Kielbasa, giardiniera relish, brisket and meatloaf live in unlikely yet delicious harmony on Gambit Lounge’s new lunch menu, which launched three weeks ago.
First opened in November 2022, the Hayes Valley cocktail bar is a joint project of longtime sommelier Cezar Kusik and spirits expert Edward Calhoun. The partners originally met at 25 Lusk, a prix-fixe concept turned tapas-style eatery in China Basin, where Calhoun was the bar manager. Between the two of them, Kusik and Calhoun boast nearly 60 years of experience in hospitality. As such, the new sandwich service combines the best of Kusik’s Polish roots and Calhoun’s North Carolina upbringing and tenure in New Orleans.
Kusik told The Standard that the decision to launch a lunch menu was born out of pure practicality. After signing the lease on Hayes Street, Kusik said he and Calhoun knew they’d eventually extend the lounge’s hours into the daytime.
In thinking about the lunch offerings, Kusik said he was inspired by the work of Ken Turner, a former chef at Zuni Café who made a left turn in 2015 when he opened a neighborhood sandwich shop called Turner’s Kitchen in Mission Dolores.
“I’ve known him for ages,” Kusik said. “I would go to his sandwich joint all the time.”
To set up their kitchen operation, Kusik and Calhoun collaborated with restaurateur Wes Rowe of WesBurger ‘N’ More, who was also instrumental in developing the sandwich menu.
“It’s a short but mighty list,” Kusik said. “We fill a certain void in this neighborhood because there aren’t many sandwich places in Hayes Valley.”
Several of Gambit Lounge’s sandwiches make reference to the kitchen staff’s favorite pop culture icons. The “Carlito’s Way,” an homage to the 1993 gangster film, is a Yucatec spin on Vietnamese banh mi. It combines slow-roasted pork, or cochinita, with carrot, cucumber and jalapeño salad. The “Earl Campbell,” named for the legendary running back, is a brisket hoagie with blue cheese, horseradish and caramelized onions.
At this inflection point in Gambit Lounge’s first year, Kusik said his restaurant’s identity in the neighborhood has yet to be defined.
“You may have your ideas of what you want your place to be, but ultimately it’s the clientele that defines who you are,” he said.
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