I had never tried an Ike's Place sandwich until this past Friday night. I had, of course, heard about the infamous original location and its long lines of patrons sparking drama in San Francisco -- so much so that the hubbub even made it into the pages of The New York Times. But by the time the dust had settled and they comfortably settled into a new space, then opened other locations, it had fallen off my radar.
But then I heard the good word that an Ike's Lair was coming to the Uptown District of Oakland, right in Franklin Square.
With Plum, Plum Bar and Bakesale Betty's second location as neighbors, and Hawker Fare, Trueburger and Luka's Taproom & Lounge nearby, it's a burgeoning food enclave that's drawing lots of attention. Here was my easy opportunity to finally taste one of Ike's creations for myself.
Ike's Lair opened its doors in late January (its website doesn't reflect its Oakland location yet), a bright space with cartoon renditions of a devilishly grinning Ike at every turn. And there's their slogan writ large on one wall:
Ike's Lair has a smaller menu than its San Francisco counterpart, but it's still daunting. It took my husband (a fellow Ike's newbie) and I a full 10 minutes to study the extensive menu. (It reminded me of the first time I went to Shopsin's in New York City, which probably has the most mind-blowing menu in the world.)
We opted for four half-size sandwiches (all priced at $5.95) to get a good sampling of its offerings: the SF Giants pitcher-inspired Matt Cain (roast beef, turkey, salami, Godfather sauce, Provolone cheese); Paul Reubens (the real name of the actor who portrays "Pee-Wee Herman") with pastrami, homemade poppy seed coleslaw, French dressing, Swiss cheese; The Bakesale (their nod to Bakesale Betty's fried-chicken sandwich with American cheese); and the Meatless Mike with vegan meatballs, marinara sauce and pepper jack cheese. I had originally ordered the (co-founder of Yelp) Jeremy Stoppelman sandwich (breaded eggplant, green pesto, habanero, grilled tomato, Provolone cheese), but alas, they had run out of eggplant.
We went with the standard toppings (lettuce, tomato, and their creamy Dirty Secret Sauce that's like an aioli but more herbaceous) and none of the "extra dirty" options of mozzarella sticks or jalapeño poppers since we didn't want to get too decadent on our first trip to Ike's. Same for the beer-battered onion rings and zucchini. Checking out other people's orders, though, they looked tempting -- as did the Cake Monkey pastries in the case.
There's no indoor seating at Ike's, but there's plenty of room out front. I'm sure it'll be packed in warmer weather.
On our way back to our place, I overheard some folks say, "There's always a huge line at lunchtime that goes down the block." I guess this location shares the same busy crowds as the SF mothership, but as we're in the Bay Area -- Ike's has smartphone apps that you can use to place your orders ahead of time. (I'm sure this will come in handy on Superbowl Sunday; I imagine Ike's will be racking up a lot of business that day to feed hungry football fans at parties.)
By the time we got home, I was starving. I think I wolfed down the delicious The Meatless Mike, which I had ordered on their Dutch crunch roll, in less than a minute.
The Bakesale, however, was a pretty weak homage to its predecessor and won't give it a run for its money anytime soon. Unlike Betty's esteemed sandwich, this had a small slab of limply fried chicken that sorely needed the spicy, vinegary tang of her coleslaw.
My husband had the same reaction to the Matt Cain, which he thought was a pretty average combination of flavors. Good, not great.
The Paul Reubens was quite tasty, though, and the best of the bunch. I'd definitely go back for that.
I wouldn't say that I'm a diehard fan yet -- I'm still partial to Bakesale Betty's and Genova's Delicatessen -- but there's lot more for us to try at Ike's. (Unfortunately this website, which supposedly lists more sandwiches, wasn't working.) Perhaps I'll finally make a pilgrimage to the Castro location now that I've got a basis for comparison.