It’s been almost two years since The Lunchpad started slinging hearty, artisanal sandwiches in the swanky Noir Lounge space during daylight hours, and though people still call it a “pop-up,” it strikes me more as a permanent neighborhood fixture. On a recent afternoon visit, a line snaked out the door and onto the Hayes Street sidewalk. While I’m prone to eye-rolling when it comes to this city’s foodies and their strange obsession with standing in lines, I have no such qualms about this one.
The Lunchpad offers a few breakfast dishes and some generous salads, but the sandwiches are the magnets that pull me in. The A-Bomb, which has been a staple since the beginning, is a delectable handful of heat. Chipotle remoulade coats both sides of Bakers of Paris bread, couching a pile of paper-thin turkey, thick slices of candied habanero bacon and pepper jack cheese, along with cooling greens, tomatoes and thin arcs of red onion.
All kinds of heat dance around the mild pillow of turkey, each creating its own fire — smoky chipotle, slow-burning habanero, zippy pepper jack. Together, these elements create an inferno of flavor that starts out at a simmer but builds to a surprisingly powerful intensity.
That candied habanero bacon shows up again in the B.L.Whaaat!, a goofily-named but perfectly balanced riff on a classic BLT.
Fluffy clouds of roasted garlic aioli — so good I find myself scraping it off the bread with my fingers and eating it on its own — coat both bread and bacon, cooling off the rising flames of habanero. Swiss cheese adds a touch of nuttiness to each bite, a mellow counterpoint to the lingering tongue-coating blaze.
The Lunchpad’s best sandwiches are like those above: balancing acts, see-saws bouncing from sweet to savory, sharp to soft, hot to cool to hot again. The flavors are dynamic and ever-changing, each bite an evolution from the last, creating new sensations, never one-note or boring.
The Teamster’s a perfect example, with its spears of pickle (from an old family recipe) that start out sweet, but finish spicy, and a Dijon slaw that hits with spice at first but ends on a sweet note. Fat piles of turkey and pastrami serve as the smoky, meaty middle, and flourishes of creamy aioli bind everything together. The interplay of elements in this sandwich enthralls me, the pieces so thoughtfully added to balance one another.
If you prefer hedonism to thoughtfulness, you can’t do much better than the Perfect Storm, a dressed-up fried egg sandwich that you can (and should) add sausage, avocado, and — you guessed it — habanero bacon to, served between hefty slices of buttery pain de mie. There’s balance here too, amid the decadence; spinach brings things down to earth and caramelized onions add just the right pungent sweetness.
I could go on and on. The Turkey Drizzle’s cashew pesto and balsamic vinegar are a dynamite duo, as are the Roast Beast’s horseradish-blue cheese slaw and sanguine ribbons of rare beef. And the King Beef, the Lunchpad founders’ noble attempt to bring the classic Chicago sandwich to San Francisco, is a juicy, savory pile of meat and bread punched up with sharp, tangy giardiniera.
The Lunchpad’s creations reach that ideal sandwich balance: they’re artful and unique, yet still down-to-earth and, most importantly, crazy delicious.
Location: 581 Hayes St., S.F. (inside Noir Lounge)
Contact: (415) 522-6647, www.thelunchpadsf.com
Hours: 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays
Price range: $2 to $12
Recommended dishes: A-Bomb ($11), The Teamster ($11), B.L.Whaaat! ($7.50), The Perfect Storm ($7), King Beef ($9.50)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted