Where the roadside diner gets the Left Coast-Gay Bay treatment
DINE One of the revelations in Peter Mayles' cycle of enchanting memoirs about life in Provence (A Year in Provence, Toujours Provence, Encore Provence) is that some of the best food in France is to be found at truck stops. This stands to reason, since truckers are a migratory species whose survival depends on knowing where to eat — and French truckers spend their days zooming around France, a land where food and wine are as much a part of the national identity as the language itself.
Citizen's Band (which opened in August on a semi-sketchy stretch of Folsom St. in SoMa) isn't quite a truck stop and it certainly isn't in France, but it does have, stashed above the door, a collection of vintage CB radios, the kind whose tinny crackle helped drive C.W. McCall's 1975 truckers' anthem, "Convoy." And it is, in its hipster-city way, a convincing contemporary version of a roadside diner: it has a long counter, zinc-topped tables, harsh lighting, and plenty of din, all at the edge of an insanely busy street.
But the place doesn't serve Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, despite a plethora of hipsters, and the staff all seem to be relations of Flo, the cheeky woman from the Progressive Insurance TV ads. Indeed, beer places a distant second as a libation to wine, which is offered in a variety of interesting pours listed on the huge chalkboard that backs the counter. So maybe we're not so far from France after all. Or somewhere in Europe. Lately I've noticed a small but definite bloom on wine lists of reds produced in German-speaking lands, and Citizen's Band offers a glass of Blaufränkisch, an Austrian red, for $7.50. Our (female) server described it as "feminine," not a customary description for wine. To me, the wine was light and spicy, like a nero d'avola after some heavy core training. Could this be what she meant?
If a convoy of hungry, discerning French truckers came rolling up to Citizen's Band, what would they find, apart from trouble in parking? American food, subtly reimagined and cooked to the highest standard. Chef Chris Beerman's menu includes elements of what we might call comfort cuisine, including macaroni and cheese and a burger with fries, but it also soars into the higher airs of the gastronomic ether — and even the homey stuff is enriched by a close attention to detail.