I recall back in the mid-'90s, some Bay Area transplants I knew assured me the arrival of fast casual sandwich chain Togo's, expanding into southern California at the time, was going to change the way I ate subs — or some such hyperbole. I think I wound up eating there a couple times. It was alright. We were teenagers.
So, when I recently heard San Francisco favorite Ike's Place had opened a shop in Hillcrest, it rang of déjà vu. Forgive me for being skeptical.
Except Togo's was never blamed for civic disturbance like Ike's was, when its original Castro shop consistently drew lines so long its neighbors complained it was harshing their mellow. I love a good sandwich, but I'll never stand in line two hours for one because Yelp told me to.
1010 University Avenue, Suite 101, Hillcrest
Fortunately, the Hillcrest location didn't seem that busy. At least, there were only two people ahead of me when I got there. By the time I made it to the register, a dozen were behind, a couple of them doing their best to creep to the front.
Not speedy service, but it comes from a good place. Everybody behind the counter was in good cheer, answering questions and taking orders with humor — which jibes with the tongue-in-cheek sandwich names. For example, a pastrami with French dressing, poppy seed cole slaw and Swiss is called a Paul Reubens. Swap in vegan turkey on the same sandwich and it becomes a Pee Wee.
There are also a number of sandwiches named for pro athletes among the three dozen sandwiches on the menu, each about 8-11 bucks with standard fixins. For San Diego sports fans, options include a Tony Gwynn (turkey, Havarti, sriracha, and cranberry sauce) and a Junior Seau (turkey, bacon, roast beef, and Swiss, plus a secret ingredient: creamy buffalo style "Seau sauce").
I liked the buffalo sauce idea, but decided to go with a Hot Momma, the original nondairy Buffalo sauce over halal chicken with provolone and ranch. For two bucks the menu offers to upgrade the halal for fried chicken, and when I did this, the name of the sandwich apparently changed from a Hot Momma to a Mrs. Robinson.
Fun stuff. Other add-ons include red pesto, beer battered zucchini, mozzarella sticks, cream cheese, and jalapeños. The secret sauce idea reappears with Ike's famed "Dirty Sauce." But the real across-the-board winner comes in choice of bread. While there are SF sourdough, whole wheat and gluten-free options, the cult favorite at Ike's is Bay Area regional classic Dutch Crunch.
A mottled loaf known as tiger bread in the UK — or giraffe bread if you're partial to cuteness — Dutch Crunch has a crust even crispier than it sounds. It will be familiar to San Diego sandwich fans who already frequent Rubicon Deli, which I'd say is the closest we've seen to an Ike's Place. Ike's comes of a little less polished, a little looser at the edges. I guess what I mean is less corporate, is a very positive way. Because Ike's makes a pretty damn tasty sandwich, especially good on the go.