When your sandwiches cause long lines and neighborhood protests, you know you’re on to something.
Ike’s Place in San Francisco became a cult favorite, thus the lines, but supposedly the aroma of meats and other sandwich stuffs from the tiny kitchen bothered neighbors in the Castro area. But after months of news coverage and negotiations (and a move across the street), everyone’s supposedly happy and Ike’s is now expanding its empire with a couple of stores along the Peninsula and just last month a store near my workplace in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood.
Called Ike’s Lair on the East Bay, the popular sandwich shop offers up a condensed menu of its crazy-named sandwiches (things like “Menage a Trois,” “The Joker,” “Nacho Girl,” “Matt Cain,” and “Super Mario”). Just reading the menu can create long lines, so in a way it’s good the menu offerings here are fewer. Still, we’re talking about 20-plus options (with several vegan choices).
During its first week, you can imagine, the lines were long, partly because people wanted to check it out and partly because it’s a very tiny shop. On my first visit, the wait was 40 minutes, leaving me very little time to wolf down my sandwich during my lunch hour. But since then, the curiosity has died down (and probably people realized they couldn’t kill their hour of lunch standing in line) and wait times for me has ranged from 25 minutes to 5 minutes (when I take an early lunch and get there soon after the store opens at 11 a.m.).
Side note: Even during times when there isn’t a line, there’s still a bit of wait because the kitchen crew typically looks overwhelmed. Probably because the menu contains so many different varieties and combinations, it takes awhile to learn all the sandwiches. Plus, more than two people end up touching your sandwich as they try to make it go through an assembly line (that hasn’t really been perfected).
Ike’s sells its sandwiches in two sizes: half and full. The half, which measures 4 inches, seem to work out fine for me for lunch since it’s usually packed with a lot of ingredients. The sandwiches have a variety of ingredients, but I find that many of the sandwiches at the Oakland store is made of halal chicken.
For example, I got the Backstabber, which is made of halal chicken with artichoke hearts and Caesar dressing ($5.95 for half). The chicken can be on the dry side, so it helps that there’s a sauce, and every sandwiches come with the signature “dirty sauce,” which is like a garlic aioli. And trust me, you always want the dirty sauce.
Some of my discoveries during my visits in the first two weeks is I love Ike’s “Dutch crunch” roll. I started off ordering my sandwiches on wheat bread, but now I always go with the Dutch crunch, which has a crusty top that makes every sandwich great. I also love the pastrami sandwich, called the Paul Reubens ($5.95 for half). While the pastrami wasn’t as aromatic as I’ve found at other places, I liked the combination of home-made poppy seed cole slaw with French dressing and Swiss cheese.
Not every sandwich is a success. I found that the ones that didn’t work usually suffer from being too dry, like the Elvis Keith ($4.94 for half), which is halal chicken (again) with teriyaki wasabi mayo and Swiss. I expected more teriyaki sauce, but it was very minimal (that’s why you should always get the dirty sauce). Then the Super Mario, which is the only sandwich that you have to buy full size ($12.21), was tasty with meatballs sectioned off by mozzarella sticks, but there wasn’t enough marinara sauce to my liking.
Ike’s Lair isn’t just selling sandwiches, it’s selling sandwiches with an attitude (the fun kind). So even while not every sandwich is a winner, it’s still worth going through the menu to find a few delicious discoveries.
Ike’s Lair, 2204 Broadway (near Grand Avenue), Oakland. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. More information from its Facebook page.
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