The Dark Horse Inn is not a hotel or a restaurant in a hotel as the name might lead one to believe. It does live up to its name when you think of all the San Francisco restaurants that may or may not survive the pandemic. While it may not have been a sure bet to make it through 2020, it turns out, they survived, and continue to serve up tasty food and craft beer, wine and cocktails in San Francisco’s Excelsior District.
Monday, January 5, 2021 - Welcome to the Dark Horse Inn. Photo Johanna Miyaki
I sum it up as a neighborhood spot offering what can be best described as a combination of American, Fusion, Gastropub fare with a short but solid list of Northern California wine, cocktails with house made ingredients and a few more craft beers on tap. Co-owners Sean Ingram and Andrea Ferrucci describe The Dark Horse Inn as “a place for ‘good ol' home cooking' (with an occasional flair) that specializes in local/craft beer, where families are welcome”. I think it is all of those things and that is likely why it is still open after so many have closed thier doors.
Ingram and Ferrucci opened the Dark Horse Inn on November 11, 2011. Ingram, worked for the post office for 22 years and Ferrucci worked for an architecture firm, were not your traditional pair of restauranteurs, in fact, according to Ingram, they did not really have a plan. “We are both night owls, so it seemed like a good fit for us”, says Ingram with a laugh.
When choosing a location, Ingram says, “We looked everywhere, and the rents were really high. The price was right, and we saw what was happening around here [in the Excelsior]. We thought we were going to be a straight beer bar, but we never really got a bar crowd. It is a very family-oriented neighborhood, over the last nine years we have seen kids that have been coming in with their families since they were four years old and now, they are teenagers, we have seen older kids now going off to college. The families that come here have been a big part of our business and the neighborhood has continued to support us during the pandemic.”
Ingram cooks most of the food. “One of my first jobs was in a restaurant and I had worked in bars and restaurants on the side over the years, picked up things here and there, Ingram says. Ferrucci runs the front of house and it was her idea to offer “pantry essentials” during the pandemic, which has also helped them overcome the many challenges restaurants are facing as they worl to keep their doors open in San Francisco during the pandemic. When staples like milk, toilet paper, pasta and rice were hard to find, you could order those things and more online from the restaurant’s website and pick up with your food order. “We are still working out the details, but we plan to continue offering the pantry items, adding more items and perhaps creating a “general store” on site down the road.”
Another lifeline for the business has been participating in the SF New Deal program. The city set up a program that supports local business and the community by paying San Francisco restaurants to prepare and deliver meals to neighbors in need. “This has helped us retain a few of our employees, says Ingram, we bring in a small team Wednesday through Sunday to help us fulfill meal deliveries to San Francisco Navigation centers, senior living centers and other community organizations during the pandemic.”
Pre-Covid they offered a “Sunday Dinner” special that was a big draw. They also showcased a variety craft beer on eight constantly rotating taps. They have continued offering craft beers, now in a can for pick u or delivery.
One of the local restaurants I enjoyed supporting during the pandemic was this The Dark Horse Inn. Some of my favorite ways to support them, in no order, have been:
The Kimchee Rueben - Hailed by 7x7 magazine as “a delicious stroke of brilliance” that earned the Dark Horse Inn the #2 spot on their list of “The Top 8 Pastrami Spots in the Bay Area, Ranked”, I whole heartedly agree.
Monday January 5, 2021- The Kimchee Rueben Photo: The Dark Horse Inn
The Caesar Salad – I know, it may not sound exciting but for me, a well-done Caesar Salad is an art and this one is a masterpiece. It is truly hand-made, the dressing is from scratch with just the right balance of garlic and fresh anchovies. The sheets of thick, shaved parmesan cheese are legit, and the house-made croutons are perfectly crisp, just like the giant hearts of romaine leaves.
The Burger - The true test of a good burger is how good is it when served in its most basic form; this one could be eaten with just the meat, bun and your condiment of choice, it’s that good. The Dark Horse burger starts with a juicy, grass fed, angus beef burger on a toasted brioche bun with lettuce, pickles, pickled onions and mayo and it is perfection. I typically have my pickle on the side and add cheese. You can keep it simple or add what you like, it only gets better with three choices of cheese, doubled if you dare, jalapenos or bacon. Maybe you want to throw a fried egg on it too? Yes, yes you do. Then choose your cooking temp, I go medium, and have your choice of fries or salad. Is anyone else hungry?
Monday January 5, 2021- This Burger has it all. Photo: The Dark Horse Inn
And the desserts, they rotate dessert offering that I watch eagerly for any of their “snack cakes”, a giant cut of house made sheet cake. My favorite is the yellow snack cake with chocolate icing and sprinkles.
Ingram sites the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, a spicy, crispy chicken breast with arugula and pickled onions on a brioche bun, among the best sellers along with their nightly dinner specials and the “Sunday Dinner” special is still very popular. It started as a laid back, “pre-fixe” menu of their take on a weekend, three-course meal to enjoy with family and friends around the table, no cooking or clean up required. They continue to offer their “Sunday Dinner” special for delivery or pick up during the pandemic.
Monday January 5, 2021 - The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich is a hot seller, pun intended. Photo: The Dark Horse Inn
They took a little break for the holidays, but they will reopen on January 8, 2021 with dinner, batched cocktails (that come in thier own individual mason jar), canned cocktails, canned beer, bottled wine and pantry essentials available for pick up or delivery.
Monday January 5, 2021 - Available on the to-go cocktail menu, Hibiscus Hard Lemonade (vodka, house hibiscus syrup, lemon juice) Photo: The Dark Horse Inn
The Dark Horse Inn is located at 942 Geneva Ave, San Francisco, CA 94112, they are open Wed-Sun 4:30pm-8:30pm. For Pickup: orders, visit darkhorsesf.com and for Delivery you can use ubereats.com or postmates.com. They are closed for dine-in until further notice. (Sorry, no outdoor seating available.)
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