SOURCE, Potrero Hill (11 Division Street near DeHaro, daily for lunch and dinner, weekend brunch, 415-864-9000)
Yes, I’m a meat eater. I want animals treated humanely, with loving care and long lives. But I personally don’t feel I could possibly be a full-fledged food writer and not eat virtually everything. Food prejudices are not allowed. My motto is: if any culture of the world eats it, I can, too (which is quickly followed by: if I don’t like something, I keep eating it until I do).
Leave it to two New York brothers to make a vegetarian meal surprisingly hearty, satisfying, and inventive. In Potrero Hill’s Design District, a non-descript warehouse houses Source (with parking out front – take note!). A brand new vegetarian restaurant, the space is modern and peaceful (though not Zen or hippie) with a wall of running water and filtered air circulating through the dining room and open kitchen. A dramatic, gas-fired Mugnaini brick oven is a gaping dragon’s mouth. It certainly stands out, another one-of-a-kind feature that leaves you wondering what this place is really about.
Water comes to your table triple filtered, ionized and energized ($3.55 a carafe). Executive Chef Mitchell Fox and his brother and co-owner, Andrew Fox, have thought through every detail of the atmosphere, menu and experience. As Andrew says: “Source is more than an eating establishment. It is a place for people to be nurtured – their body, their mind, their soul.”
I dive into the vegetarian/vegan menu of sandwiches, salads, dosas and pizzas prepared to eat fresh ingredients but wondering what the level of flavor and satisfaction will be. They had me at Avocado Oink Bits Mozzarella Burger ($8.95). Ok, let’s say it’s not really a burger but a veggie patty made of black beans, beets, celery, carrots, wild rice and onions inside a pita. I’m a burger fanatic and nothing can replace a perfect beef burger. But this is something entirely its own. The patty retains a smoky, grilled essence, black beans give it heft, and each ingredient adds nuance. It’s fresh yet savory – an exciting vegetarian offering that even a meat-eater could love.
Moving on to pizzas. The Fox bros. grew up in the Bronx and my old high school stomping grounds of New Jersey and thus know pizza. But I was shocked at how good these pies actually are. The dough, a special recipe 25 years in the making, is actually reminiscent of Una Pizza Napoletana. Yes, I said it. It’s warm, doughy texture is addictive. Pizzas like the Taco ($13.95) come loaded with salad, cheddar, salsa, guacamole and soy sour cream. But I’d go straight for Da Bronx ($9.95) to savor the purity of the dough, sweet/savory tomato sauce, EVOO and homemade mozzarella. Who knew you could find excellent pizza at a vegetarian restaurant?
Though the pizza and ‘burger’ are reason enough to cross town, there are many pleasures here. Fries ($3.95) are fun, particularly with a range of salt choices and delightful dipping sauces like Caribbean banana ketchup, jalapeno jam, and Gilroy garlic aioli. Meat substitute entrees are surprisingly tasty, like Jamaican Jerk Cluck (instead of chicken – $13.95), though in most cases, I’ll stick to actual meat. Baked goods are another house specialty (vegan and gluten free options), from Whoopie Pies to raw food Rocky Road cheesecake.
Another pleasure is the Source elixir bar, created in consultation with an herbalist and alternative doctor. Non-alcoholic sips include fermented elixirs, house sodas, teas, herbal blends, or smoothies with cashew milk. They even do their versions of a New York Egg Cream or Creamsicle. Again, the three drinks I tried were all worthwhile, even elegant.
With an order at the counter set-up and uber friendly staff, this is a welcoming, casual place to eat in or take-out. I’d also venture to say it’s already among the best vegetarian food in San Francisco.