San Francisco

Sweet and savory baked treats from Automat. All images courtesy Automat

Dish By DishSan Francisco

Automat’s Highbrow Take on Humble Classics, in Five Dishes

By

Automat is the exciting new restaurant and bakeshop from Matt Kirk, in partnership with David Barzelay. Kirk has cooked in a number of wonderful kitchens in San Francisco over the years, including Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurants like Spruce and Lazy Bear, where he was sous chef. At Automat, Kirk offers his highbrow take on humble classics.

“A lot of the inspiration for Automat is convenience/fast food done with nice ingredients,” says Kirk, who features items like a crispy beef taco on the menu (a nod to the greasy-but-good Jack in the Box tacos that Kirk loves). “Nostalgia is a part of how I like to cook.”

Prior to opening the brick-and-mortar in NOPA, Kirk ran Automat as a pop-up, doing everything from multi-course dinners in diners to breakfast sandwich pop-ups at coffee shops to pandemic-pivoting into bread boxes over the last couple of years.

“It started off as I wanted to do fancier stuff, and evolved into doing it all, which is why we have a dual concept bakery during the day and dinner at night,” says Kirk.

Below is a look at the daytime menu, in five dishes.

1. Automat Breakfast Sandwich

All of the breads for the sandwiches are, of course, made in-house. To help, Kirk tapped baker Casey Wentworth, who has experience at Ad Astra in Monterey and the famed Tartine in San Francisco. The Automat breakfast sandwich features the signature “wondermat” bread, a playfully named take on good ‘ol Wonder Bread. It also features a housemade sausage made from ground pork shoulder and plenty of fresh sausage, a tender, fluffy steamed “omelette” egg, and pimento cheese made with funky aged cheddar as well as jack for the meltability. “To me, it’s everything I’d want in a breakfast sandwich,” says Kirk.

2. Garlickly Pretzel Focaccia

When the pandemic hit and Kirk couldn’t do any more seated dinner pop-ups and events, he started doing a bread box. One of the more popular ones featured a pretzel focaccia. “I’m a big Wetzel’s Pretzel fan,” proclaims Kirk. “This is almost a highbrow homage.” The entire thing is a 72-hour process, and to make it pretzelly, Automat uses a baking soda and hot water alkaline wash in lieu of the lye bath typically given to pretzels. It’s topped, of course, with the requisite crunchy coarse pretzel salt, as well as garlic butter made with garlic confit, scallions, parsley, and shallots, which is brushed on the bread immediately after it comes out of the oven.

3. Little Gem Wedge Salad

For Kirk, the salad at Automat is much more than just for the health: “It’s something I put on for my very first pop-up,” says the chef. The lettuce gets California hippie-fied with plenty of sprouted greens — buckwheat, quinoa, and lentils, to be precise — along with the addition of crunchy puffed wild rice. There’s also a tangy, creamy herbed buttermilk dressing made with plenty of dill, scallion, cilantro, and parsley — it’s heavy on the ranch vibes.

4. California Fried Chicken Sandwich

The fried chicken sandwich features a soft, fluffy milk bread bun, which is slathered with “seaweed green goddess mayo” of sorts made fresh jalapeño, local seaweed, shallots, scallions, parsley, cilantro, Sichuan peppercorn, and more. It’s then layered with a crunchy red cabbage slaw and a piece of crispy fried chicken done in the style of a Nashville hot: “It’s dipped in spice — but won’t blow your brain out,” says Kirk, who dusts everything with gochugaru (Korean chile flakes), dehydrated fermented serrano powder, black and white sesame, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and more.

5. Brick Toast

The brick toast is inspired by both maple syrup covered French toast as well as the thick Taiwanese brick toasts popular throughout the country’s cafes (and Instagram), but with a little locally foraged flair coming from candy cap mushrooms from Morchella Wild Foods. To make the dish, Automat forms the milk bread into a loaf pan before baking, then cuts it into thick slabs slathered with custard made from those maple-y candy cap mushrooms, butter, and egg yolk. It’s then broiled and topped with a cream cheese whipped cream, which is as decadent as it sounds, containing cream and powdered sugar to sweeten. The sweet treat doubles as both breakfast and dessert — the item is on the literal dessert menu during dinner service.