The Filling Station is one of several eating options at Larkin Square, the new whimsical public space at Seneca and Swan streets. The square is also home to Square 1, where sandwiches are served from a classic silver Airstream trailer, and the Grill, which offers casual street food.
The Filling Station is inside an authentic former Larkin gas station, built in 1930. After an incarnation as a Gulf station, the building was bought in 2009 by the Larkin Development Group and remade as a restaurant. The restaurant offers a counter for take-out food, a few inside tables at which you can perch to eat, and table service both inside the cooled dining room and on a small, umbrella-shaded patio.
If you can, grab one of the five patio tables; the people-watching is great. On the Monday when Ruth, John and I visited, we spotted the Albright-Knox's Louis Grachos making his way to a reserved table inside and Larkin Development Group partner Howard Zemsky showing a couple of businessmen around. Workplace IDs were a common accessory, and we felt a bit underdressed in our polo shirts and shorts.
But on to the Filling Station. A lot of thought went into the food, which was both very fashionable -- you don't often see a topping pea tendrils at a Cheap Eats meal -- and delicious. The food was a bit pricey for the portions, but the place is geared toward a clientele that does not want to overeat at lunch or carry leftovers back to the office, so who were we to complain?
We arrived shortly before noon, and although a few of the tables were turning over, most were full. We were lucky to get a recently vacated round metal table, which was beautifully set with weighty cutlery, pristine cloth napkins and a single fresh gerbera daisy. We waited about 10 minutes for a menu and to have our drink orders taken, then another 10 for iced tea and a soda to arrive and our order to be taken. My $2 iced tea, once emptied, was never refilled.
The menu features nine carefully thought-out sandwiches or salads, as well as a special. A few of them ranged a buck or two over the cheap eats limit, but the most expensive item on the menu is a $12 steak sandwich. Surprisingly, at a few minutes after noon on a Monday, they were out of a menu item, the pulled pork sandwich ($9).
After another 20-minute wait, the appetizer arrived, followed a few minutes later by our sandwiches and salads. And here my quibbling will stop, because the food was not only good, it was exceptional.
The roasted beet appetizer ($6) consisted of a thick slice of beet topped with a smaller disc of goat cheese "cheesecake," finished with a tangle of fresh pea tendrils and flanked by a long, thin slice of crisply toasted bread. The soft, earthy, slightly sweet beet, topped with the ultra-rich, salty goat cheese and the dab of the fresh greens was a perfect mixture. Even the non-beet-lover at the table enjoyed the juxtaposition of flavors and textures.
The classic chicken Caesar salad ($9) was a thing of beauty, starting with the utterly fresh and crisp romaine, which was cut into bite-sized pieces. The sliced chicken breast was cooked through without being dry, a triumph of timing. Two large, flat and crisp bread slices filled in for croutons, and the salad was generously sprinkled with grated Parmesan. The dressing was exceptional, creamy and delicious.
The veggie burrito ($8) was filled with a soft amalgamation of brown rice, hominy, black beans and roasted peppers (both sweet and hot). The filling was enclosed in a flour tortilla that was baked until crispy and served with jalapeno lime sour cream. It was an exceptionally good mixture.
Our final choice was the tuna and bibb lettuce salad ($8), made with fresh greens, small slices of nicely cooked fresh tuna, white beans and capers. The ingredients blended exceptionally well, with the meaty bits of flavorful tuna and soft beans making this a satisfying salad.
We noticed that around 1 p.m., the Filling Station started to empty. If you are on an abbreviated lunch break, you might either make reservations or plan to arrive then.
THE FILLING STATION
3 out of four pennies)
WHERE: 745 Seneca St., Larkin Square (362-2665)
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday with lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes