Freddie's Sandwiches is tucked away on a quiet corner downhill from North Beach and uphill from Fisherman's Wharf. You'd think the location would be challenging, but owner Ed Sweileh has the solution: straightforward deli sandwiches made to order to precise standards.
It has worked out, as Freddie's sign proclaims "since 1926." Sweileh hasn't been at 300 Francisco (at Stockton) quite so long, though: Half-Lebanese and half-Jordanian, he moved here from Amman 25 years ago.
In 85 years, Sweileh is only the third owner. Founder Freddie Braja ran it until the 1970s. Sweileh says when he took over, "you had two choices: a ham and cheese, or a cheese and ham."
Sweileh has expanded the menu to include 28 sandwiches. But the aesthetic is not modern. In fact, it is delightfully retro.
These are classic deli sandwiches, served by size of bread: small (6"), which we find sufficient; large (8"), half loaf (12"), and whole loaf (25"), a good catering option.
We saw no sign of Sweileh's Middle Eastern roots, but he points out that he added falafel to cater to vegetarians. That's great if you must, but we like Freddie's for classic meat sandwiches.
The small Italian combo ($5.95) is a good deal: dry salame, ham, salame cotto, pressed ham, and cheese. As with all the small sandwiches, it's cut in half and neatly wrapped, so it looks like the full lunch that it is.
We most liked prosciutto ($6.95) with provolone ($0.40 extra for two slices). When we ordered pastrami ($6.45), we learned you can also get your sandwiches hot.
We liked the mild peperoncini spread, one of four free spreads. All sandwiches come with mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions, unless you don't want some of that. And they're all made fresh to order. You have nine choices of bread. Dutch crunch is the San Francisco favorite, but particularly on hot sandwiches, we like the onion bread, soft with subtle green onions.
We loved the carrot raisin salad ($2 for a half-pint): juicy with chunks of pineapple, yet virtuous. If there is mayo in it, it hides well.
There are several white plastic chairs and a bench outside; neighbors often stop by for their fix. We shared stories with an elderly man who said he had been eating there for 20 years. He used to drink a beer with his sandwich until a police officer told him, "There's a school nearby." We told him to consider how large the fine might be, and whether it would be worth paying it to go back to enjoying a beer every sunny afternoon. Disclaimer: We are not lawyers.
Sweileh works the counter himself. "I love it," he says. "There's no other place I'd rather be." His relations with most of his regulars are to the point: People come in, they order a sandwich, wait while it's made, and go. It's not exactly fair to call it a neighborhood hangout; Sweileh cares what kind of bread you want, but doesn't ask after the health of your significant other.
But virtually no one stumbles into Freddie's by accident. SFoodie has a friend who ate there every day when he lived nearby. And as our elderly, soon-to-be-busted friend said, "It's a ray of light in the neighborhood."
300 Francisco (at Stockton)