From Chef Aaron London, the creative mind and owner of neighborhood mainstay AL’s Place, comes AL’s Deli a fast-casual concept opening late summer at 598 Guerrero Street at 18th in San Francisco's Mission District. Joining the ranks of pioneering eateries such as Tartine and Delfina along the 18th Street corridor, AL’s Deli is poised to fortify park-bound sun seekers, and sit-down diners alike.
Featuring London’s signature innovation, attention to detail, and deeply delicious eats the menu will read like a conversation between the core elements of Israeli street food and attributes of traditional East Coast Jewish deli fare. At AL's Deli, London plays with the techniques and qualities that make both of these cuisines special to him, and through this meditation he has conceived of dishes that are at once totally unique and distinctly Americana.
The menu will feature five sections, each a celebration of texture and flavor: Sandwiches will highlight proteins from the rotisserie, as well as blistered cauliflower and eggplant. Options like the Shawarma Spiced Chicken Sandwich served in pita with garlicky sauce, hummus, schug, tahini and pickles can be made into a salad for an extra dollar. Crispy Crunchy Things houses all things snacky and cravable. Items like the Potato Hot Pocket filled with avocado, grapefruit and preserved lemon or cream cheese, smoked salmon, red onion, and capers are based on the idea of a stuffed latke and engineered for maximum mobility and transport. Or the Best House-Made Fries, a nod to the AL’s Place iconic brined version, these are cut fresh daily and served with smoked thyme, sesame, and a ranch-ish dip. Sides focus on just that, items like The Real Deal Creamy Hummus served with cracked cucumber and lemon vinegar, or slices of house-made Malawach, a flaky, buttery pancake-like bread common in Israeli cooking, are perfect additions to up your flavor game. Not Sandwiches are the heroes of the last-minute weeknight dinner with each selection featuring a large sharable main course like 1# of Smokey Brisket, an homage to Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal, flanked by marinated cabbage and three sauces. And for something sweet, Desserts will utilize a frozen labneh with varied toppings.
An epiphany one morning at the Marin Farmers Market while enjoying a falafel sandwich was the first inkling of the idea: the set up for a good falafel sandwich is a thing of magic, and could morph into something totally different if the falafel was replaced with a smoky rich element, for example, almost anything found in the deli case. The mixing and matching of those ingredients and flavors could create a totally new dining expression.
“I grew up back and forth between Montreal and West Sonoma County, California,” London says of the origins of the idea. “During my time in Montreal I ate an obscene amount of smoked meats from the iconic Schwartz’s Deli, sometimes twice a day. After year one of AL’s Place we were really nailing down our Montreal-style smoked meat technique. That morning sitting in the parking lot in Marin, I started thinking about how adding some smoked brisket to my sandwich would turn the dish on its head.”
From there, the idea evolved with the help of a research trip to Israel to sample street food, and hours spent testing and experimenting in the kitchen. As the dishes developed and the flavors became more realized the menu took on a quality of playful nostalgia.
Wine, beverage, floral and music programs will all be spearheaded by alumni of the AL’s Place team, bringing the unique ethos and curated environment to the new space. Wine Director Justin Roberts will curate a small but eclectic list of worldly and esoteric wines by the bottle and by the glass, intended to be a draw in of itself.
“We want a collection of bottles that are really delicious and approachable, but also super interesting and unusual when possible,” says Roberts of the program.
Supplementing the wine list will be select beers, a series of low ABV cocktails and non-alcoholic libations from Beverage Director Kyle Greffin, providing something for every palate. Much like the food and beverage indicate, the space will be designed with ease and whimsy in mind. Previously cozy and candle-lit, after renovations AL’s Deli will have a bright and airy feel, bringing over from AL’s Place London’s signature shade of blue. “AL’s Blue” is featured most prominently in the custom painting of the 1515 Design Mag 40/8 Rotisserie set to the side of the open kitchen against a wall of Popham Design Moroccan tiles. To punctuate the space, Floral Director Anthony Sanchez will install plant life and weekly flower arrangements allowing for some seasonality in the decor. Floor to ceiling arched windows will be accented with playful pink trim and counter seating will wrap around the front of the restaurant allowing diners a front row seat to the Guerrero and 18th Street circus. Rounding out the atmosphere will be sounds from Musical Director Jenn Dowdy providing daily playlists tailored to the AL’s Deli experience.
AL’s Deli will open July 17. Opening hours will 11AM - 9:30PM Monday through Sunday (7 days a week). Delivery and pickup will be available through Caviar.