by Meredith Brody
I look forward to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival all year long. It’s an intense event, but encompassable: this year’s iteration crams 19 events into a long weekend—with one movie on Thursday night, May 29, and the rest spread thickly across Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Festival’s brief—to show silent movies, both well-known and obscure, with live musical accompaniment—suits me right down to the ground. But I also cherish the opportunity to descend into a sort of childish gourmandise, built up over the years in a combination of experimentation and ritual.
I attend the festival with two friends, women who I knew slightly, but with whom friendship was cemented through an accident of standing next to each other in line one year and then continuing to attend together over a decade. We share treats: chocolates ranging from the exotic to mundane, and fruit—I’m happy that the decision to move the festival up in the calendar year left it still squarely in the stone fruit season. There will be cherries. There will be plums.
And every day I budget $2.50 for the essential bottomless, refillable coffee cup from the Castro Theatre’s concession: caffeine not just for pleasure, but for medicinal purposes. Necessary when you’re watching movies from 10:00 A.M. to midnight and hoping to stay alert.
But what I really look forward to is the daily stop at Rossi’s (426 Castro Street, San Francisco, 415 863-4533), right across the street, when I buy a freshly-made sandwich (or two or three) for me and my friends. Rossi’s doesn’t look like much: a sideways slot of a storefront with a glass-fronted case full of deli meats, cheeses, and salads, opposite a wall of tightly-stacked snack foods and a fridge packed with drinks.
But the counter men at Rossi’s make a nice sandwich. I hesitate before making any wild claims: this is not a destination place. And yet, especially if you consider price-to-pleasure ratio, I’ve enjoyed Rossi’s BLTs, real-roasted-turkey sandwiches, and lox-and-cream-cheese-on-a-bagels as much as considerably more pretentious (and pricey) creations.
Experimentation over the years has codified into rituals: on Saturday morning, three BLTs ($5.75) for me and my pals, all on toasted wheat, one with extra mayo (for me), accompanied by three of Rossi’s truly excellent devilled eggs. On Sunday morning, three lox on toasted bagels ($5.50), one with butter only, two with cream cheese, one with extra onions (me again). Over the course of the weekend, I might also consume a liverwurst on rye ($5.75), perhaps a tunafish on Dutch crunch (extra lettuce, hold the peppers, pickles on the side, $6), or maybe even an Italian combo on a roll ($6.95). (I continue to be amazed that such a tiny spot can offer so many possible combinations: the bread selections alone include sourdough, wheat, or dutch crunch rolls, wheat, light rye, dark rye, and sourdough bread, and onion, poppyseed, plain, everything, sesame seed, and wheat bagels.) The online menu is only a small portion of their offerings but you can order in advance.
The Castro is situated in a neighborhood dense with restaurants (some of them even good), but I generally prefer not to rush through a seated meal, with one eye on the clock. I’d much rather enjoy a snack during a screening.
Sandwiches, especially the relatively dainty ones prepared at Rossi’s, are just the thing: neatly dispatched, they add a layer of pleasure to the occasion. Not for nothing did the blessed Earl call for meat and cheese between two pieces of bread, in order not to interrupt his obsessive card play.
We do interrupt our Rossi’s rituals with another one, happily codified over the years: for dinner one night, lobster rolls ($26) are ordered from Woodhouse Fish Co. (2073 Market Street, San Francisco, 415 437-CRAB), and the one of our trio who has the longest legs hotfoots it down the street and brings them back before the next movie starts.
Cool lobster, warm French fries, crunchy coleslaw: bliss. But no more blissful than the considerably more modest early-morning BLT.
Rossi’s has only disappointed me once. I enticed my two nephews into attending a James Bond triple bill with the extra-added-attraction of Rossi’s excellent BLTs. I left them ensconced in their seats while I ran across the street to pick up our brunch.
I confidently announced my order. “Oh, I’m SO sorry,” the counter man said, “We’re out of bacon.”
Meredith Brody, a graduate of both the Paris Cordon Bleu cooking school and USC film school, has been the restaurant critic for, among others, the Village Voice, LA Weekly, and SF Weekly, and has written for countless film magazines and websites including Cahiers du Cinema, Film Comment, and Indiewire. Her writings on books, theater, television, and travel have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Interview. She also contributes a regular column to EatDrinkFilms called “Meals with Meredith,” where she talks about food and film with filmmakers at restaurants in northern California. You can read her previous “Meals with Meredith” columns here: “A Speedy Breakfast with Jon Favreau, Writer/Director/Star of CHEF” and “Dinner with Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, directors of THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN at La Urbana in San Francisco.”