Humble Ingredients Get the High-End Treatment

Humble Ingredients Get the High-End Treatment


While many San Francisco chefs are known for their high-end and haute creations, they also like to keep it real by paying homage to the ingredients they loved as a kid (or as a big kid)—because let’s face it, nothing melts on a burger quite like American cheese.

Housemade SPAM at The European

Chef Casey Thompson of Aveline—her beguiling restaurant flanking this handsome downtown bar in the Warwick—has been told by her kitchen crew that she has an inner fat kid. And you’ll see if on her playful bar menu at The European, where she offers a high-end spin on her childhood breakfast of SPAM, Texas toast, and grape jelly. Her SPAM is really delicious (she riffs on a French country pâté recipe with smoked ham), and the toast is fried in clarified butter, while the black grape compote has a bit of ginger in it (and you’ll see dehydrated grape sprinkled on the plate—just how mom didn’t make it). 490 Geary St. 

Side dish: Also on The European’s bar menu is Thompson’s Velveeta mornay sauce, served with smashed marble potatoes fried in beef fat. Yup, her inner fat kid is out in full force.

American Cheese at Fog City

After a few bites of the cheeseburger at Fog City, I was struck with how it was exactly how I wanted a McDonald's cheeseburger to really be. Once you peek under the hood, you’ll realize the housemade American cheese, slices of bread and butter pickles, onion, and smoked tomato aioli all confirm that familiar Mickey D’s set and flavor profile, along with the shape of the pressed patty. Chef Erik Lowe engineered the American cheese with Tillamook Cheddar, PBR (oh yeah!), butter, sodium citrate (an emulsifier), and carrageenan, which makes the cheese firm up when it’s cold, so that it can be sliced. Fog City goes through 6–10 lbs. of the American cheese every day. You can watch everything that goes into making the burger in this hunger-inducing video clip. 1300 Battery St.

Side dish: Another spin on housemade American cheese is the black truffle American cheese you’ll find in a fondue at Blue Plate, served with smoked pork belly and crudités.

 Duck Pâté with French’s Mustard Gelée at Stones Throw

While your average Frenchman would be struck with agita by just thinking about a classic country-style pâté (made with duck and pork meat) being topped with a gelée of French’s Mustard (its taste is unmistakable!), one bite of chef Jason Halverson’s concoction could change Frenchie’s mind. Delicious scandal. There’s also a layer of duck liver mousse on this meaty number, with cornichons and a warm Firebrand pretzel roll on the side. Ooh la la! 1896 Hyde St.

Side dish: The dessert menu at Stones Throw is all about refined and reinterpreted versions of childhood favorites, as suggested by guests! You'll find a rotating cast of treats like peanut butter and jelly donuts, strawberry and rhubarb shortcake, or lemon meringue.

Smokin’ Double Barrel Wagyu Dog at Michael Mina’s Tailgate

Chef Michael Mina first came up with his famed (and decadent) lobster corn dogs, and now he's making a Wagyu beef dog, which is a bit of a spin on a classic Mission dog. Yeah, it’s bacon-wrapped, and comes with honey mustard, and is topped with coleslaw, guacamole, and chicharrones. So now you know what you’ll be tracking down at the next 49er game at Levi’s Stadium.

Side dish: Mina loves his lobster—he also does a haute spin on a lobster pot pie, and don’t miss his signature root beer float for dessert at Bourbon Steak.  

What are some of your high-low favorites? Let us know in the comments!


Marcia Gagliardi is the founder of the weekly tablehopper e-column; subscribe and get more food news and gossip at Follow her on Twitter: @tablehopper.


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