Yes, I'm a meat eater. I want animals treated humanely and have loving care and long lives. But I don't feel I could possibly be a full-fledged food writer and not eat virtually everything. Food prejudices are not allowed. My motto: if any culture of the world eats it, I can too (followed by: if I don't like something, I keep eating it until I do).
But leave it to two New York brothers to make a vegetarian meal that's surprisingly hearty, satisfying, and inventive. In Potrero Hill's design district, a non-descript warehouse holds Source (there's even parking out front - take note!). The recently-opened space is modern and peaceful (though it stops short of a Zen or hippie feel) with a wall of running water and filtered air circulating through the dining room and open kitchen. A dramatic, gas-fired Mugnaini brick oven reads as a gaping dragon's mouth. It certainly stands out, another one-of-a-kind feature that makes you curious as to what the restaurant is all 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 still wondering what the level of flavor and satisfaction will be. But Source had me at the avocado, oink bits, and mozzarella burger ($8.95). Ok, 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 Source's version stands on 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.
Tacos to da Bronx: Source's perfect pies
Moving on to pizzas. The Fox brothers grew up in the Bronx and my old high school stomping grounds of New Jersey, places where you are legally required to know about pizza. But I was still shocked at how good these pies are. The dough, a special recipe 25 years in the making, is reminiscent of Una Pizza Napoletana. (Yeah, I said it.) It's warm, doughy texture is addictive. The taco version ($13.95) comes 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.
Though the pizza and burger are reasons enough to cross town, there are many pleasures here. The fries ($3.95) are fun, particularly with their accompanying 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 the Jamaican jerk cluck (a chicken subsitute that clocks in at $13.95). Baked goods are another house specialty (vegan and gluten free options available), from whoopie pies to raw food rocky road cheesecake.
Another pleasure is Source's elixir bar, created in consultation with an herbalist and alternative doctor. Non-alcoholic sips include fermented elixirs, house sodas, teas, herbal blends, and smoothies with cashew milk. They even do their versions of a New York egg cream and creamsicle. The three drinks I tried were all worthwhile, even elegant.
With a casual order at the counter set-up and an über friendly staff, this is a welcoming place to eat in or take-out. And as far as I'm concerned, it's already among the best vegetarian restaurants in San Francisco.
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