I had no idea what to expect when I walked into Jamber.
“A wine pub? What exactly is a wine pub?”
I’ve got plenty of wine bar experience under my belt. You know: the loquacious wine menu, the huge swirl-friendly goblets, the sophisticated bites of bruschetta and charcuterie served on dainty plates. The crackling discussions of terroir and the raging debates over new oak as soft jazz pipes through the speakers.
Turns out, Jamber is not that kind of place. Not at all. It took me a few visits and a few Mason jars of wine, but I finally figured out what a wine pub is.
No monocles or top hats here. You’re more likely to hear Prince than Kenny G, and when the Niners are playing, the place gets wild.
All of Jamber’s wine is on tap, and it’s all Californian. Now, while part of me is an old-school traditionalist who finds some comforting magic in the ritual of opening a bottle of wine, I’m not averse to wine on tap in principle.
However, that system does limit itself to a certain style of wine — mainly, wine that’s not meant to age much, wine that’s meant to be drunk fresh. Youthful, fun, simple wine. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Especially when you look at Jamber’s menu. Rather than light and sophisticated as you might expect at a wine bar, Jamber’s food is hearty and at times downright goofy (jalapeño peanut butter poppers, anyone?).
Like the warm, wooden surroundings, the cuisine is casual and rustic. Like the wines served in tumblers and jars, the dishes are lighthearted and fun.
The mashed potater tots, nearly tennis ball-sized orbs of chunky mashed potatoes flavored with Parmesan and rosemary, are breaded and fried with a light touch. They come to life when married with Jamber’s bacon jam, a fabulously fatty, savory concoction that begs to be spread on everything that graces your fork.
Jamber’s poutine is a refreshingly traditional rendition of the classic dish, a heap of chewy cheese curds melting into a lightweight yet deep, peppery brown gravy over a pile of crispy skin-on fries. It’s a big, goopy mess, and well-worth the ream of napkins you’ll go through. Macaroni and cheese, for the same price, is less satisfying. The sauce has a warm, golden, cheesy flavor, but the texture is loose and floury rather than silky.
I thoroughly enjoyed every element of the Jamburger, from the puffy, buttery bun to the boldly seasoned patty, but I especially appreciated the tomato jam that came on the side. This bright, tangy condiment is like the anti-ketchup, and I gleefully poured it all over my fries and burger — something I would never do with its crude, sugary cousin.
The buffalo meatloaf is more exciting in “sammy” form than as an entree — the additions of zippy coleslaw and spicy barbecue sauce fuse brightly with the meat and bacon.
My very knowledgeable, warm and friendly server was always happy to recommend wines to pair with food, but nothing blew my mind. It was when I switched to beer that Jamber’s cuisine really popped. The beer list, a well-curated selection of California craft brews, complements Jamber’s pub food perfectly.
So what is a wine pub? It’s a place to relax, whatever you’re drinking. Leave your monocles at home.
Location: 858 Folsom St. (between Fourth and Fifth streets), S.F.
Contact: (415) 273-9192, www.jambersf.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Fridays, 3:30 p.m. to midnight Saturdays, 1 to 10 p.m. Sundays
Price range: $4 to $16
Recommended dishes: Jamburger ($12), Parmesan and rosemary mashed potater tots ($8), meatloaf sammy ($13), poutine ($10)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Accepted for parties of eight or more