Roostertail, a new, family-run chicken rotisserie a block from the Kabuki movie theater, captures what ingredient-crazed, vegetable-gorging, farmers market-addicted San Franciscans truly enjoy: vibrant home-style cooking.
While nothing can beat a chicken roasted at home, torn apart hot from the oven, the golden-skinned birds at Roostertail ($6.50 for a quarter; $18.50, whole) come close. The source of the birds — Mary’s Chickens, a high-quality, San Joaquin Valley poultry producer — makes all the difference.
I won’t go into the details of chicken processing, but air chilling — a revolution in the industry — creates a much juicier and tastier bird. Though Roostertail errs on the side of doneness, the breast meat maintains moisture and flavor. Even I, a committed thigh lover, could go white here.
But it is the Roostertail sides that I adore, all of which must be ordered separately. Brussels sprouts ($5.50), sliced so thin they quickly wilt in the saute pan with tiny bits of bacon, stay bright green and naturally sweet, as does finely cut green chard ($5.50), quickly sauteed with a little onion in olive oil.
Crisp yet tender broccoli florettes ($5.50) are draped in delicate cheese sauce, made with more cream than cheese, which is why I also like velvety Mac & 3 cheeses ($5.50). Crisp little croutons add textural contrast.
Two demure sticks of cornbread ($4) are excitingly moist, studded with jalapeños and full of personality. Stellar onion strings ($4) — crunchy nubbins of battered sweet onion — maintain plenty of character. Order them.
Salads, all very finely chopped and barely dressed, are easily shared but not satisfying as complete meals. Be sure to opt for a side of deviled eggs ($2.50) with the salads — the yolks smooth, pickle-y, good.
No home cook could quickly throw together Roostertail’s sandwiches. Though more restauranty, they are pure and luscious. Each component in an untraditional cheesesteak ($10.75) — made of juicy strips of strip steak, jalapeño jack, lots of sautéed bell peppers and garlic aioli — is distinctive, making for a moist, not greasy, sandwich.
A braised beef brisket sandwich ($10.75) is thick with soft meat slathered with jammy sweet and sour onions — a noble sandwich for brisket lovers.
Four sophisticated California wines on tap enhance the experience, especially a rhone-like grenache. A carafe ($16-$18), which serves three or four, costs the same as two glasses.
Roostertail has come up with one of the most irresistible cakes in town, a rich, lavishly chocolate swirled and iced bundt cake ($4). And Straus soft-serve cones ($2.25-$3.25) can’t be beat.
There is one drawback to this place: disorganized service. The connection between what you order at the cash register and what you get at the table can be tenuous. Sometimes the wine-savvy guy at the cash register gets it wrong. Sometimes, the kitchen.
If you want salad first, order it only, and then go back to order the next round, or you may get your salad last. Granted, I ate there during the opening weeks of operation, so systems may have improved a few weeks later. But don’t let it keep you away. Roostertail is a go-to spot for high-quality comfort food based on fresh, local ingredients — which makes it indispensable.
Location: 1963 Sutter St. (at Fillmore Street), San Francisco
Contact: (415) 776-6783, www.Roostertailsf.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays
Price range: $4.50 to $10.75
Recommended dishes: Rotisserie chicken, Brussels sprouts, onion strings, cornbread, chard, cheesesteak, Straus soft serve, bundt cake
Credit cards: Visa
Reservations: Not accepted; food to go
Patricia Unterman is the author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.