Oct. 10 2014 12:20 PM

Inventive sausages are the strongest link at this Hillcrest joint

That’s the ribeye in the foreground
Photo by Mina Riazi

Don't take your borderline-vegetarian, quinoa-adoring, sodium-shunning friends to Hillcrest's Salt & Cleaver. Heck, even the restaurant's name comes with a side of salt. Skimming the restaurant's Sunday brunch menu will make your arteries itch with anxiety. Among the perpetrators: a cheddar-and-bacon waffle served with whisky-maple syrup, the porky machaca burrito, chorizo-loaded fries and an egg-topped sausage burger. It's enough to make your inner glutton a very happy camper.  

While the kale-and-feta scramble might appeal to your Pilates-preaching alter ego, if you're dining at S&C, you might as well do it right. That means politely disregarding the burritos, burgers, sandwiches and scrambles vying for your attention and making a beeline for the sausages. 

Helmed by Executive Chef Carlos SanMartano, a former resident of Malarkey-dom—he's worked at both Searsucker and Gabardine—Salt & Cleaver (3805 Fifth Ave.) specializes in gourmet sausages. The G-word gets thrown around a lot these days, but at S&C, it's not just a decorative term. Served hot-dog style on house buns (you can always swap the carbs for "organic" greens), the hand-crafted sausages run the gamut from simple to complex to just plain strange. 

Take the chicken-and-waffles version, for example. A wacky reimagining of the beloved power couple, the S&C lunch item is best suited for the ultra-daring and famished. Gravy and hot sauce get ladled over a fried-chicken sausage, which rests on a pillowy buttermilk waffle. A few oily strips of sweet and spicy bacon complete the XL dish. On the other side of the spectrum, there's the unflashy beef frank. Served simply with relish and S&C's smoky house-made ketchup, it's a dish for the traditionalists.

I reside somewhere in between the two extremes and happily settled for the ribeye sausage. Ground ribeye, puréed roasted onion and fennel, chipotle, Worcestershire sauce and pork fat create a mildly sweet and altogether luscious link. A swipe of goat cheese offsets the ribeye's robust flavor. SanMartano doesn't quite stop there, though. Roasted Brussels sprouts top his creation, providing both a smattering of color and toasted, buttery flavor. 

Though better suited for a spa menu, the cucumber "chips" that came next offered a brief break from the carnivore tour I was apparently on. The fresh-cut vegetable slices are sprinkled with lime juice and served alongside a tangy tzatziki—a refreshing change of scenery for sure.  

Our server said the duck.duck.pig. is the restaurant's strongest link. The duck-and-bacon sausage does look great on paper: crisply fried duck confit, orange marmalade and "baconaze" are its mouth-watering accessories. Unlike the ribeye, though, it struggles in the flavor department. The deep, full taste expected from such a rich combination of meats is missing; instead, I mostly tasted fennel. 

Salt & Cleaver's expansive menus reflect SanMartano's ambitious, experimental approach to cooking. Both the brunch and daily menus encompass a wide array of foods—from mac "n" cheese to flatbreads to fries. Though I commend the chef's devotion to his craft, at the same time, there's something to be said for focusing on one thing and really, really excelling. SanMartano, just don't lose your focus.

Write to minar@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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