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Grubstake: A diner serving burgers…..and Port(?!)

Without sounding too patriotic or gung-ho, I can confidently say there is one thing America probably does better than any other country: that is, the late night diner.  Sure, we have all those 2012 Olympic golds, and up until a few weeks ago, we had the Tour de France too, but where we can really claim our fame is the diner.

The diner symbolizes the glory days of America, Edward Hopper paintings and Saturday Evening Post covers.  A place where your coffee cup is never empty, your eggs come with a steak, and there are three choices for an ice cream beverage: shake, malt or float.

Grubstake is a late night diner in all its Americana glory.  Located just off the corner of Polk and Pine in the lower Nob Hill of San Francisco, it’s open every night ‘till 4am.  There are booths and a counter with stools, in fact half of the place is a converted cable car, in which, for you film noir fans, Bogart’s Dark Passage was filmed.

But why is a late night California joint gracing the pages of Catavino?  Well, besides the “breakfast served all day”, the extensive burger menu, or even the French-dip sandwich, Grubstake is in fact a Portuguese restaurant masquerading as a late night haunt.

More home than haute cuisine there’s your typical diner eats but mixed within that are dishes like Caldo Verde (Green soup with Kale, Potatoes and  Linguiça), Bacalhau à Gomes de Sà (Codfish with Potatoes,Onion, Hard Cooked Eggs, Parsley and Olives) and Costeletas de Porco à Alentejana (Pork Chops Seasoned with White Wine, Garlic and Spices).  It’s hard to believe that after a late night of drinking, dancing or whatever your vice you can end up here to order some of Portugal’s most classic dishes.  What’s even better, to go with all this grub is a surprisingly extensive menu of Portuguese wines.

In 1995 Fernando Santos, the owner of Grubstake who is actually from Portugal, used to have a special Saturday menu that featured Portuguese dishes his mother used to make.  Well, Saturday’s got so exhaustingly busy they decide to change the special menu and featured it every day.  Soon thereafter Grubstake became the only restaurant in San Francisco serving traditional Portuguese cuisine.

I’ve been trying to get to this place for a while, and the opportunity finally presented itself when we had visitors over from the UK.  The flight landed at around 9pm…Grubstake was a no brainer.  Firstly, it served as a traditional American burger spot for our guests and more selfishly, a review for me.  We started off with beers and yes Grubstake did not disappoint, a selection of Sagres and Super Bock all ‘round.

As for the food, it was only myself who went for the ‘Portuguese Corner’ everyone else went for the burgers, I tried the Pork Chops with potatoes and veg.  While the kale was a bit bland it was the chops that really deserve a post of their own, marinated in a sauce of olive oil, garlic, paprika, cumin and red wine… to say the least, mouth wateringly scrumptious to the last bite. The burgers too are very good – cooked to order, juicy ground beef.  Though there is something to realize, it’s not that you are having a burger, it’s really that amongst the late night revelers of San Francisco, whilst chomping on the burger and fries you can stop the waiter to order a glass of non-vintage port (for $5.25).  Although I don’t foresee it coming up in any sommelier exams, a glass of Port and cheeseburger goes very well together. By the way, the fries here are excellent, freshly cut and salted to perfection.

The wine menu consists of about twenty different Portuguese wines.  I’ll be honest, you’re not going to find Nierpoort’s 100 point Douro here, but if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.  What you will find is a nice, non-pretentious, glass of Vinho Verde for a bit over five bucks with a red at the same price, while most of the bottles run in the twenty dollar arena.

There is a great multilayered beauty to Grubstake.  On the surface it’s the late night hang-out.  While if you delve deeper you’ll find tasty home cooked Portuguese food.  Go even further than that, and you’ll find what a lot of the wine twitterai and bloggers seem to be looking for – a humble place where normal wine and regular food just go together.

Try it for yourself.


 Grubstake – 1525 Pine St. – San Francisco, CA 94109 1-415-673-8268 (Map)

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