"We don't just cover something with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, we incorporate it into the dish."
For great chefs, their cooking reflects who they are. Chef James Moisey takes that to heart. While he was growing up in suburban Philadelphia, the culinary landscape was spotted with pizza shops, nearly all of which served "parmigiana" sandwiches and platters—chicken parms, veal parms, eggplant parms. When he moved to the Bay Area, a different type of cuisine was the norm: burritos. Now, as the head chef at San Francisco's Eat Americana, he's quietly brought those roots to his take on American comfort food: He'll "parm" or "burrito" (read them as verbs) any item on the menu. And keep in mind, Eat Americana offers all day breakfast. So when he says anything, he means anything.
"Those things are not advertised on the actual menu, but we'll do them for people," Moisey says, explaining the "secret menu" of sorts. "It kind of evolved naturally as offering something to regular customers who want things a different way. It's word of mouth."
Eat Americana has been at its current location in Outer Richmond for over 20 years, originally opening as the Americana Grill and serving locals an odd, but appreciated mix of Vietnamese, Italian and American cuisine. But by 2016, owner Tony Lai was ready for a change. He offered free-reign to Moisey—who had built a reputation at his own, recently shuttered RickyBobby—and the chef took over the renovated and slightly renamed restaurant last September. Since then, the unique "parm anything" and "burrito anything" policies have slowly followed.
Moisey stresses that these reinvented menu items probably aren't what come to mind when most people think of parmigiana or burritos. "We don't just cover something with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese," he laughs. "We incorporate it into the dish." As one example, he offers up the Short Rib Hash, typically made with cheddar cheese hash browns, slow-cooked short ribs, peppers and onions and sunny-side eggs. To parm the dish, he cooks the marinara in with the short ribs and swaps out his usual cheddar for mozzarella. "It brings parm to breakfast," he says gleefully.
Every single dish—whether it's getting parm-ed or burrito-ed—receives this sort of individual treatment. Yes, the offer is intriguing for customers, but Moisey also sees it as a culinary challenge for himself. "It forces you to think outside the creative box. How do you incorporate the parm flavors into something you don't usual put it in?" he opines, clearly putting more thought into a parm than most of the Philly pizza shops that inspired him. "It's an exercise. It forces us to see with a different lens than we use normally. How far can we go with this and how many directions can we go?"
Though parm-ing anything may be the more unconventional offering, Moisey says his "burrito" anything policy, which is the more recent of the two, has actually been more popular—likely due to San Francisco's affinity for the Mexican staple. "The burrito is completely integrated in California and San Francisco culture," he explains. "And the function of a burrito, the ease of eating it, is kind of unstoppable."
Yet, as bizarre as this all may sound to diners not used to such liberal off-menu requests, Moisey sees these policies as a celebration: a celebration of parmigiana, a celebration of the burrito, a celebration of experimentation, a celebration of his customers and, of course, a celebration of his roots. "It started out from a place where we were trying to do a good thing here," he says earnestly. "It's nice to give regulars something new and fresh to reward them for coming in all the time."
And then, for a moment, those roots really peek through. "It's legit, you know," Moisey says, unintentionally conjuring the mischievous intonation of an old-school Philadelphia pizza shop owner. "You should get the banana split and parm it."
Moisey's favorite dish to parm: The Short Rib Hash. "It kind of turns it into not only a hybrid of a parmesan but also makes parmesan a breakfast dish of sorts, which is not what you think of when you think of 'parm,'" he explains.
Moisey's favorite dish to burrito: The Corned Beef Sandwich. "It's delicious," he says. "The tenderness of the meat and the texture of the sauerkraut and the Swiss cheese works out surprisingly well for a burrito."
Moisey's weirdest dish: Burrito-ed Bread Pudding French Toast. "It's strange to wrap a starch in a starch," he says. "Also to eat something with your hands that you don't usually get to use with your hands… and being able to use maple syrup as a dip."