Despite its name, Maverick, a small Mission district restaurant created by chef Scott Youkilis and wine director Mike Pierce, hardly seems unorthodox in this neck of the woods. Maverick so fits into the local “farm-to-table” ethos, with seasonally driven menus, vegetable-rich dishes and affordable American wines from small producers, that eating there feels totally reassuring. Maverick is just the kind of place that builds San Francisco’s reputation as a restaurant town.
The location, just off Mission on 17th Street, might have made a statement five years ago, but now some of the city’s best small restaurants are in the deep Mission. Breaking no new ground, Maverick took over a location pioneered by the Peruvian restaurant Limon, which moved to Valencia Street. The Maverick owners spruced it up with polished wooden floors, warm shades of burnt orange and chocolate brown on the walls, and front windows that pull open like accordions.
The kitchen and a tall communal table with stools take up one room; bare wooden tables and chairs and ceiling fans, the other. The cool, spare setting provides a canvas for the vibrant cooking.
Every meal starts with a tiny sake cup of seasonal cold soup — recently, sharlyn melon puree or spicy tomato. I was immediately taken by Maverick’s house salad ($6), a fluffy pile of baby lettuces with snap peas, celery hearts and aged goat cheese all pared so thinly, they disappeared into the mix, only announcing themselves with each mouthful.
Fried green tomatoes ($9) battered and cleanly deep fried, with a smoky salad of grilled escarole and sun gold tomatoes on the side establishes Maverick’s American vernacular, as do gently fried round Baltimore crab fluffs ($12).
A porcini and wild mushroom salad ($10) delivers a meaty pile of warm sauteed mushrooms stacked on slices of buffalo mozzarella, punctuated by wild arugula and topped with fried cippolini onion rings. It sounds like a lot going on, but the combination and mouth feel are revelatory.
Southern fried chicken ($18) with thick, spicy, dark brown coating served with creamy grits, gravy and bright green beans is an all-around satisfying plate, as is grilled flat iron steak ($24) sliced on top of moist, gritty cornbread with crisp edges, topped with vinegary green salsa and accompanied with grilled broccoli shoots. Both are inspired examples of modernAmerican cooking.
Pan-roasted Berkshire pork loin ($20) is smothered in vegetables with marvelous tender/sticky potato dumplings that somehow give meaning to the whole dish. Lighter eaters will love a warm grilled albacore salad ($19) with shell beans, tomatoes, green olives and arugula.
As much as I loved all these dishes, I keep thinking about the more unusual grilled venison loin ($28), a thick round of tasty (but not gamy) rare meat, coated in herbed breadcrumb crust, lusciously paired with an onion filled with creamy corn and pea pudding.
My favorite dessert ($7): a glass of cold milk with thin, buttery, warm, baked-to-order white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.
Enlightened wine service adds to the pleasure of eating here. Pierce, who also manages the dining room, insists on wine-rinsed Spiegelau glasses. On Monday night, he marks all bottles at 40 percent off.
Such lively, affordable, high quality food and wine do set Maverick apart — and in that way this restaurant fulfills its name.
Location: 3316 17th St., San Francisco
Contact: (415) 863-3061; www.sfmaverick.com
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday for dinner; 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday for brunch
Price range: First plates, $6 to $12; second plates. $16 to $28
Recommended dishes: Fried padron peppers, Maverick salad, fried green tomatoes, porcini salad, venison loin, grilled albacore tuna, pan roasted pork loin, mac ’n’ cheese
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
Patricia Unterman is author of the “SanFrancisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.