One year after married couple and Palm City co-owners Dennis Cantwell and Monica Wong signed the lease on their Outer Sunset location, the restaurant has opened for business — albeit, a different sort of business than the restaurateurs imagined on April 15, 2019.
It’s been quite a year for Palm City, which found itself at the center of a contentious city zoning battle after Cantwell and Wong — veterans of local spots like Zuni Cafe, A16, and Nopa — were encouraged to convert a long-shuttered corner store into a restaurant that served beer and wine. Local officials told the pair that recent legislation would allow them to swiftly change the use of the 4055 Irving Street space from bodega to bistro, but subsequent complaints from neighbors — who, citing a critical loophole that suggested that the change-of-use legislation didn’t apply — nearly killed the restaurant. Fortunately for Cantwell and Wong, after months of delays and a contentious hearing, construction resumed. All they needed to open this spring were a couple of final inspections...and then the pandemic hit.
Cantwell tells Eater SF that Palm City’s final Department of Building Inspection (DBI) meetings were planned for the week of March 16, a date many will recall was the week the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place rules were first enacted. Initially, DBI was closed as part of the order, but several days later it reopened, the SF Chronicle reported at the time, in an effort to keep local projects on track.
That means that inspectors were able to come out and sign off on a structure that customers still aren’t allowed in until at least some time in May. That includes a dining room with tables and chairs by Woodshop SF, a sweeping counter with bar-style seating, and high ceilings that expose the bones of what was once, back in the 1940s and ‘50s, a former dairy.
For now, however, patrons will only be able to peer at the dining room from a distance as they line up for takeout outside the corner spot. Right now, the food offerings are limited: There’s a $22 antipasto plate that includes half a pound of house-sliced charcuterie, or for $33 patrons can order a dinner kit that serves two or three people, and includes salad, a pork sugo pasta, and dessert.
There’s also a slew of wine available, a selection that Cantwell, a former wine director at Nopa, says is as good as he’d hoped it would be. With restaurant dining rooms closed, wine purveyors are fully stocked “even with the good stuff,” Cantwell says, which enables an upstart like Palm City to kick off with a selection that he’d typically — even when working at a more established restaurant — “have to beg to get.”
The extensive wine list is all the more surprising when one learns that there’s still one last hoop Palm City has to jump through to well, truly, and fully be in business. That’s its liquor license, which for now remains only temporary, as neighbors who protested the restaurant’s opening have also filed opposition with California’s Alcoholic Beverage Control. It’s unclear what the ongoing objection is — before it was Palm City, the space sold beer, wine, and hard liquor for off-premises consumption as a corner store (though “off-premises” often meant “on the sidewalk right outside,” this correspondent has herself witnessed).
Eventually, at some point after business-as-usual returns to state agencies, Palm City will get an ABC hearing, during which its opponents will appear and state their case against the restaurant. It’s a prospect that might have prevented some spots from bothering to open until it was resolved, but Wong tells Eater SF that “it just felt right” to open up this week, even though the menu is small and patrons must line up within taped-off squares outside. “We just had to flip the switch,” Wong says, “and see what happens.”
Palm City is open for takeout orders from 1–7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, with pickup available from 4-7 p.m. Online ordering is available here, and walk-up orders are also welcome.