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A Relic on Rye

No longer relegated to the retro diner menu, patty melts are back— and more delicious than ever.


The patty melt at Rookies is a new favorite at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

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The Farmers' Market Melt

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The Elder Statesman

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The Traditionalist

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The Fermentation Experiment

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The Reuben Melt

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The Bar Bite

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It the end of the day, a patty melt is a simple thing: a seared burger, melted Swiss, and caramelized onions between two slices of griddled rye. That’s it. So why is this humble greasy spoon staple now having a star turn at some of the Bay Area’s trendiest restaurants? Part of it is just an extension of our never-ending obsession with the hamburger. “I think everyone has for a long time been doing their own spin on a burger, or a burger that matches their particular nostalgic ideal,” says David Barzelay, the executive chef at two-Michelin-star Lazy Bear. The chef’s newly opened cocktail bar offshoot, True Laurel, features a supercharged patty melt made with dry-aged beef and bread that has taken a dip in dry-aged-beef fat. Other chefs around the Bay are making patty melts with pastrami-spiked burger grinds, special sauces, and, often, house-baked bread—sliced bread being, of course, one of the sandwich’s defining elements. Call it a cheeseburger by another name if you like: The new-wave patty melt is here to stay.

6 New-School Patty Melts to Try Right Now

The Farmers’ Market Melt
Run by Gio Betteo, a former butcher at 4505 Meats, Rookies Sandwich Shop pops up at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market every Thursday and Saturday. Betteo assembles his patty melt ($12) using seeded sourdough from Marla Bakery and onions from Heirloom Organics—both market neighbors. Meanwhile, the grass-fed beef comes from Stemple Creek Ranch in Tomales, and the aged white cheddar comes from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. The result is a sandwich even greater than the sum of its locally sourced parts.
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (Embarcadero At Market St.), 650-430-4130

The Elder Statesman
Christopher Kronner started doing patty melts ($15.50) at his KronnerBurger pop-ups in 2012, well before the sandwich’s recent resurgence of cool. These days, the chef uses housemade multigrain sourdough, aged white cheddar, and the same funky blend of 60-day dry-aged beef that he uses for the standard burger at his new-school Oakland diner. The patty is cooked rare, seasoned extra-salty, and topped with caramelized onions and béchamel. It’s a heavy situation, but a squirt of hot Chinese mustard cuts the richness—just barely.
4063 Piedmont Ave. (At 41st St.), Oakland, 510-410-7145

The Traditionalist
Sequoia Diner chef Andrew Vennari’s first patty melt was a classic version he ate as a teen late one night at the Castro district all-hours diner Orphan Andy’s. The one he serves ($14.50) at his diner in Oakland’s Laurel district is a nod to traditional flavors. He uses house-baked sourdough rye, grass-fed beef that he grinds in-house, a thicker-than-usual slice of Swiss, and flash-grilled onions that taste more charred than sweet. Vennari’s one personal flourish: He slathers the bread with a garlicky lemon aioli studded with chopped cornichons.
3719 MacArthur Blvd. (Near Loma Vista Ave.), Oakland, 510-482-3719

The Fermentation Experiment
When Tartine Manufactory co-chefs Christa Chase and Bill Niles (who has since departed) saw that the Tartine bread team was experimenting with Pullman loaves, a patty melt was the first thing that came to mind. At the same time, the mad scientists in charge of fermentation had come up with a kraut-like concoction made with kohlrabi, so the chefs added that, too, along with fresh dill, thinly shaved red onions, and Wagon Wheel cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. The result ($15) is less of a gut bomb than a traditional patty melt, but with no shortage of flavor.
595 Alabama St. (At 18th St.), 415-757-0007

The Reuben Melt
For the patty melt ($13.50) at the original Wise Sons Delicatessen in the Mission district, pastrami bits are mixed into the burger blend, adding a layer of smokiness and salt. The sandwich also includes onions slowly caramelized in butter, Swiss cheese, tangy Russian dressing, and house-baked rye bread that’s toasted in pastrami fat. In other words, the components of a classic Jewish-deli Reuben, repackaged into a newly delicious format.
3150 24th St. (Near Shotwell St.), 415-787-3354

The Bar Bite
At True Laurel, the patty melt ($13) is small in size but big on flavor—the better to let customers sample multiple items on the bar’s cocktail-friendly food menu. Despite its compact size, the four-ounce patty, formed with cuts sourced from retired dairy cows, is profoundly beefy, with a distinctive dry-aged funk. The sandwich also features pain de mie toasted in dry-aged-beef fat, American cheese—for both meltability and nostalgia—and a thin layer of pickles as a counterpoint to all that richness.
753 Alabama St. (Near 20th St.), 415-341-0020


Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco

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