Back in November, SF Weekly writer Pete Kane called Merigan Sub Shop’s sandwiches the “most overpriced” in the city. Citing their then-$17 cheesesteak as an example of the city’s fiendishly quick rise in exclusivity, the story clearly hit a nerve. At some point in between Kane’s story’s publication and this January, prices have dropped a few bucks; and while I didn’t visit the SoMa sandwich joint until recently, I can say that I was happy not to have to break more than a $20 for a sandwich and cookie.
Merigan is helmed by Liza Shaw, formerly of A16 and Acquerello. Shaw is known for her pizza and pasta chops, as well as for her passion for whole animal butchery. With a fine-dining background, it could seem a surprise that she’d move on to open a casual sandwich shop. Yet Merigan is only casual in its appearance. As we reported last fall, Shaw carefully sources her protein from Chico’s Llano Seco Rancho, breaking down the animals herself, and makes everything but the bread in-house. The sandwiches are assembled thoughtfully, with an eye but not strict allegiance to seasonality. (Some subs, like the warm winter veg, change depending on ingredient availability. Others, like the Italian combo, are permanent staples.) Merigan therefore offers a hybrid dining experience, serving high-end, restaurant-quality sandwiches in a purposefully causal atmosphere with a television tuned permanently to sports games.
Perhaps this hybridism is the real source of consternation on Kane’s (and, frankly, many other online critics) part. It’s hard to know what to expect from such a restaurant, and our bar for quality and value—sandwiches should be cheap, upscale plated Italian food should be expensive—can easily be skewed. One obviously wouldn’t expect to walk out of A16 dropping less than $40, so paying $15 for a thoughtful sandwich from one of the restaurant’s former chef’s may not be that ridiculous.
But forget the social argument for now. I visited Merigan for the sandwiches, and sandwiches I will discuss.
Shaw’s menu is divided into hot and cold subs, with a few options for side dishes and two choices of dessert. Most contain a hefty layer of meat with a thinner layer of house condiments and often a thin slice of cheese. Each sub comes on a seeded roll from nearby Pinkie’s Bakery. Hots—pickled hot peppers that taste shockingly like Sriracha—are optional.
Served cold, the turkey sub ($12) is made from poultry roasted and sliced in-house, and dressed with a sweet and tangy tomato conserva, mild provolone cheese, sharp and crunchy pickled onions, peppery arugula, and a scant amount of oil and vinegar dressing. While it’s not going to convert any turkey sandwich haters to white meat lovers, it is a fine example of the form. The turkey is moist, and the condiments sing in harmony. If anything, the sub could use an extra drizzle or two of the dressing.
The infamous cheesesteak (now $14.50) is far better than I’d predicted given its PR. Expertly sliced steak gets a quick trip on the flattop with thick strips of onion and covered with a demure layer of melted provolone. There’s enough cheese to realize its presence, but not so much to overwhelm the flavor of the meat—indeed, the sub actually tastes like a steak sandwich instead of melted cheese on a roll studded with chewy strips of mystery meat. Add a drizzle of the hots for a spicy bite and bright contrast to the rich slices of beef.
Still, the best bite of the afternoon goes to the chocolate chip cookie flaked with sea salt ($2.50). Deeply buttery and redolent of caramel-y brown sugar, Merigan’s cookie is studded with generous chunks of chocolate and exhibits that elusive and wonderful crisp-chewy contrast between the golden outer edges and soft center. It is the chocolate chip cookie I aspire to make.
Had I not needed to hop in the car and drive from one end of the bay to the other, I surely would have sampled one of the two draft wines ($8 each for Unti Rosso 2012 and Giordnata ‘Il Campo’ Blanco 2012) or a beer from their short, food-friendly list. Happy hour ($5 drafts) is Monday-Saturday from 4-7pm, perfect for Giants game days come summer. For teetotalers, Merigan has a well-curated selection of sodas like Cheerwine, Mexican Coke, and Abita Root Beer.
In the end, I probably won’t return to Merigan on a regular basis—except, perhaps, for a cookie and a beer. The subs are enjoyable, and I appreciate the careful sourcing and production of the ingredients. But if I made the place a lunchtime habit, I’d quickly run out of pocket change.