Speaking with surfing-baking co-owner Dave Mueller about the Outer Sunset hotspot
I’m on the southeast corner of Judah Street and 45th Avenue—roughly five blocks from the cold, churning sea—on a bright winter morning. Outerlands will open for lunch in an hour, and the restaurant’s chef and a couple of employees are swiftly making preparations. Dave Muller offers me a cappuccino, which he whips up seamlessly, and asks if we can chat outside in the sun.
Muller co-owns this cozy Outer Sunset eating space known for its savory soups and sandwiches, handcrafted bread, and earthy atmosphere with his wife, Lana Porcello. Muller and Porcello had teamed up on visual art and music projects before Outerlands, but Muller calls the restaurant their most 50/50 artistic collaboration.
Noticing a need for food in this remote San Francisco neighborhood pressed up against the Pacific, Muller and Porcello set out in 2008 to design and build a soup kitchen of sorts. “We planned on serving a few soups a day and fresh-baked bread,” Muller says, smiling. “Simple.”
Muller is the man behind Outerlands’ thick, delicious slabs of levain bread. He originally considered buying bread instead of baking it, but Tartine’s bread-maker Chad Robertson, whom Muller met through surfing, encouraged him not to. “You can just make your own bread,” Robertson said. “I can show you how to do it. It’s not that hard.”
Since Outerlands opened its doors in 2009, the intimate sea dwellers’ escape has evolved into a destination for foodies traveling from east of Golden Gate Park, New York, and Sweden alike. Muller designs and mixes cocktails in addition to making his bread, and the couple employs a full-time chef (Brett Cooper) and a pastry chef (Zoe Dering). Despite the buzz, simplicity remains at the heart of their enterprise.
“We find the best ingredients and cook them as simply as possible to bring out their natural flavors,” explains Muller. Outerlands sources its ingredients locally and is currently operating at 98 to 99 percent organic.
Keeping prices as low as possible—a grilled cheese sandwich brushed with garlic oil goes for $5—Muller is committed to serving the Sunset wholesome, handcrafted food you’d probably have to pay more for across town. “I love having a connection to my community and having something to contribute that I believe in—food that’s healthy, stimulating, and sustainable,” says Muller.
Muller’s background in art, farmers’ markets, and surfing helped inform the concept behind this eight-table restaurant built from wood. Although Muller says he didn’t do much research when he was building Outerlands and simply “did what made sense,” he considers Big Sur an aesthetic influence, as well as things his friends have built.
Outerlands seems to have been born out of a desire to build a sanctuary: the perfect place to share a meal. Muller says they wanted to create “a healing environment—a place you could go to and feel nourished.”
I think they’ve succeeded. Eating at Outerlands sort of feels like your mom has made you your favorite dish and is serving it to you—along with an expertly mixed antifogmatic—while you’re warming your feet by a fire after a four-hour surf session and conversing with the most compelling person in the world; or something to that effect.
Outerlands serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday. The dinner menu features savory meat dishes, e.g. cumin crusted pork tenderloin and braised shank with cranberry beans, smoked dates, cabbage, and juniper, as well as mouth-watering vegetarian options like the fresh cavatelli with wild mushrooms, winter squash, rapini, and parmesan. Brunch favorites include the bacon-stuffed dutch pancake outfitted with organic maple syrup drizzle, along with lemon ginger apple cider.
The wait for one of the eight tables can be long on the weekends, but the expansion that’s in the works may make it a bit easier to get in. They’re knocking down the wall between Outerlands and what was formerly Wo’s Restaurant, building a bar, and adding over 20 seats this summer.
I thank Muller for his time, and wander into Outerlands to snap a couple of photos. It’s 11 a.m. on a Thursday, and the place is already starting to fill up. Muller quickly disappears into the restaurant’s treehouse loft to continue putting in the hours he calls “excruciating, but worth it.”
Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (lunch); 6-10 p.m. (dinner);
Sun. 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (brunch)
4001 Judah, SF