Wildly inventive artistry
Davis, CA 95616
Winter weather does not shout at high decibel: “popsicles.” And yet at Fatface in Davis, beneath the sign of a seemingly child-drawn pig gobbling a popsicles, the eclectic selection of frozen treats demands sampling. One look at the white board with the day’s selections and it’s like the chant by priests when they flick holy water in exorcisms: “The power of popsicles compels you!” Thai, lime and avocado? Strawberry coconut? Heirloom melon chai? Plum, basil and green tea? Brandy-poached pear? There’s no way to leave the premises without exploring at least one corner of this new plateau for popsicles. Even in a blizzard. Even at $2.50 a throw.
The old saw says everyone has to be good at something, and Fatface’s founder—Hanh-Thu Jaymes Luu—is pretty much a popsicle visionary, as is readily apparent reading Becky Grunewald’s fine Q-and-A with Jaymes in these pages (“‘You should just do popsicles,’” SN&R 15 Minutes, January 14, 2010). But what ratchets things up a notch or three is that Jaymes and her gaggle of gals behind the counter throw together some mean sandwiches.
Jaymes’ creativity more than trumps the (being generous here) Spartan ambience of Fatface, tucked into an alley off L Street. Except for a sliver of space near the front door, Fatface is a vast caterer’s kitchen of stainless-steel closets and cooking stations. It’s industrial enough that at any moment one expects someone to throw a switch and shout “It’s alive!” from the kitchen’s recesses. Business must be booming, because the pitted and scarred picnic table is now replaced with two square tables and eight honest-to-God chairs. The “casual” section, with chairs clustered around upturned plastic milk crates, the Simpsons chessboard and the plethora of Popsicle art, is still extant.
On a first foray with 40-years-short friend, Kim Foerster, the best kindergarten teacher in Davis Unified, an assembly line of women, headed by Jaymes, stand behind a counter. Its top is fronted in glass, busily converting the menu’s offerings into reality, and it’s full of $7 to $9 “sammiches.”
That is certainly the case for the cola-braised pork with queso fresco and avocado salsa, and the hard-boiled egg with (who would have thunk it?) anchovy vinaigrette, to say nothing of the BLP: Bacon bits, romaine, arugula and peaches. These tastes combine so artfully that their sum is infinitely greater than its parts. Like the daily sammich menu, the popsicles selection varies at Jaymes’ whim. Among the choices offered are nectarine raspberry, blueberry lemon, peach and berries, apricot lavender, and grapefruit fennel and yogurt. The fennel flattens out the tartness of the grapefruit, but its licoriceness lingers.
On a subsequent visit, Claudia Morain, the glue of the UC Davis public relations team, accompanies. Longtime readers will recall she is more exacting in her expectations, famously saying, at another Davis establishment, with no attempt at sotto voce, “There hasn’t been water in this glass since the Coolidge administration.” Gushing is not an option, but at Fatface, Claudia says she hopes the grilled aged cheddar sammich, with its herb butter and homemade walnut bread, will stay on the menu forever. High praise indeed.
It’s coin toss between the cubano or beer-poached figs sammich. In the beer-poached fig corner is, of course, figs—part of the holy trinity, along with fennel and beets—caramelized onion and goat cheese. Arugula is nice addition, but not dispositive. However, the inner carnivore slavers for the cubano’s smoked ham, roasted pork, bit of Swiss and Fatface-pickled pickles. As a prodigious pickle pickler, it seems critical to gauge the competition. Again, it’s the combination of all rather than any single element that carries the day.
Are the portions smallish? Are the hours funky? Is it inconvenient to be able to use only cash? Yes, yes, and yes. But there’s also wildly inventive artistry that is well worth the effort to experience. Oink.