I’ve been waiting for Straw to open since the Holiday Block Party this past Christmas in Hayes Valley where they handed out samples of truffle oil popcorn and lavender lemonade. After months of waiting (including a contest for guessing their opening date with the prize of a month of free meals), this carnival-themed restaurant opened its doors and moved into the Hayes family.
Dinner menu welcomes all.
This small space near the corner of Octavia and Page is not only chock-full of carnival-themed paraphernalia, it’s also cozy, friendly, and inviting. And the attention to detail is impeccable. There’s an antique tilt-a-whirl used as a booth, old signs saying things like “winner every time” and “3 balls $1.00,” and fantastic black-and-white photos of carnival goers. There are complimentary jawbreakers on the table and tiny candy packages for the taking in the box you get your check in. The menus are covered with the bindings of old books, and the contents of those menus contain some of the most creative dishes I have ever seen.
Old book bindings are used for the menus.
Being a vegan, when I first heard about Straw, I assumed it’ll be a cool place to go with friends but that I would definitely have to pre-eat. Just to give them the benefit of the doubt, I emailed them to ask about vegan options, and to my happy surprise they replied that they actually have both a vegan and gluten-free menu available for guests, because, as the front page of their menu states “everyone should enjoy our carnival.”
Gastro Gypsy Sandwich
My husband and I were the fifth party on their opening night and we were promptly handed vegan menus upon mentioning our dietary choice. It was so nice not to do the oft-performed dance of “well… this COULD be made vegan if you take everything off the plate and leave just the lettuce.” I opted for the Gastro Gypsy sandwich made with Moroccan carrots and olive tapenade, and my husband chose the Grilled PB&J. As a side we got the sweet potato tots with blackberry BBQ sauce.
The Gastro Gyspy had sweet and spicy roasted carrots with a tangy green olive tapenade. The vegetarian version of this sandwich includes chevre and, although the vegan version was delicious, I did miss having a third (creamy) ingredient in there. Perhaps Straw can learn the surprisingly easy art of making cashew cheeses; they’re already so creative, I can totally see them taking on a challenge like that. The PB&J was warm and satisfying with the nice touch of adding apricot preserve instead of the usual berry or grape jam.
But the tots—oh the tots! I’d go back just for those. Homemade crispy, bright orange-centered sweet potato nuggets dunked in tangy blackberry BBQ sauce. I seriously could make a meal out of those.
Sweet Potato Tots with Blackberry BBQ Sauce
Unfortunately the dessert options they had that night were not vegan, but I've heard talk of orange blossom cotton candy that I plan to try as soon as the machine is up and running.
Now, I know that Straw is not a vegan restaurant (and their non-vegan fare is mad extensive, even featuring specials inspired by the New Orleans Jazz Festival), but the fact that they make the effort to have menus for people with alternative dietary ethics or health requirements, makes me have a lot of respect for them. In fact, they seem to make an effort to acknowledge their community in multiple ways, by sourcing from local farms, and giving 10% of each Monday’s proceeds to a local charity or organization (this week went to neighbor Hayes Valley Farm).
Something sweet to take with you.
I also have faith that as soon as they get in their groove, they’ll start offering some vegan entrees and desserts, in addition to the sandwiches and salads. Or even brunch options—I'm dying for a great tofu scramble at somewhere other than The Plant.
And I have faith that once their liquor license kicks in, these guys will come up with some crazy-interesting and yummy cocktails. I’m thinking a kettle corn Manhattan or a fried pickle dirty martini…