Yelp.com is often accused of being somewhat of a cult, with biased posters and sketchy management. However, the growing San Francisco company has succeeded in gaining quite a loyal following of amateur restaurant reviews, and I myself am one of them.
When the website featured a small local sandwich cafe as the number one top-rated new place in San Francisco, I knew that I had to try Lou’s Cafe.
On Geary Boulevard and 15th Avenue, Lou’s looks like any other window front eatery with tables and chairs on the sidewalk. But I wasn’t even halfway through the door when the mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked bread and roasted garlic hit me in my nose and my heart. This sandwich fragrance was not ordinary. Lou’s Cafe is the best smelling dining establishment that I have ever walked in to.
The smell, I found out, was coming from their pint-sized countertop oven. It’s with this appliance that they bake their breads (Dutch Crunch, Sourdough, Whole Wheat, Soft & Sweet, Rye, and 9 Grain) fresh every day. They also toast their sandwiches, to melt the cheeses into the meats to form a gooey crisp juicy harmony.
Working away behind the countertops were three employees, who wore gloves for sanitation reasons (much appreciated!) They worked meticulously cutting meats, spreading sauces, and piling on toppings to people’s orders. Not to mention, they were extremely pleasant, at least much more so than your average cranky counter staff.
After gazing at their menu, which is kept short and sweet, I decided on the Chicken Pesto Sandwich ($6.79), the Turkey Cranberry Sandwich ($6.79), and a cup of the New England Clam Chowder ($2.99). Honestly, I was not even hungry – it all smelled that good!
The sandwiches and soup were delivered to my table by the happy counter staff, and it was a beautiful sight. Both the Chicken Pesto and Turkey Cranberry Sandwich looked intricately composed with their fine layers of meats, veggies, and special house sauce.
Lou’s Cafe serves all of it’s sandwiches with a jalapeno spread. Using my taste buds to formulate a (hopefully) accurate guess of the ingredients, I decided that it must be some sort of oven roasted jalapenos and other peppers, mayonnaise, and some kind of sugar for sweetness. The slightly spicy sauce added perfect balance to the saltiness of the meat, the sweetness of the bread, and the sourness of the pickles.
The sandwiches came in at a close tie for first place in my heart. The Chicken Pesto, which included thin-sliced chicken breast, avocado, American cheese, and pesto aioli spread on a soft & sweet roll was delightful. Everything was fresh and the pesto tasted homemade.
But I’m a girl that loves my sweet and salty. The Turkey Cranberry was my favorite. It consisted of thin-sliced turkey breast, cranberry spread (looked like jam), Swiss cheese, and Lou’s special sauce on a sliced sourdough roll. First off, this sliced sourdough roll blew my mind. It was like re-tasting bread for the first time. The crispy top layer with it’s little air bubbles and it’s soft airy texture underneath was everything that San Francisco sourdough should be. This beautiful bread paired amazingly well with the juicy turkey breast and melted Swiss cheese. The sour saltiness of the pickles was perfect with the soft sweetness of the cranberry jam. My compliments to the counter staff.
Even amid these scrumptious sandwiches, the New England Clam Chowder shone like a new Mercedes. It was placed on my table in a standard white restaurant soup cup, but it came with a little cheese crostini – a nice touch. Let it be known, I am a clam chowder snob. I refuse to order it from any restaurant that isn’t strictly a seafood restaurant, and I will never, not ever, eat clam chowder from a can. And this is why I was almost shocked that Lou’s Cafe serves a mean chowder. The broth was exactly as creamy and light as it should have been; chowder should never be thicker than gravy. The chunks of potato and celery were the right (small) size, and the pieces of clam were huge! Even better was the fact that they were high-quality clams – not a single piece was rubbery or gritty from leftover sand. If I wasn’t so full from the sandwiches, I would have loved to lick that bowl clean.
Places like Lou’s Cafe keep me a faithful follower of Yelp.com. In the mean time, I will pray to the heavens that it doesn’t become overly popular and overcrowded. I need more Lou’s in my life!
Rating: ***** (out of 5 stars)
Pricing: *** (under $10)
Ambience: **** (Each table had a fresh picked flower centerpiece!)
5017 Geary Boulevard
BEWARE of the odd/bad hours! They close at 4 p.m. on Saturdays and are NOT OPEN on Sundays!