SPQR in San Francisco: Crispy Pork Sandwich

I was able to satisfy my sick fascination with pork products tonight, thanks to the crispy pork sandwich at SPQR in San Francisco. This dish was, by far, one of the most over-the-top items I have ever encountered anywhere: a doughy-soft potato bun, topped with a slice of ham, a couple slices of bacon, and a glorious chunk of trotter-and-pork-rib terrine, the latter of which had been unabashedly deep-fried. And if that wasn’t already enough, the sandwich itself was dressed with a pork-liver mayonnaise, which is a perfectly scandalous touch, to say the least.

I have to admire any restaurant that has the gumption to offer such a hedonistic dish, especially in an area rife with so many smug vegetarians. But despite this incredibly brazen offering, SPQR — which derives its name from the Latin phrase Senatus Populusque Romanus — has already established a terrific reputation among Bay Area diners. I had arrived at the restaurant just a few minutes after they had opened for dinner, and I scored a coveted seat at the bar, which offers an up-close view of the hot line. By the time I left, there was already a decent crowd of people waiting outside (common for any popular hole-in-the-wall that does not offer reservations).

I’m not exactly sure if the crispy pork sandwich is new to the SPQR menu, since it’s not listed on the restaurant’s website. Because this sandwich is a bona fide beast, I realize that it’s not for everyone, but I’m surprised that it has not garnered more press. Anyone who eats pork should try it at least once (and better to do so in the winter months, when such a rich sandwich is at its most palatable). But as much as I champion this audacious dish, I will quietly admit that the lone slice of ham does not contribute much, except on sheer principle; the other components — smoky bacon, deep-fried terrine, liver mayo — simply dominate the flavor profile, as one might expect.

Aside from the crispy pork sandwich, I also sampled a couple of SPQR’s antipasti items, including the mozzarella bocconcini and the house-made pork sausage (like I said, I’m dead serious about pork). The bocconcini was tasty — it’s fried cheese, after all — and was served atop a bed of frisee dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. The sausage, meanwhile, was in the patty form, seared to a hard golden brown, and served alongside a salad of braised fennel and ceci beans (what if, instead of the ham, this sausage patty was stacked onto the pork sandwich — just a thought).

For dessert, I ordered the gelato and sorbetto with pizzelle. The chocolate-almond gelato didn’t really pop for me, which was probably a blessing in disguise (the crispy pork sandwich nearly laid me out, so I really lost all desire to eat anything rich). I had, in fact, ordered the dessert specifically for the Meyer-lemon sorbetto component, which was the perfect antidote — tangy, acidic, and perfumed with citrus — for one of the most decadent meals in recent memory. I’m going to eat salad until Thanksgiving.

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