Old Bus Tavern is not so much a tavern as it is a food-centric brewpub whose food transcends brewpub standards though there is a stellar example of beef chili on the menu, if all you really want is some spicy chili to go with your beer. As the Chronicle's Michael Bauer noted in his review a couple months back, chef Max Snyder has some very high-end kitchens on his resume, including Coi, Saison, and Eleven Madison Park in New York, and that experience shows in some imaginative and decidedly not-pub-like food.
Since opening in July, Snyder has been crafting an evolving and very sophisticated menu that compliments the house beers brewed by owners John Zirinsky and Bennett Buchanan Zirinsky's restored 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia is the "old bus" in the restaurant's name but I suspect that a lot of diners are finding their way here regardless of any love for beer, or beer pairings. The food is, seriously, that good.
A standout dish for me is one that has taken multiple forms, changing every couple of weeks based on produce available. "It's basically a panade," Snyder explains, "Which is kind of like a French bread pudding." But because panade isn't the most well known name, and because the menu doesn't get too French otherwise, between the spaetzle, beer pickles, and chili, Snyder decided to go with the word "pancake."
He says the genesis of the dish came in trying to create a hearty vegetarian, or vegetable-forward entree. The version I had was actually pescatarian, with the garnish atop a hearty, thick green-radish pancake made of a delicious, spicy and tangy cold mussel "kimchi".
The current version, as he explains, is more of a vehicle for a poached egg, with a brown rice and radish leaf pancake beneath a garnish of bitter greens and the egg. Future versions are bound to stick with members of the bitter green family, with the contents of the pancake changing too.
It's just one of many reasons to check the place out the cocktail menu is pretty interesting too and one of a half dozen unusual things on the menu that, quite unexpectedly, do go great with beer.
Old Bus Tavern - 3193 Mission Street between Powers and Fair - Reservations here, but most of the room is reserved for walk-ins.
Previously: Go Eat This: Octopus At Petit Crenn
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