I have a great group of friends. As all groups, we go through the upswings and downswings of activity, depending on everyone’s schedule. We could see each other 3 times in a week and then go 2 months without getting together. But nothing ever changes and all we do is marvel at how fast time flies by. The one thing we always make an effort to attend is a birthday dinner. To me, birthdays are special – it’s a day that belongs to you and when people get together to celebrate it’s because they love you. Birthday dinners are also a good reason to eat out somewhere new or that is not on your usual rotation. Which is how we ended up at The Linkery in North Park.
If you hang out on Chowhound, you know about The Linkery. You know all about Jay Porter, his vision and goals, and his blog. If you hang out on Chowhound, you are most likely showering this place with praise and love and happy thoughts. Which is nice because Jay hangs out there, too. If you happen to criticize The Linkery on Chowhound, it will immediately be defended (sometimes viciously) by everyone and you will end up wishing you had kept your mouth shut while thinking that sometimes, people need to stop taking food so seriously. If you’ve looked for The Linkery before, it’s probable you’ve had to drive by it at least twice before actually finding it.
T and I had been to The Linkery once before, probably not too long after it opened. I think I had read about it on Chowhound, we had a 2-for-1 coupon (which we didn’t use), and I was going through a phase where I was willing to spend money to support local vendors with a cause if it meant they had good food. This was a period where we visited our local butcher, the farmers markets, and the local cheese shops. It was good and fun, but my checkbook has asked that I scale back a bit and get off my high horse. But, The Linkery had local, seasonal ingredients and was in a section of town that was still evolving. I really wanted to go, so off we went. We ended up getting a cheese plate and a sausage plate with 2 kinds of sausage. The type of links change often, and I don’t even remember what we had. I do remember they were tasty, the chutney and bread was good, and the cheese was pretty yummy, too. The price wasn’t even all that bad, but it was probably about $15 for the sausage plate. It was such a cool concept – everchanging menu items, housemade sausage, local cheese – but I wasn’t blown away. Both Bisher’s Meat and Iowa Meat Farm make really great sausages. I was buying hunks of different cheese from Aniata Cheese Shop (have you tried the burrata?) and decent bread is everywhere. I didn’t understand why we had to drive all the way down to the south end of North Park to eat a dinner I could throw together for $6 at home. And it would satisfy us just as easily. Granted, we didn’t try any other menu items. And, the menu offerings have grown and improved in variety since our first visit.
The Linkery does not take reservations. Somehow, at 7:30 pm on a Monday night, the place was empty enough to fit our party of 7 at a table in the front, which was lovely because it was cooler up there. I had gotten there very early so I treated myself to a cheese plate ($12) and a glass of wine. Once the party was complete, the table was full of chips and guacamole (good, but small), sausage plates, tagliatelle, pulled pork, and a very tall burger. What was the best on the table? The piece of beef bacon that came with the sausage plates. It was so good, we asked for a side dish of beef bacon (see above photo). It looks unassuming, like a hunk of pork belly, but if you slice it and start chewing, you get the smoky saltiness of bacon, with the meaty texture of smoked beef, with the salty melting heavenliness of beef fat. Seriously, if have any love of bacon and also like beef, you have to go try this right now before it goes away or we go back and eat it all. It is house made, with the beef belly coming from Brandt beef. Cows just got bumped higher than pigs on the list of tasty animals.
I was pretty happy with the pulled pork and the burger. The burger was a little dry for medium rare, but maybe that’s a side effect of the way the Brandt cows are raised. I would have liked a more runny egg yolk, too. However, all of this becomes moot (it’s a moo point, you know, like a cow’s opinion… it doesn’t matter, it’s moo) once beef bacon enters your mouth. Nothing else can compare.
So, we had a successful meal at The Linkery. Good friends, good beer, good food – fun! The table was divided on the better dessert – warm chocolate cake or grilled pound cake (I liked this one). A “table service” charge is added to your bill at 18%, so any cash “tips” are donated… I have mixed feelings on this, why not build in the table service fee and still not “accept” tips, but how can you complain when they’re donating extra money to a good cause?
Here’s where I take a slight exception to The Linkery’s mission. I appreciate the effort Jay goes through to find local vendors. They are now serving goat because they finally found a local goat-meat guy. Fruits and veggies come from local farms or the farmers market. Beer and wine come from as many local sites as possible. Eating Local is the trendy thing now – it’s even gotten into mainstream news as a way to reduce your carbon footprint! I acknowledge that the quality of most of the items The Linkery serves is as good or better than buying from a national vendor. But the cheese was all sheep/goat cheese, because that is what their vendor provides. (We won’t even start on the fact that the cheese plate involves 3 slices of cheese for $12 – plus walnuts and a plum and bread) The cheese was good, but they were all firm cheese, quite similar, and one was even too goat-y for me. If the options weren’t limited to local cheese, could the selection have been better? Perhaps. Should I just enjoy the local cheese and go eat gorgonzola and brie on my own? Maybe. I applaud people who go on the local diet and limit their meals to a 200-mile radius. Like any diet, it’s easy to do for a month, but what happens long-term? Do you forgo some of the really good foods because they came from Maine and not Mission Valley? Are you giving up Dungeoness crab because they don’t come from here? If you get on a plane and fly to San Francisco in order to eat their local Dungeoness crab, is that cheating? Have you found a local source for Oreos and Reese’s peanut butter cups? Everything in moderation, including new food trends.
I do try and make an effort. If we’re home, I’m up early, and we have time (it doesn’t happen often, really), I’ll try to go to the farmers market. I belong to a CSA, even though I have more zucchini than should be legally possible. I like Strauss milk, but I’ll buy whatever organic milk is available since Whole Foods is not convenient to get to. We love bananas and I’m not going to stop buying them because they are shipped in and aren’t in season here (are they ever in season here?). Chocolate is chocolate because I’m not driving an extra 30 minutes to Chuao. Now that I’ve had The Linkery’s other menu items, I’d be interested to go back, but the reality is that we’re hardly ever in that part of town and we’re more likely to grill up some links at home and enjoy cheese from Trader Joe’s. Until T figures out how to make beef bacon on his own, we may have to just dream about it. Which is probably healthier, now that I think about it.
Bottom line: The Linkery has good food and you earn good food karms by supporting them. Worth a visit. Worth the price? Still questionable. Better than giving money to overpriced overhyped fancy restaurants? Definitely. Have I learned that you should give a new restaurant at least 2 chances before making a final decision? Yes, especially if they unknowingly win you over with bacon made from tasty cows.