I saw the tomato and cheese sandwich with sliced banana on the menu at Cafe St. Jorge and wondered a few things: Could this really exist, and if so, would it be a masterpiece or a train wreck of great ingredients, mismatched together? I had to give it a try.
"The Goose is Loose" at the three-month-old Café St. Jorge in Bernal Heights has to be on the shortlist for the city's best sandwiches that don't sound like they'll work, but actually do. Trust me.
Its story actually comes all the way from Portugal. Bay Area native Andrea de Francisco grew up visiting her family three months a year in Portugal, falling in love with the country's vibrant culture and cuisine. After years of San Francisco restaurant experience as the manager of the Lower Haight's Café Grind, de Francisco opened her dream: the Portuguese inspired Café St. Jorge.
Though Portugal's diet is best known for the ubiquitous salt cod "bacalao" (this writer ate some in literally every meal during a trip to Portugal last summer), de Francisco always treasured a particular twist on the classic Portuguese ham and cheese sandwich: "Tosta Mista," involving sliced banana. Can you imagine the French putting sliced banana inside a croque monsieur? Sacre bleu!
The Tosta Mista 2.0 with banana arrived with Café St. Jorge as The Goose is Loose ($7.75). Following a classic San Francisco trend of transforming dishes for vegetarian desires, the tomato option popped into her mind for replacing the ham.
And what a sandwich indeed, stacked between two very thick, heavily toasted slices of sourdough from Bakers of Paris. The kitchen is generous with its layers of a Portuguese cheese called Topo (like a Gouda) imported from the café's namesake island of São Jorge in the Azores Islands. The tomato and banana slices both provide sweetness to compliment the nutty cheese. After a few bites, the tomato's juices ooze out, blending with the cheese's creaminess to become a form of sauce béchamel, elevating this casual sandwich to an almost luxurious state.
Snack on some addictive, salty tremoços (brined lupini beans similar to lima beans) imported from Portugal, or fava bean crostini while waiting for main courses. Outside of The Goose is Loose, several salads are available, including a vegan one with arugula, avocado, apple, and quinoa.
Arguably the café's best seller is the vegan and gluten-free soaked chia bowl ($7.75) with house-made almond milk, cinnamon, seeds, and a produce section of fresh and dried fruit. Giant slices of toast are also crowd-pleasers all times of day, especially the vegan avocado and chili covered version ($5.85).
Pay special attention to the beverages and baked goods, too. The signature Portuguese pastry "pasties de nata" baked by two friends of de Francisco is mandatory, like a cinnamon dusted, warm crème brulée in mini-tartlet form. Café St. Jorge pulls excellent "bica" shots of Stumptown Coffee, and I could drink the piercing "Gengibre" juice ($6) each day for an eye-opening spice blast of ginger and cayenne, mellowed out by just enough apple and lemon. And soon the café will have a wine and liquor license to serve that other Portuguese staple: wine.
You might not think of bananas, tomatoes, and Topo cheese as a complimentary sandwich trio. Forget about the BLT. It's the BTT, or The Goose is Loose, that is now one of the city's best vegetarian or not vegetarian sandwiches.
3438 Mission St., San Francisco; 814-2028. Cafestjorge.com