It’s a Monday, around 11 a.m., and most restaurants in San Francisco are getting those few stragglers who decided to skip work or school for an extended breakfast. But at Plow, the S.F. brunch institution on Potrero Hill, those stragglers are not few in number, but rather, crowd the street curbs and wooden planter boxes at the corner of 18th and Texas. Those waiting for food are large enough in number to attract the attention of an incredulous passerby who takes a snapchat of those lounging around with half-full wine glasses or laptops in hand.
The wait-time for a table for two, quoted as a brief 20-30 minutes, quickly stretched into a lengthy 45, but none were deterred. And after tasting the food, it was clear why. Cutting into the thick brioche of the Custard French Toast ($13.00 for two slices) with the side of a fork spurred the slow release of near-melted french toast interior. Topped with macerated strawberries, mascarpone and powdered sugar, each bite was luxuriously light and sweet, sans the usual dense, sinking quality that so often afflicts french toast.
In many ways, Plow embodies that bourgeois, locally-sourced spirit that pervades the peak of S.F. restaurant culture. The restaurant exudes a faux rustic feel, complemented by miscellaneous mason jars and a large framed photograph of a red pastoral farmhouse, and the majority of the menu, albeit delicious, is composed of simple, traditional brunch foods. However, Plow does part with this paradigm, offering items like a Chinese breakfast of caramelized pork shoulder and chili paste two days a week and Hong Kong style toast, attempting to fulfill the restaurant’s self-description as “Midwest country boy meets San Francisco China girl.”
Plow also doesn’t seem to take itself as seriously as its cohorts seem to take themselves. In place of the acoustic coffeehouse tunes that have proved to be a mainstay alongside moody, art-student servers in most brunch spots, Plow features more upbeat popular music, complete with an affable server unafraid to dance along upon feeling so inclined.
The way in which Plow can subvert the basic to spice up traditional brunch also extends to the food. What could have been simple pancakes were elevated to a different plane through the use of lemon and house-made ricotta ($15.50), which had the same light, airy quality that the french toast did. The lemony taste toes, but does not cross, the line of too overpowering, and the richness of the flavors mean the pancake is a stand-alone hit. For a more savory breakfast staple, the Open-Face Prosciutto and Gruyere Toast ($14.75) is a visually stunning open-face sandwich that, while difficult to eat, is worth the struggle. The combination of a fried egg sprinkled with pepper flakes, rich prosciutto and melted gruyere cheese on perfectly crispy toast provides enough flavors and carbs to satisfy a stomach until dinner.
The drink menu, although appealing, is not nearly as absorbing as the food items. It contains the usual assortment of fresh juices, homemade lemonade, Equator coffee and various teas, but no standout non-alcoholic drinks, catering more to the morning mimosa crowd rather than those looking for creative or unusual drink options.
Plow offers both indoor and outdoor tables, but the full culinary experience can only be appreciated through the few seats at the counter that face the open kitchen. Lines of bacon sizzle next to thick scoops of pancake batter and pieces of brioche just a few feet away from the waiting customers. The views of in-progress dishes plant seeds of doubt in customers’ minds, diners wondering if they should have ordered something else in the face of a multitude of appetizing options. Despite the lazy-morning ambience, there is nothing leisurely about the preparation of the food. The three cooks working tirelessly behind the counter melt cheddar slices on toasted buns and scoop from boiling vats of egg whites in a mouth-watering display of all the restaurant has to offer. This lively display is energizing and also hunger-inducing, contributing to Plow’s warm, open atmosphere.
Though Plow stands placidly in a line of overpriced brunch places taking over tech-boom San Francisco, it still has the food and the crowds to validate its status as a premier breakfast spot. Until young urban professionals in San Francisco decide that they’re sick of waiting 45 minutes for excellent, locally-sourced food, Plow will remain a mainstay in any brunch goer’s restaurant repertoire.