Anchoring a sliver of a sun-drenched corner space in the Mission, it's hard to figure out how Linea Caffe has enough space to fit the espresso machine and food prep area that produce the café's unlikely trio of specialties: coffee/espresso, Belgian waffles (savory and sweet), and salads. It's such a small-scale, but brilliant niche carved out by Mission Chinese's Anthony Myint, who's partnered with the founder of the now departed Ecco Caffe, Andrew Barnett.
See also: Linea Caffe: A Coffee Shop A-Team
Friendly baristas pull perfect espresso shots from Linea's beans roasted in Emeryville. Two feet away at the other counter are the two food concepts: Lt. Waffle and the strangely named GreenSalads.org. Vegetarians are in good hands with each option. Every waffle and salad is free of meat, and the menu helpfully assists vegans and gluten-free diners with their options listed.
It's the salads that really made me realize the talent on display at Linea, with a base of fresh, vibrant greens that help the half dozen choices rise above their peers. Myint calibrates the toppings and dressings judiciously. Salads are creative without being wild.
The kale salad ($10) isn't a detox chore, but balances crunch from fried shallots, bitter kale, Napa cabbage with sweet juicy orange segments. Everything is tied together by a light guacamole vinaigrette that tasted of tomato mixed with avocado and lime.
A recent "winter salad" ($10) proved two long-held salad beliefs false: croutons don't have to be stale boredom and Brussels sprouts don't have to be caramelized with diced pork belly. Spicy arugula swapped hits with sweet, comforting roasted delicata squash, refreshing shaved Brussels sprouts, and toasted, yet soft, olive bread croutons. A lively Dijon-style mustard vinaigrette complimented everything.
Not all salads are green salads. Take a sushi roll, subtract the fish, and you've pretty much got the flavor profile for the brown rice salad ($9). Sesame oil ties all the details together between cubed avocado, miniature shiitake mushrooms, cucumber, broccoli, and pumpkin seeds. It was a perfect umami-dense side dish.
Though just a few months ago, it'll be very interesting to see how the salads evolve over the seasons. It's much easier to have great faith in this enterprise than the typical salad spinners. Linea's roster of greens at GreenSalads.org prove that even when competing for diners' time with high caliber Belgian-style waffles and coffee, excellent greens can hold their own.
3417 18th St.