And finally, on a whim, I decided to try the final option, a simple side salad.

The base was fresh enough greens, although they were a bit bitter.  Topped with whole grape tomatoes, sliced beets, and crumbled hard boiled egg.  I was a little surprised by the toppings, I never expected beets or hardboiled egg on a basic side salad.  I opted for the creamy French dressing, which was pleasantly tangy and the salad was not overdressed (my other options were ranch or balsamic).

Overall, better than expected for a $2.25 salad, and it was decent size.
House Side Salad, French Dressing.  $2.25.
The next time I tried the side salad, it was less successful.

This time, no grape tomatoes, which sorta makes sense, as it is no longer summer.  And far less hard boiled egg, a bit disappointing.  The egg was a rather strange mushy texture, and was somewhat grey in color.

I still loved the French dressing, and the way it went with the beets and egg, but, the salad was drowned in it.  Way overdressed.  Note to self: ask for dressing on the side next time.
Prime Dip on UrbanspoonPrime Dip Gourmet Sandwiches on UrbanspoonPrime Dip on Urbanspoon
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