Fly on Sutter

The second iteration of Fly has a pool-hall feel with a friendly quasi-American menu
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Photo by Rory McNamara

paulr@sfbg.com

Although Brick shuffled off this mortal coil toward the end of April, it did leave part of that coil behind, in the form of an impressive brick wall. That wall now belongs to the city's second iteration of Fly and remains the dominant physical feature of the space, along with stretches of purple paint and hangings of wall art fashioned from bottle caps that glint in the changing light.

In good times and bad, the death of restaurants isn't unusual. But what is noticeable in the current go-round is the spread of trusted brand names — Pizzeria Delfina, for instance (which opened a second outpost in the onetime ZAO noodle bar on California near Fillmore), Dosa, and now Fly, which for years has been a stalwart on Divisadero in the Western Addition.

The new Fly has a pool-hall feel and offers more natural light than its older sibling, while the Tendernob setting is more about real grit than the hipster faux kind. Even San Francisco, one of the most yuppified cities in America, still has its patches of dingy storefronts, ratty-looking apartment blocks, and populations of people with missing teeth. Stepping into Fly can feel a bit like stepping into an oasis, but one steps in with a distinct sense of ambivalence nonetheless. Prices aren't particularly high and the setting isn't at all posh, but it's all still a world apart from the one on the other side of the large windows.

Apart from the name-giving brick wall, the chief legacy of Brick is the Brick burger ($9), a hefty lump of well-seasoned Angus beef, capped with melted white cheese and threads of pickled white onion, nestled in a soft, shapely bun, and served with either salad or fries. The fries are excellent, as is the burger. In fact I've never had a better one in these parts, and while the price isn't low (Carl's Jr. has made an entire ad campaign out of the exorbitance of the $6 burger), it's not unreasonable either.

Otherwise, much of the menu resembles that of the original Fly. The food is friendly and non-narcissistic, the sort of stuff that supports and propels conversation rather than preening for attention and itself becoming a subject of conversation. We recognized a plate of hummus and tapenade ($6.75), served with warm pita triangles and some spare change of cucumber and tomato coins — just as satisfying as six years ago, and only 50¢ more. The kitchen also turns out a broad array of pizzas, some the regular kind, others covered Fly-style with salad.

This sort of all-in-one idea seems very American, but if you prefer your pizzas and salads to coexist rather than cohabit, your wish can be easily accommodated. We found the La Tortilla salad ($8) to be a jumble of mixed baby greens with corn kernels, black beans, tomato dice, shards of crisped tortillas, and a cilantro vinaigrette — it was as if a bowl of ordinary mésclun had collided with one of those Mexican salads served in a giant taco bowl. The vinaigrette didn't quite appeal; it did taste like cilantro (whose flavor can dissipate rapidly once the leaves are cut), but it could have used a bit of counterpoint — some sweet or sour, or both — for fullness.

Considering that the pizzettas are showered with salad, the distribution of basil leaves atop a pizza margherita ($9) was notably continent. The other toppings (mozzarella, chopped tomato) were applied with equal restraint, which meant, for once, that the crust wasn't merely a beast of burden but a worthy dimension of the whole in its own right. Fly's crusts rise to the occasion by managing to be both thin and puffy at the same time.

The barbecue pork sandwich ($9) was just absolutely stuffed with dense, juicy meat and plenty of provolone. It reminded me of those meat-and-cheese Jack in the Box ads from a few years ago: no frills, just the good stuff, on a nice fresh baguette. And fish tacos ($8 for three) were very tasty and crunchy.

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