Outerlands, the far-out destination restaurant of the Outer Sunset, is finally reopening at the beginning of September. The restaurant has been ominously dark for a year and a half, to the extent that Sunset locals were swirling closure rumors. But Eater SF is happy to report that Outerlands will be back in the next couple of weeks, if just for brunch outdoors, and still serving its dry-farmed tomato soup and craggy sourdough. “We were so lucky to be able to hang on,” says owner Lana Porcello, who spoke to Eater with husband Dave Muller. “We spent the whole time scrambling.”
From the outside, Outerlands might seem like a restaurant with a fair outlook to weather the pandemic. Soup and sourdough might have made ideal takeout fare by the quart or brown bag. Situated on a corner, the restaurant has not one but two sidewalks, as well as an existing city parklet, prime for outdoor dining. And unlike the gutted downtown neighborhoods, the Sunset has been hopping during the pandemic, with tech workers actually lunching at home.
But behind the scenes, it’s never so simple. The restaurant attempted takeout for only two weeks in March of 2020. “It was apparent it wasn’t financially possible to keep going,” Porcello says, weighing debt from a remodel, an uncompromising landlord, and steep overhead. She and Muller considered reopening at various points, sometimes wondering, “Are we insane?” Porcello says. “Is there something we could be doing differently, to make this work?” But ultimately, they took the long view. “That risk doesn’t make sense for the longevity of the restaurant.” It wasn’t until Outerlands received an EIDL loan and federal grant that they finally had the funds to reopen.
Outerlands will be different, at least to start: It’s brunch only, ordering at the horseshoe bar, then grabbing a (heated) seat on the sidewalk or in the parklet. But brunch is no small consolation. Even with a streamlined menu, fans will rejoice at the return of the Dutch baby topped with stone fruit and chantilly cream, and a throwback French toast with orange zest and honey, not seen on the menu since the restaurant’s early days. The first veggie soup back had to be early girl tomato, along with hearty salads and gooey grilled cheese. And of course, the craggy toast of yore in San Francisco, drenched in house butter and jam or topped with savory avocado or smoked trout.
Porcello says sustainability goes beyond the plate now, and Outerlands is over the grind of seven days a week, dropping down to five days a week. There is no longer a head chef or head baker, as the restaurant is moving to a more egalitarian model. Remarkably, many of their cooks are returning. The notable exception is longtime baker Matthew Jay Jones, who launched his own Avast Bakeshop during the pandemic, now popular at the farmers’ market. That means Dave Muller is personally babysitting the Outerlands sourdough again.
Far out by the beach on the western edge of San Francisco, Outerlands first opened as a cafe in 2009, and expanded into a dinner destination in 2014, under chefs Brett Cooper and Yoni Levy. But in any form, Outerlands isn’t just a Cali restaurant, it’s quintessential San Francisco, with weathered wood interiors, laid back surfer servers, veggies from favorite farms, and exceptional sourdough. (The restaurant was plotting a bakery at one point, although those plans were scrapped.)
Porcello says that reopening was a hard reset, but it almost feels like a return to the beginning, with a very simple menu and a neighborhood focus. “As soon as we were in there cleaning, people started looking through the window and giving us thumbs up,” Porcello says. “It’s been so encouraging and very emotional. It’s hard to describe what this past year was like … but now, it feels hopeful. I guess that’s the word. I haven’t felt hope in a while.”
Outerlands plans to reopen at the beginning of September. New hours are Thursday to Monday, 9 AM to 3 PM, serving brunch only. Order at the counter and snag an outdoor table.