When Straw opened in Hayes Valley in January 2011, the carnival-themed restaurant excited foodies and trendsetters alike. The menu, which includes cotton candy and funnel cake, filled a void the San Francisco food scene didn’t know it had.
Straw’s unique take on hip comfort food seemed endlessly entertaining, but how does it stand up a year and a half later?
Well, very well indeed. Nestled in a small nook on Octavia Boulevard near Page Street, Straw is a charming establishment with good food at good prices ($16 and under) that pleasantly milks nostalgia for all it’s worth.
Menus are made from old children’s books and pingpong paddles. Drinks are served in Mason jars, and goldfish crackers are dished out instead of bread. Vintage dessert molds are turned upside down and into lampshades, and a cluster of bulb-filled canning jars forms the central light fixture, creating a soft, moonlit effect.
The bathroom is plastered with carnival images, 1990s troll dolls and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. The Tilt-a-Whirl seat is the crowning glory of Straw’s novelty, seating two people — intimately.
Straw’s happy hour is a bargain, with $2 beers, $3 glasses of wine and $4 signature drinks, including the theatrically presented Cotton Candy Cocktail: a pink cloud dissolved at the table in a cascade of sparkling wine. On the sweet side, it is a fun spectacle.
The strawberry-basil lemonade spiked with vodka-infused sake is a refreshing alternative.
The sweet potato tater tots have been Straw’s starter menu champions from Day 1. Served in parchment paper in a mini wire basket, the sweet, crispy morsels are accompanied by a divine blackberry barbecue sauce, which Straw should consider bottling. It has the perfect sweet-to-tang ratio, good enough to lick straight.
It is easy to be drawn in by Straw’s most famous (and heftiest) entree options: the fried chicken-and-waffle sandwich and the glazed doughnut burger. While they serve a certain pregnant-woman-cravings purpose, Straw has an ample salad menu and just as yummy, less famous plates.
The arugula-based Hippie Love salad has a slight bite. Laden with Moroccan spiced carrots, green olives, fried garlic, roast potato chunks and goat cheese, it is ever-so-slightly dressed with apple cider vinaigrette.
The Bearded Lady, a pulled-pork submarine sandwich, appeals to the meaty, Southern comfort crowd. The chipotle flavoring is lightly spicy, but the accompanying magic blackberry barbecue sauce sweetens it up, as does a spray of citrus slaw.
The quiet, unassuming grilled cheese sandwich gets a “croque monsieur” treatment, with a Swiss, Parmesan and smoked cheddar cheese crust, satisfying hungry maws with its crunchy, salty mouthfuls.
Unless the Double Double Toil and Trouble rosemary turkey leg fulfills a severe medieval times or Renaissance faire craving, it is best avoided. Although served with gravy and stuffing, it remains — like most turkey dishes — too dry.
It is a crime not to sample the dessert menu. Tongues flag for the funnel cake and deep-fried candy bar sampler, two items rarely seen outside a carnival or circus.
The root beer float is a self-serve operation, allowing float aficionados to pour their own soda for a custom foaming experience. The award-winning Flying Saucer — peanut butter mousse with chocolate fudge, candied bacon and caramel — is a lip-smacking indulgence that should never leave the menu.
Location: 203 Octavia Blvd., S.F.
Contact: (415) 431-3663, strawsf.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Fridays;
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays
Price range: $5 to $16
Recommended dishes: Sweet tots ($5, $8), Bearded Lady pulled- pork sandwich ($11.25), Hippie Love arugula salad ($6.75, $9.75), Flying Saucer mousse dessert ($7)
Credit cards: All major
Note: Vegan, vegetarian and
gluten-free menu options available