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Little Skillet

A Carton of Comfort Food

Ritch Street is an otherwise unassuming SoMa service alley turned culinary hotspot, courtesy of Little Skillet’s walk-up service window. This diminutive takeout counter, from the same folks behind Tenderloin soul food powerhouse Farmerbrown, dispenses decadent waffles, fried chicken and other locally sourced southern fare in a decidedly no-frills environment.

The takeout window and its blue wooden shutters lend an almost European air to an otherwise dreary service street. A chalkboard touts the daily specials and food is served up in brown paper cartons. Utensils and napkins are all disposable -- and biodegradable, of course -- and aside from one small bench, the only seating available is a concrete loading dock across the street. The set-up might be rough and rudimentary, but the food is a thoughtfully prepared carton of comfort.

Little Skillet’s menu is surprisingly broad given its bare bones setting. Po’ boys, cheddar grits, and even salads are dispensed through the blue-shuttered window. However, the chicken and waffles are the star of the show.

A two-piece chicken and waffle combo ($7 or $8.50 for three pieces) combines crisp fried chicken with a buttermilk-sweet waffle. The order includes a container of maple syrup, but passing up the sausage gravy (or the mushroom-herb version) for an extra dollar would be a foolish decision.

While the chicken, waffles and gravy are unceremoniously tossed in the carton, the food itself is prepared with the utmost care. The chicken is crisp with very little grease. Waffles, dusted with powdered sugar, are soft and yielding. The chicken begs to be enjoyed solo, but combining these three flavors in a single bite produces a sort of soul food nirvana.

However, assembling that perfect forkful is a supreme challenge when you are sawing away at your lunch with a disposable knife and fork within the confines of a small carton. The only major downfall of a visit to the Little Skillet window? Messy fare like this is best navigated on an actual plate.

The po’ boys are more hospitable to eat al fresco. The pulled BBQ pork version ($9) contains slow-roasted pork shoulder dressed in a tangy sauce and accompanied by decent house-made chips. Angel biscuits with homemade jam ($2.50) and waffles topped with butterscotch and other sweet staples ($3.50) are also popular.

All this heavy food makes it easy to overlook side dishes, but the dill-flecked potato salad ($3) is enough to turn lunch on a concrete loading dock into a real picnic. Red velvet cupcakes ($3) and miniature pecan pies ($4) can be toted home to eat later, or serve as a 3pm pick-me-up right before the window closes up for the day.

In addition to the basic menu, Little Skillet’s daily Twitter updates (@littleskillet) broadcast an ever-changing array of special menu items like waffle dogs and chili-molasses wings.
Service is fast-paced but friendly. Speed is a must to deal with lines that stretch down the block during the thick of lunch hour. Fortunately, orders arrive reasonably fast.

San Francisco’s weather is not always hospitable for outdoor dining, but the alley is reasonably sheltered and makes for a pleasant, if rustic, al fresco lunch hour. Anyone with a nearby home or office can hustle back to enjoy lunch in a more civilized setting. Little Skillet is also an ideal stop en route to the ballpark.

This comfort food hideaway represents a happy medium in the burgeoning street food trend. Scoring a modestly priced carton of pulled pork and grits in an undistinguished alley offers foodie cachet. And the outcome is far more satisfying than chasing phantom carts and vendors for a meal that likely won’t taste nearly this good.

Southern takeout

Reservations Essential? No.