Life down by the ballpark can be a hit or miss affair. It's not really a typical San Francisco neighborhood as there aren't too many choices for eating that don't either cater to ballpark crowds or to the numerous start-ups that populate the area. Either way, I'm always on the lookout for something new to open and one such place is 144 King Art Cafe. The names a bit unruly, but it does tell you where it is located.
Open over a year now, it's a large open space that has seen its fair share of failed cafe/coffee shop/restaurants. With art being in their name they feature artworks by local artists and currently they are leaning toward the new odd modern "art", but this isn't an art theory blog so let's talk food. As their sign indicates they are part of that "movement" I've mentioned innumerable times. They also are strictly a breakfast/lunch place Monday through Friday, which is a bummer for those of us who live down here and are in desperate need to of places to go on weekends. Be that as it may, I was home on a recent workday and finally had the opportunity to stop by and try some of their lunch offerings. A glance at the menu shows they specialize in sandwiches and salads on their everyday offerings and then a handful of daily specials. I decide to stick with the usual and get one sandwich and one salad.
First up is the seared pork loin in natural jus with sauteed broccoli rabe, provolone and a spicy mayo on dutch crunch. The menu said this came on ciabatta bread but I got dutch crunch instead which I thought worked better as the rabe can be on the bitter side and the sweetness of the bread helped off-set it. The bread was also warm an lightly toasted which was a plus. The pork was tender, juicy and sliced thin. I tasted some hints of citrus in the au jus which was interesting but not overwhelming by any means. The rabe was cooked perfectly with a little bit of crunchiness. The mayo had a bit of kick to it adding another layer of flavor with the butteriness of the cheese. All in all I liked the sandwich as it was made fresh and warm to order. My only qualm is that is was $12, throwing in a handful of mixed greens with a light vinaigrette doesn't push to that level for me. At best this is more a $9 sandwich as the greens really are a toss off. Keep in mind that rabe does have a nice bite and if you are not into a hint of bitterness you might not like this so much.
Here we have the smoked chicken and couscous salad with sundried tomatoes, sweet potato, walnuts, dried cranberries, garbanzo beans, feta cheese and mushrooms served on a bed of mixed greens (spinach, red leaf lettuce and arugula). Yes that's a lot of stuff, but it works, this was a killer salad. Props also as it was served warm, which I really liked. I couldn't really taste the smoke in the chicken but for me it didn't matter. Chicken was tender (not dry), the sweet potato was cooked into little chunks and the couscous was hearty and starchy. In the box it looks like a mess but the mix of salty, sweet and crunchy comes together beautifully. And at $10 I'll say the salads are a better bargain than the sandwiches. You get a lot and could easily share or stretch this into two lunches. Yes, everything also tasted fresh, so they are staying true to their sign. I thought it needed a dash of salt and pepper, which kicked the flavor up for me, but that's a minor quibble.
Both dish were very good and if you are in the hood or work nearby you should really give this place a try. Their salad and sandwich combinations are inventive and tasty, though the salads are a better bargain. Either way I think you'll be happy with whichever one you choose. Just try not to contemplate the art too much as the food is way better.