Why ham and oysters? As Rubin jokingly says, “Chefs love artisanal, aged hams and oysters,” but on a more serious note, the two ingredients speak to the concept of terroir; oysters are flavored in part by the water and ham by the diet of the pig and the environment where the meat is aged. No dishes actually combine oysters and ham; oysters are served on the half shell and ham is served European style, on platters with garnishes such as cheese, salad or fruit.
Hog & Rocks looks like it’s been in the neighborhood forever; it has a long bar running the length of the room and dark communal tables, with high leather upholstered stools. Adamson-Molina Design Associates created a clean interior, with a cool-toned color palate of gray walls framed with dark crown molding, complementing the dark oxblood red seating. Created without a specific demographic in mind, it succeeds in attracting a wide variety of patrons from families to singles, neighborhood folks and beyond. It’s convivial but not quite boisterous until Friday night rolls around when you might find a birthday or bachelor party.
Though no specific food and drink pairings are offered, the wine and beer menu offers classic choices to fit with the menu, such as Widmer Drifter Pale Ale to go with Fish and Chips and a Claude Branger Muscadet to pair with platters of oysters. Draft beer is sold in 12-ounce and 20-ounce servings and pitchers. Wines are offered by the half glass, glass or bottle and four California keg wines by the glass or 750-ounce carafe. Beers range in price from $3 for a can of Old Milwaukee to $21 for a pitcher of Lost Abbey Red Barn Saison. Wines range from $3.50 for a half glass of Argentinean Argie Torrontés and top out with Olssens Pinot Noir from New Zealand at $37 for the bottle. Everything from food to wine to cocktails is effortless and affordable.
Comfortable Yet Creative
San Francisco is an adventurous town when it comes to food, so it comes as no surprise that the most popular dish at Hog & Rocks is Cast Iron Octopus served with Smashed New Potatoes, Jalapeños and Ham Vinaigrette. Also on the menu are “jars” each filled with something for spreading on crackers or bread, salads and heartier dishes such as a lusty Beef Tongue Salad, a Spinach Salad with Fried Onions and Mustard Vinaigrette and a crowd-pleasing Skillet Patty Melt. Dishes are priced for $5 to $15. It’s a little bit neighborhood bar, a little bit gastropub and is quickly becoming a destination for foodies and cocktail fans as well.
The food fits the mantra of sustainable and organic but isn’t limited to local. Typically about seven or eight oysters are on offer, priced from $2 to $3.25 each and come from places like Washington state and Vancouver and as far away as New Zealand. Hams come from Tennessee, Kentucky, Spain and Italy, each with their own distinct garnishes and condiments. Ham platters are priced from $10 to $12 and are designed to be shared, the sweetness and saltiness crying out for beer or even Bourbon.
The cocktail menu features well-prepared drinks that were popular in the 1960s and 1970s such as the Brandy Alexander, Harvey Wallbanger, Grasshopper and the Hurricane. Says partner Eric Rubin, “There are plenty of places doing high-end cocktail programs; we are rediscovering granddad’s cocktails. We keep them to no more than four ingredients, and make sure they are well priced.” These are cocktails not typically found on menus elsewhere in town. The most popular drink is the Moscow Mule, which is soon to be served in traditional mugs. Many of the cocktails including the Moscow Mule, Hurricane and Salty Dog are also available in liter pitchers that are priced from $27 to $35 and average about five drinks each. Sticking with classic but less common drinks priced from $7 to $9 has also allowed a younger generation to discover them for the first time.
Youkilis and Rubin have done no traditional advertising and hired their staff based on passion for food and beverage rather than just their restaurant experience. In keeping with the casual bar environment, they accept no reservations but seem to have quickly built a following with industry types on Mondays and Tuesdays, and a wide range of customers the rest of the time, including neighborhood regulars, and even families. At Hog & Rocks, great quality cocktails, an approachable selection of wines and beers and stepped up bar food, like ham and oysters, is a match made in heaven.