Gino & Carlo is a bar in North Beach and a San Francisco institution. They are well known as a friendly locals’ place. They put on a family style lunch at 1pm one or two Thursdays a month. I’ve heard about these events for quite a while but have never made it to one until this week.
Here’s how it works – There’s a sign above the bar that indicates the price and date of the next lunch as well as the menu. You buy tickets to the lunch (cash only) from the bartender. My understanding is that the lunches sell out quickly, usually within a few days of the sign being posted. I believe they have a group of chef buddies that they recruit from so there’s not a regular chef that does every lunch.
The lunch consists of bread, salad, pasta, entrée with veggies and a bottle of wine for the table (plus all the jug wine you can drink – which is why it’s not really advisable to go back to the office after such a lunch). This week the choice of entrée was chicken ($12) or rack of lamb ($18). We, and almost everyone else, had the rack of lamb. The salad was your basic green salad with a nice Italian dressing. The pasta was spaghetti with clams in cream sauce which was quite lovely. The lamb came with mashed potatoes and green beans (fresh, crisp and buttery) and was excellent.
People tend to get there pretty early in order to get a prime seating location – basically you come in and write your name on the bottom of a disposable plate and put it in the location you want to eat. My friend got there really early and scored us seats at the bar which is her favorite spot. There’s definitely jockeying for certain locations but to my eye any place with a rack of lamb in front of me was a good spot. There are big communal tables in the back of the bar with a few tables squeezed in here and there. I believe someone said they can seat 95 people at the lunch.
We had a great time, everyone was friendly and chatty. The crowd seemed to be North Beach natives and/or people that have been coming to the lunch for years. While a lot of them seemed to be retired, there were some people in their 30s & 40s. The friend that took us introduced us to a lot of people and after lunch a group of us staggered over to the Washbag to continue the party. Some of us had cocktails, some coffee and, in the case of Michael – dessert. He had an apple crisp which he enjoyed. I had a bite – I liked that it wasn’t too sweet and the apples weren’t cooked into mush.
We then piled into a cab and went home to take a nap. A most excellent use of a vacation day!
I believe the next lunch is May 17 and the entrée choice is stuffed pork chops and some kind of chicken dish.