What’s Up Dog Express

I’m not going to subject you to any cutesy beating around the bush today; What’s Up Dog Express was a depressing lunch experience. 

First off, the menu outside offered a dream-like concoction called chili cheese tots.  Why yes, that would be tater tots topped with chili and melted cheese.  I walked in to the tiny cafe salivating at the very thought.  Then I was dealt the devastating blow; tater tots in any capacity were not available at this location of What’s Up Dog, their lease prohibited the use of a deep fryer. 

I’m strong enough that this alone didn’t drop me into despair, it was the combination of my poor observation skills causing me to order the wrong thing , like I almost always do.   I would have been so happy to order a regular old hot dog and add onions, relish and sauerkraut to it.  Sauerkraut, for me, is really key.  However.  On their list of extra toppings, do you know what wasn’t there?  Sauerkraut.  I also read the description of all their special dogs, and none included kraut, so I came to the conclusion that, bizarrely, kraut was unavailable.  Later, while waiting for my lunch to be prepared, I overheard another customer order a reuben, and I realized that you can’t have a reuben without sauerkraut, looked up at the menu on the wall and saw that I had tragically neglected to check the sandwich descriptions, and that the reuben description shouted “sauerkraut!” loud and clear.  What a sad, sad day.

I couldn’t get chili cheese tots, but two out of three ain’t bad.  The chili was fine, very smooth and salty like it came from a can.  Whatever.  The guy gave me way to much cheese, I was worried it wouldn’t all melt.  It did, but still, it was too much. 

I decided to order a Chicago dog.  I’ve had them in the past and enjoyed them, they have a lot of stuff on them (peppers, relish, onions, pickles, tomatoes and celery salt) and I like a lot of stuff on my hot dogs.  Also, I really appreciate the double hit of pickles.  They really get it in Chicago.  Here at What’s Up Dog Express, not so much.  Bun – cold, all the topping stuff – cold cold cold, actual dog – warmish.  This is so not cool.  Cold toppings I get I suppose, you’re trying to keep things fresh/stay good with the health inspector…but a cold bun?  There is no excuse for that.  My goodness.  Also, I don’t know who’s lying to me, What’s Up Dog Express or every other Chicago dog I’ve ever had, but are the peppers supposed to be crazy spicy?  I know they are supposed to be “sport” peppers, but I have no idea what that means. All I know is that in the past I’ve had peppers that were at an edible level of heat, and that these peppers were not.  I’m not saying this is a negative, I’m just looking for answers. 

So the food kind of blew it at What’s Up Dog Express; and really, the thing is that I could be much happier with a hot dog from 7-11, and those are only like 2 for a dollar or something, and the buns are never cold.  What WUDE has going for it is it is actually a fairly pleasant place to sit and eat lunch, the cafe is very clean and bright and cheerfully decorated, and, on my visit at least, the one dude working there was really nice and gave me a free bottle of water (I think he felt bad about the tater tots thing).  7-11 is definitely not a pleasant place to have lunch (they generally don’t provide seating) and the people who work there are usually jerks and/or gross (just in my limited experience, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of really nice people working at 7-11s that I haven’t been to).  Still, I’d rather go to 7-11 and get salsa and nacho cheese on my hot dog and eat it on the curb like a punk.

What’s Up Dog Express

http://www.whatsupdog.com/

528 Larkin

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Sing Sing Sandwich Shop

I was meeting friends for a long, late lunch on a Friday afternoon, which is just the perfect thing sometimes.  I was the first to show up so I lurked around outside the place taking a bunch of photos,

then I wandered off for a bit to check out another Vietnamese sandwich shop down the block.  When I got back Jessie was waiting outside, and soon after Sarah and Justin arrived and we headed inside. 

I liked the look of Sing Sing a lot, the red checkered table cloths, the towering plants,

and the flat screen tv showing some sort of Vietnamese karaoke extravaganza.

The place was totally empty when we were there, at least the front room; I think Jessie mentioned that he went into the backroom and there were some people doing some gambling.  That’s what Sing Sing is known for, according to Yelp anyway, indoor smoking and backroom gambling.  We probably missed out on this because we were there so late, that sort of stuff is more of a morning activity.  A few days ago when I walked by around 10 am on a Saturday there were guys just spilling out of the place. 

Anyway, we ordered at the counter from a guy who didn’t speak great English.  I am really terrible at communicating with people with accents or a poor grasp of my native tongue, which makes me feel really bad and racist but I try really hard, I do.  I’m just a little hard of hearing and not good with visual cues.  To be fair, I’m not so great at communicating with people who speak English as their first language who have no accent.  So.  There was a little confusion since Sarah and I had both read that they only serve one thing at Sing Sing, a combination Vietnamese sandwich, but when we tried to order just that we were told that they only had pork sandwiches that day.  So we ordered four pork sandwiches and four iced Vietnamese coffees.

The coffees were delicious and strong and refreshing, and we were also given a pot of hot tea which provided a nice contrast.  Jessie said something great about the flavor of the coffee (or was it the tea…) that was so great I had to write it down so I wouldn’t forget to put it in this post.  Of course, I’ve misplaced where I wrote it, but as soon as I find my notebook I’ll update it for you all to enjoy. 

The sandwiches came out and looked so beautiful I could hardly stop taking photos long enough to eat.

Before this it had been a while since I’d had a Vietnamese sandwich, so I don’t know if this was a particularly outstandingly delicious sandwich, or I just forgot how much I like them, but dang, it was good.  It was a masterful combination of textures.  Fresh, crusty bread, it cut the roof of my mouth of course but sometimes that’s the price you have to pay, with a soft inside.  Crunchy and cool pickled vegetables, tender roast pork, thinner cartiledge-ey slices of pork and a creaminess that didn’t taste overpoweringly of mayonnaise all melded together into perfection.  We were, again, a little confused since we’d been told that this wasn’t a combination sandwich, but it was similar to combination sandwiches I’d had in the past, with the different types of pig meat and what looked an awful lot like pate…

Maybe their combination is more than one type of meat?   My one beef with this sandwich was that it had pretty large slices of raw jalapeno, but it’s a pretty meaningless complaint because they are easy to pick off if you’re a wimp like me.  I should also note that I was the only one to take the jalapenos off my sandwich (after I ate one, thinking I could handle it but I totally couldn’t).  Like I said, I am a wimp. 

So Sing Sing sandwich shop, who knew?  For whatever reason this place is not mentioned in discussions of great Tenderloin Vietnamese sandwich shops, those in my experience are limited to Saigon Sandwiches and Baguette Express.   They are vastly more popular ( Saigon sandwiches has 1098 Yelp reviews and Baguette Express has 125, to Sing Sing’s 40), and I guess I would venture that it’s because they are on the less scary Larkin Street and they are both more obviously places to get food.  I mean, neither of them from the outside seem to just be a room full of plants.  And I have actually never been to either of those spots (I know, sacrilege) but I think it’s pretty safe to say that neither of them display their slices of pork in a refrigerated case like this

With a cherry on top. 

Sing Sing Sandwich Shop

309 Hyde Street

Their Yelp page

What A Grind

I pretty much need to have coffee in the morning.  This isn’t really a problem on work days, there are a gazillion and one starbucks and peets and donut shops within walking distance of my office, and I keep a french press at my desk.  The weekend is when this can get tricky.  Usually I just order a cup at whichever restaurant I eat breakfast/brunch/lunch (depending on how late I sleep).  There are some days though where various elements conspire to make it difficult for me to caffeinate myself, and then I get a little, shall we say, grumpy.  I was having one of those mornings the other day, when Steve and I were going out of town for some reason or other.  We were going to be riding our bikes down to the BART station.  In the old days, before bikes, we would have walked down to the station and I would have picked up a coffee somewhere along the way.  This was no longer an option, so I needed to figure something else out.  I had grown a bit tired with my usual coffee spot, the gelato place about a block from my house.  Their americanos were nice, but the service could be slow, and I needed food with my coffee.  That’s my other problem, I can’t drink coffee on an empty stomach.  They have some middling pastries at the gelato place, and they make crepes and bagels, but as I mentioned, the wait can be painfully long.  I didn’t have a lot of time because I had to eat and finish my coffee before we had to leave in about 30 minutes.  I decided to head down the hill to the next closest coffee shop, What A Grind.

I’m friendly with two of my fellow tenants in my apartment building, and one of them told me a few months ago that What A Grind has the best coffee in San Francisco.  I was pretty skeptical about that; I’d waited at the bus stop in front of the cafe almost everyday for 2 years and I saw the volume of business they were doing.  If this place really had the best coffee in San Francisco some hipster would have found it out and it would have grungy kids queuing down the block.  Mostly the customers are burnouts and old Chinese guys from the neighborhood.  The place definitely inspires a fierce loyalty among some, I saw the same faces there the Sunday I stopped by that I’d been seeing every weekday morning for so long. 

I went inside and ordered a regular coffee and an everything bagel with ham, cheese and egg.  The interior was not at all what I expected, it was much brighter and filled with odd knick-knacks and framed photos.  There was a life size painting of Marilyn Monroe on one wall.  The small dining area, off to the right of the small entryway room that housed the counter and the kitchen, was homey with mismatched chairs and tables and potted plants.  I watched as Sam, the proprietor, who I recognized from my bus stop days, put my bagel on the toaster and sliced pressed ham on a meat slicer.  My breakfast sandwich was about 4 bucks, which is just a little cheaper than the non-breakfast sandwiches they offer.  They also have some deli salads that didn’t look bad at all.  I’m thinking this could be a decent place for a quick, cheap lunch.

That is, if my bagel is any indication.  I was put off a bit by the amount of liquid that came off the bagel, I’m not sure why it was so wet.  I mean, I guess it must be from the ham but it was a serious amount of juice.  It did not seem proportional to the amount of filling.  Beyond that initial weirdness, it was a pretty good breakfast sandwich.  The egg was fine for microwave cooked egg, the ham was standard, pretty salty but good.  The cheese was American, but I’m ok with that on a hot sandwich because American cheese has a pretty superior melt-ability.  The bagel was toasted enough that there was a crackly crust on the cut sides and the outside.  When I have a toasted bagel I want a well toasted bagel.  If I were to grab breakfast at What a Grind again, I’d probably get a bagel with cream cheese or tomato or something, because those bagels are pretty cheap at $1.50 and, though I found my sandwich quite satisfying, it probably wasn’t $4 worth of satisfying. 

Oh, and the coffee?  Not the best in San Francisco, sorry.  I knew you were hoping I’d be the hipster who discovered the diamond in the rough, but it’s not to be.  It was pretty good though.

What A Grind

881 Post Street

www.whatagrindcafe.com

Oh, something really cool about this place is that it’s in the same building as the apartment that Dashiell Hammett lived in while he was writing The Maltese Falcon, among other stories.  There’s a plaque on the wall near the gated entrance where you can read a bit more about it.  Neat, huh?  You can also check out this site for a photo tour of the building and apartment.