During the month long planning session prior to driving to San Francisco, and while reviewing the itinerary on our six-hour drive to get there, I kept repeating the words Mission District to the Cute Gardener. Not only is it one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city to see art, eat hangover Mexican breakfasts, and peruse the funkiness of the architectural facades of residents there, but it’s home to (until now) my favorite Italian deli Lucca.
Twice in the past I had the fortune to house sit for a chef who lived a block away from the deli where a family of father and brothers sling meat daily as well as making awe-inspiring homemade raviolis. I would visit daily for a slice of their large, rectangular, room temperature mushroom pizza that you bought for cheap after choosing the size of slab you wanted cut. And it wasn’t even good pizza, just spongy bread with tomato sauce, sprinkled cheese and canned button mushrooms. But something about the tang and the texture made you crave it for the entire rest of the day and it was my daily meal there for a while.
We went everywhere during our trip to the city EXCEPT the Mission District this time though and we remarked that the best laid plans made when you are in a place single and solo are typically far removed from the things you decide to do together instead. We were with each other so instead of taking steps down stones trod prior we decided to stake out on only new adventures this time. This led us not to my lusted after Lucca, but instead to the great big booming meat master Molinari’s.
North Beach is probably my favorite neighborhood in S.F. not only because it’s the home of the great beatnik scene of yore but also because it has a large population of screaming, hand waving, bent over and cantankerous, old Italian men (I love Italian areas in the city and miss the North End in Boston for this very same reason.) Now it has a third piece of allure for me.
All it really took to win me over was a deli counter swimming with things like fresh salami, minor cheeses, sweet peppers, oily sun dried tomatoes, skinny breadsticks, hand-rolled and inconsistently sized fresh tortellini, blood orange sodas, and arancini the size of tennis balls. But when I bit into the Luciano sandwich I was utterly seduced to the core. It was a perfect moon shaped sandwich with lots of lovely strips of salty coppa and prosciutto, dotted with a sliced, fresh and wet mozzarella ball, sprinkled with unctuous sun dried tomatoes, some shreds of dark lettuce, nice tangy onions and then flattened between focaccia until the grill marks appeared on the bread. All grilled sandwiches should be so lucky to call this kin.
For those ordering regular ol' sub sandwiches, you get to pick your own bread from a bin in the store. Wonderful little touch and I wish this were back home in my neighborhood because I would definitely go back for more. Sorry Lucca but Molinari is my new meat king.