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Fresh Eats: Midwestern Smash Burgers Shine, Food Trucks Get Pushback 

Wednesday, May 4 2011

Midwest SmashBurgers from a New Truck Headed to S.F.

By John Birdsall

Zak Silverman cooked at Berkeley's Elmwood Cafe and did a sort of apprenticeship with Suzanne Schafer and Shari Washburn onboard Ebbet's Good to Go, but it was all preamble, every bit of it. Silverman — just 25 — knew he wanted to roll out a truck of his own.

Two weeks, ago he did. After a couple of months of occasional appearances at Mission bar Homestead, Doc's on the Bay launched full time, with lunchtime hours at various spots in Emeryville most weekdays. Silverman has his eye on San Francisco, but so far his efforts to secure permits downtown, in the Mission, and in Lower Haight are receiving some pushback from nearby businesses (read more below). When Doc's does make the move from East Bay to west, it'll be the city's first dedicated burger truck. "The Financial District is basically Emeryville on steroids," he says.

Doc's specializes in American comfort foods, what Silverman calls "straight-up Americana," produced via a sort of collaboration with Doc's cooks Lauren Smith and John Babbott. Credit his love of Americana for the truck's name, a nod to the marine biologist beardo protagonist of the 1945 novel by John Steinbeck, Cannery Row, an idyll of friendship in a scuffed-up microhood.

Doc's menu includes really tasty mac and cheese ($4), crackling with roasted poblanos and jalapeños and a topping of crushed cornflakes, and a pulled-pork sandwich brightened with slaw ($8). But the menu's centerpiece is the classic burger ($7), made, Silverman says, according to the so-called Midwestern smash-burger method.

He sources organic, grass-finished Black Angus beef and mixes in a good measure of chopped onion. The meat hits the griddle in ball form, and gets flattened into patty shape only after browning and sizzling a bit. It's a hefty burger, with a noticeably tender patty (thanks to that smash technique?) and a powerfully savory onion persona.

To find out where Doc's is setting up, and how its permit applications turn out, follow it on on Facebook ( or Twitter (@docsofthebay).

Pushing Back Against Food Trucks

By John Birdsall

Last week, Andrew Dudley of Haighteration ( opened the window onto a brewing battle mounted by some neighbors to keep start-up burger truck Doc's of the Bay from obtaining a permit to roll up to Divisadero and Page. Brace yourself for more: New mobile vending rules the city adopted late last year included a stringent notification law, requiring the Department of Public Works to notify all businesses near a site of a vendor's intentions to do business there. Even one objection triggers a mandatory hearing before a city planner, with a single official ultimately making the call about whether a food truck represents unfair competition to nearby brick-and-mortars.

The new rules were widely lauded — by SFoodie and others — as an expansion of street food in San Francisco. Now it's looking like the new ordinance (which had the blessing of high-profile food-truck foe the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a restaurant owners' group) merely raises the bar for would-be vendors seeking spots on the street.

In early March, Doc's owner, Zak Silverman, was among the dozens of operators camping out for an early crack at filing permit applications under the city's new mobile vending rules. Silverman ended up applying for seven locations for his burger and American comfort food truck. "Unless we're really lucky, it looks like we'll get objections to all of them," he tells SFoodie.

And what about Doc's chances for prevailing on Divis? Silverman isn't sure. "The Department of Public Works is a black box," he says. "We don't know if the city planner is going to be lenient or sympathetic to the food trucks or anti-food trucks. It seems to me that after all of this any judge is gonna be at least a little sympathetic to the trucks, but we don't know. We're going to come in to our hearing well-worded and make the best case we can."

No date has been set for any of the hearings. The deadline for logging objections to Doc's of the Bay's permit application for Divis is May 6. Meanwhile, Haighteration is urging readers to register support for the food truck with the Department of Public Works by e-mailing

About The Author

John Birdsall


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