Kielbasa, giardiniera, brisket and meatloaf live in incredible yet delicious harmony in the new Gambit Lounge lunch menu, which was launched three weeks ago.
First opened in November 2022, Hayes Valley Cocktail Bar is a collaboration between longtime sommelier Cesar Kusik and spirits expert Edward Calhoun. The partners originally met at 25 Lusk, which turned into a tapas-style eatery in China Basin, where Calhoun was the bar manager. For two, Kusik and Calhoun boast nearly 60 years of experience in the hospitality industry. So the new sandwich service combines the best of Kusik’s Polish roots and Calhoun’s upbringing in North Carolina and his time in New Orleans.
Kusik told The Standard that the decision to launch a lunch menu was born out of sheer practicality. After signing the Hayes Street lease, Kusick said he and Calhoun knew they would eventually extend the lounge’s hours into daylight hours.
Reflecting on lunch offerings, Kusik said he was inspired by the work of Ken Turner, a former chef at Zuni Café, who turned left in 2015 when he opened nearby Turner’s Kitchen sandwich shop in Mission Dolores.
“I’ve known him for ages,” Kusik said. “I would go to his sandwich shop all the time.”
To customize their cuisine, Kusick and Calhoun partnered with restaurateur Wes Rowe of WesBurger ‘N’ More, who was also instrumental in developing the sandwich menu.
“It’s a short but powerful list,” Kusik said. “We’re filling a certain void in the area because there aren’t many eateries in Hayes Valley.”
Several of the Gambit Lounge sandwiches are references to the kitchen staff’s favorite pop culture icons. Carlito’s Way, an homage to the 1993 gangster movie, is a Yucatec variant of the Vietnamese banh mi. It pairs fried pork or cochinita with carrots, cucumber, and jalapeno salad. Earl Campbell, named after the legendary runner, is a brisket topped with blue cheese, horseradish and caramelized onions.
At this watershed in Gambit Lounge’s first year, Kusik said that the identity of his restaurant in the area has yet to be determined.
“You may have your own ideas about how you want your place to be, but ultimately it is the customers who define who you are,” he said.
581 Hayes St.
Sarah Holtz can be reached in [email protected]