All desserts are house made (except for a Bread on Market carrot cake), and the coffee is full-bodied French-press. The mango cheesecake is very Midwestern, smooth and cream-cheesy -- neither too light nor too heavy. An order of grilled pineapple and strawberries arrives as a kebab on a rosemary-branch skewer, the pineapple chunks naked and the strawberries doused in sweet balsamic vinegar. This comes with creamy vanilla gelato (store-bought) drizzled with sexy balsamic syrup. Laurie chose orange-balsamic house-made ice cream, with an airy texture and subtle flavor -- a grown-up sweet. Frankie the Kid, exhausted by his epic Sith recitation, tasted of each but was too sleepy to react much.
My most recent meal at the Linkery was a weekend breakfast -- indeed, weekends are the only times the restaurant serves breakfast. We began with fresh-squeezed orange juice, foamy and pulpy from the restaurant's new electric juice extractor. (You throw in whole peeled oranges and out comes this terrific liquid fuzz.)
Eggs Benedict were revisionist to the max, changing everything but the eggs. The dish includes two cubes of weighty artisan bread, a sausage of your choice (cut lengthwise) in place of Canadian bacon, and a hollandaise that tastes vaguely like curry, with cilantro and ginger offering hints of Asia. The eggs were exquisite, each with a translucent membrane of cooked white coddling the liquid yolk. The bread monoliths were useless. (I suspect that the house-made biscuits might be an apter substitute for the traditional English muffins -- lighter, anyway.) There were fingerling potatoes alongside, sliced avocados, and a flurry of arugula. A juicy chicken curry sausage, its interior moistened by yogurt, is a perfect match for this dish, every bit as "awesome" as the waitress described it.
My partner chose the breakfast burrito. It's dinosaur-sized, stuffed into a whole-wheat flour tortilla that's grilled on one side. The filling includes -- take a deep breath -- avocado, queso fresco, salsa, house-made chorizo slices (full-flavored and grease-free), onions, red and green peppers, and three beautifully soft-scrambled eggs. And beneath all that, potatoes -- loads and loads of potatoes -- with more potatoes (the ubiquitous fingerlings) on the side. You also get a ramekin of sour cream plated yin/yang with excellent fresh tomato salsa. The combination is more than enough to stuff two eaters for a whole day, so long as both are spud lovers.
The final measure of a restaurant is: Would you go back? Laurie and Francisco said they would. My friend Sam -- known to you from past reviews -- discovered the Linkery on his own and enjoyed the neighborhood-bistro atmosphere and the neighborhood prices. He'd go back, too. And my partner and I would be there right now, if I didn't have to sit here scribbling.
ABOUT THE STAFF
Jay Porter is the owner and founder of the Linkery. This is his first venture into the food business. "I wanted to start a neighborhood restaurant," he says. "Having lived in North Park for a while, I felt there was a need for something like this -- a café with reasonably healthful food, not too expensive, with a good wine list. I knew how to make sausages -- that was my contribution when we first opened -- and I had friends who knew how. My general manager, Mike McGuan, had worked in a sausage factory in Philadelphia." At first, links were the major part of the menu. "We wanted to feature handmade sausage as an expression of the kind of food we serve. We believe in handmade, artisan food. We make almost everything ourselves."
The menu began to expand when Mars Wasterval came on as chef. "She found us. She's from Houston, a graduate of Johnson and Wales [culinary school], and worked in a hotel in Mexico City. When she came back here, she moved in across the street. She came by one day and said, 'Hey, you're starting a restaurant? You should hire me.' She had the exact grasp of our kind of food -- fresh produce, lightly marinated meats, spices that are appropriate for our latitude. That's how she likes to cook and how she thinks of food. We didn't want to get involved in a lot of sauces and sautéing. We're more like a back-yard grill.
"Our sous chef is Tara Pelletier. She came to us from Café Cerise. She was eating here, and she told us she could make sausage -- she'd been doing it at Cerise. She began working at both places and ended up here as our sous chef.
"When Tara came, we switched our kitchen around. Carrie Whealy, who was our sous chef, is now executive baker and breakfast chef. She went to CIA [Culinary Institute of America] and worked as garde-manger at Chez Panisse. She developed our breakfast menu, she's taken charge of our cheeses, and she does the baking -- the cakes, éclairs, the desserts, the biscuits. (I like our biscuits and gravy breakfast the best because we make the biscuits, we make the gravy, and we make the sausage in the gravy.)
"The sausages now -- we have some that established recipes, like the bratwurst, that Michael [McGuan] knew from his sausage-factory experience. Some recipes we researched, or we'd eaten them at other places and worked on them until we got them right. Some, we just make up. Right now we're running Tara's black currant/pine nut/Parmesan, and I think that's gonna come back. We try to mix a group of standard recipes with more creative ones. We've run about 30 types of sausage since we began."
I asked whether the sausages were lower-than-normal fat. "They start out at the normal fat level," Jay said, "but because they're grilled over an open flame and they're fresh, the fat drains out a little. Some of them really lose a lot of fat. And when we first opened, it took us a few weeks to get the poaching down. The way we make them, after they've aged overnight, we poach them, and it's a delicate operation. You have to do it just right, to get them cooked but still keep the moisture in there.