Created by immigrants for other immigrants who yearned for a taste of the old country at a reasonable price, deli food has become a true dining experience. I mean, have you seen the price of a real pastrami sandwich these days? By “real”, I mean food made at the restaurant not in a factory. Great deli is not only hard to find but it’s considered a special ethnic dining adventure.
San Francisco has had a Jewish population for more than a century. The oldest synagogues in the city came to be during the Gold Rush more than 150 years ago. Somehow, San Francisco is a major city not known for Jewish food. Chicago is, New York is, Miami for sure is and even Los Angeles has a collection of great Jewish delis.
Enter Wise Sons Jewish Deli. If you have a craving for chopped liver or pastrami, this is the place to be. Actually, I think of Wise Sons as a modern updated version of the old deli. Oh it looks like an old neighborhood deli and it smells like one, but the food has been somewhat revised.
The meats, breads and salads created in-house are unique. Most delis buy premade everything and it tastes like it. This means Wise Sons bake, brine and smoke meats, buying only things from local purveyors like free range chicken for soup.
We sampled the chopped liver. It’s very good almost as good as my grandmothers. Chopped so you can taste the bits of onion and liver and not blended to a smooth paste like pretend delis sometimes do. The operative word is “chopped.” The special ingredient here is “gribenes.” Gribenes are pieces of chicken skin and onion fried in schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Okay, this may not be healthy, but it really does taste great. Rye bread at Wise Sons is also great. It has a corn crust and caraway seeds.
My favorite sandwich at a deli is pastrami on rye with mustard, cole slaw and Russian dressing. This was amazing though different from what I’m used to. Pastrami is a fatty cut of brisket brined than smoked. There is a lot of fat making the meat juicy, flavorful and tender.
The pastrami at Wise Sons reminds me of smoked meat found in Jewish delis in Montreal. I have heard about this delicacy for years and finally tasted it on a family trip to Canada a few years ago. Smoke meat is not fatty or juicy. It’s a drier version of what we in the states call pastrami. It’s great, just not the typical pastrami that I anticipated. I’ve searched for smoked meat in the states and even tried to mail order it in from Canada, but you can’t due to regulations about importing beef. Now I have Wise Sons to bring it to my father in law.
We also tried a Reuben. This is grilled pastrami on rye with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. Excellent, one of the best I’ve tried. This seems to be a house specialty. My wife orders a Reuben rather than just a pastrami sandwich.
The cole slaw is good, but not as tangy as I like. The pickles are excellent and made on site. They have a garlicky flavor and are crisp. I like all pickles but favor older ones that have soaked in the brine longer. Older pickles is what we got with our sandwiches.
My wife ordered a chocolate egg cream to go with her corned beef sandwich. Made with extra chocolate this is just like New York! This is a chocolate phosphate (chocolate sauce and seltzer) with a splash of milk. It’s a tradition (in our family at least) with deli. I had a cream soda.
A variety of breakfast dishes are served including Matzah Brie (eggs scrambled with matzah), bagels (only on Saturdays) and lox and Bialys (a special bagel that is baked at the store).
Hours are breakfast and lunch, with anytime catering available. Wise Sons is located in a cozy residential area in the Mission district, which is a bit out of the way. I have to say the restaurant is packed and there is a wait. .
There is culinary magic here. Simple food, prepared the right way to make it taste as good as it can. Wise Sons is an amazing deli. The only real problem at Wise Sons is the wait. The place is small and the wait is long. I’m not sure how long people, especially hungry people, will wait to eat. While waiting someone is passing out a taste of a chocolate babka, a pastry that reminds me of my dad.