Now that we’re almost 10 years on from the start of the Great Recession, the timeline of food trends has begun to get a little hazy. Did cupcakes suddenly become popular because their hour simply came around, or was it that financially skittish people craved affordable indulgences? Did food trucks come on the scene organically, or was it because newly jobless people thought they were a great way to avoid going back to work for The Man after their fun-employment ran out?
A decade on, Korean tacos have receded into the background and cronuts have long since crested, but it appears that bacon is forever — and now Uptown Oakland’s The Gastropig looks to capitalize on it in a big way. Among vice-related substances, only cannabis consumption has swung harder from dubiously tolerated to near-universally accepted, so why not? Remember when people considered cholesterol to be a major health emergency? Who can watch the scene in My Cousin Vinny where Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei gawk in horror as a short-order cook scoops lard onto a stove, without marveling at how times have changed?
Bacon is everywhere. Keeping a fairly low profile since an exhausting battle with its Cole Valley neighbors temporarily closed its Frederick Street shop a few years ago, Bacon Bacon seems to have become primarily a catering operation. In that vacuum, it’s not so much that The Gastropig doubles down on strips of cured pork belly; it quadruples down. With all the (corporate) fast-food creations out there, the market is as saturated as a paper towel after you’ve wiped an iron skillet free of grease. So it can be tough for a place that wants to cultivate loyalty among serious foodies without getting too precious about it. If you choose to go in the direction of elegance and refinement, you might not woo the crowds flocking to Jack in the Box for the Triple Bacon Buttery Jack (which contains beef, grilled onions, cheddar, hickory-smoked bacon, bacon butter, and “bacon mayo”).
Opened in January by entrepreneurs Ann Thai and Loren Goodwin, The Gastropig seeks a sort of highbrow vulgarity, dubbing its signature breakfast sandwich the #BaconSlut. Slut-shaming is icky — especially when the slut in question comes on a brioche, like this one — but it does amuse me that the architects who designed The Gastropig’s interior work for Gensler, the global corporate firm that has an office directly across Franklin Street. (You might remember them from such airports as SFO Terminal 2.)
In any case, the #BaconSlut is a nice, airy sandwich whose pillowy roll keeps the contents — bacon, an over-easy egg, cheddar, and Aleppo chili aioli — from feeling like a gut-buster. I would definitely prefer more heat in the chili, but you can always remedy that with Sriracha or Tapatío. The $9.50 price tag is a bit higher than the competition, though, being two dollars more than Bacon Bacon’s Breakfast Sandwich (and, of course, more than double what an Egg McMuffin costs). Although hashtag-less, the Sausage Sandwich ($9.50, or $11.50 with avocado) with pork sausage feels like the better bet to me because the smoked gouda is both bigger and subtler than the cheddar.
Other non-signature breakfast items have a lot of merit, even if all the upselling gets to you. You’re definitely going to want to put some bacon on the croissant for Not Your Momma’s PB&J, for instance, turning a $6 item into a $9 one. But cheap eats are here. I’m not normally a tomato-soup person, but I was truly impressed with the creaminess and depth of flavor to this $5 cup, which is made with San Marzanos (naturally) and a sofrito base. And a waffle-iron hash brown (with cheddar and scallions, $4), is crisp and hearty, avoiding the oiliness that so often afflicts julienned potatoes. It’s conceivable that this could be a stand-alone breakfast — although assuming coffee is part of your morning routine, it’s worth mentioning that its savory notes didn’t mesh well with the cup of Moschetti I ordered.
For lunch — although the boundary with breakfast feels porous — there’s a $10.75 sloppy joe that’s pretty much the Platonic ideal of that school-cafeteria staple, and an extra-sloppy one at that. (I had my sense of shame cauterized years ago, and I still don’t know if I would eat one of these in front of another person.) With Niman Ranch ground chuck and cheddar on a brioche, served with a side of macaroni salad, it’s flavorful and very filling. Even better is the Ode to Genova ($9.25) a paean to Temescal’s much-missed Genova Delicatessen, which closed last year after nine decades in business. A perfectly proportioned Italian sub, it comes with everything but an accordion player — mortadella, provolone, coppa, Black Forest ham, iceberg, pickled onions, pepperoncini, vinaigrette, and mayo, on a Dutch crunch — and begs to be shared over wine at a picnic in the park. The sensation of your teeth sinking into the various strata is immensely satisfying.
Between brioche and Dutch crunch, it’s easy to wonder, “Why do other breads even bother existing?” But then the proof presents itself. I was not a fan of The Gastropig’s Mondays-only burger ($10.75) which is messy in a fundamentally different way than the sloppy joe, whose single-ingredient filling can be eaten with a fork if it falls out of the bun. Not that you physically can’t do the same thing with a burger, but a burger shouldn’t do that. Brioche lacks the structural integrity to keep this puppy together, and a gloppy mess of lettuce, onions and special sauce quickly becomes unappetizing. Still, you can make the burger a #BaconSlutBurger too, if you dare.
With its skylight and tiling, The Gastropig’s interior is much warmer and less generic than most other fast-casual places. You also don’t get the sense that Thai and Goodwin are hoping to open 40 more within 18 months. Plenty of lardcore propaganda hangs in here, from “This Kitchen Runs on Bread, Bacon & Beauty” to “Bacon Is Just Another Word for Meat Candy.” I’m glad they’re bacon whoopee.
The Gastropig, 2123 Franklin St., Oakland, 510-817-4663 or thegastropig.com