Serious Eats: Drinks
Happy Hour, San Francisco: Free Lunch at Comstock Saloon
Okay, we know. In most peoples' minds, minds that don't require say, an intervention, happy hour is not lunchtime. At least not regularly. But when we caught wind of the free lunch special at the Comstock Saloon, we knew it was time to make an exception.
Considering the premise of Comstock is meant to evoke a high-class Barbary Coast throwback, it makes sense they would bring back the free lunch concept. Big in the early 20th century, the free lunch was a bar staple. Complimentary, salty food would be served around noon, luring patrons in and whetting their appetites for a refreshing libation. At Comstock, you're required to purchase two "adult beverages" to ensure that your meal is free-of-charge. "Bummer," we thought, huge smiles spreading across our faces. Considering Comstock has fast become known for serving both excellent food and drinks, this seemed more than manageable.
Since there is only one free lunch dish served per day, I started by picking my drink. While wine and beer fall under the "adult beverage" category, when at Comstock, it's a wise choice to go for a cocktail. They have a very nice menu of classic and creative drinks, but my favorite option is the barkeep's whimsy ($11). You simply specify what you're in the mood for (your favorite spirit and what flavors you're in the mood for) and receive a cocktail fitting these specifications. I requested bourbon, adding that I'm not a huge fan of orange in my drinks, and was brought a Bourbon 75, made with Four Roses bourbon, Champagne, lemon, and simple syrup. It was a perfect summer drink—like bubbly bourbon lemonade topped with brandied cherries. I liked it so much I simply ordered another for drink number two.
The free lunch dish changes with some regularity; it's been chorizo and chickpeas, a "Hamburg steak" (so popular it made its way onto the regular menu), and even a gussied up hotdog. When we visited, it was a steak and fried potato sandwich (free!), served on a long, buttered torpedo roll. The well-seasoned steak was chopped into meaty pieces and nicely pan fried with onions; the thinly sliced potatoes added a great, unexpected texture and flavor. As someone who's been known to love french fries on sandwiches, this was a welcome addition in my book.
While the combination was by no means dry, I found myself wishing for some kind of sauce or spread to accompany the meat and potatoes. This was remedied immediately when I was brought out a bottle of house-made pepper vinegar, an excellent hot sauce and exactly what seemed to be missing. The sandwich was served with excellent disc-sized potato chips (flavored with some kind of Cajun seasoning) and a nicely-dressed arugula salad.
So, is the free lunch entirely free? No. But I'd consider two excellent cocktails and a lunch for $22 to be a damn good deal, at least in our post-Barbary day and age.