New York has its mile-high pastrami sandwiches. Los Angeles is home to the French dip.
But no place has sammies like San Jose’s Clover Bakery does.
Get ready for some jaw-dropping concoctions, including a hot dog bun, filled not with a wiener, but a heap of chow mein or even a tangle of spaghetti with red sauce. I kid you not.
Or imagine slices of soft, airy white bread spread with just a thick layer of creamy potato salad or a sweet filling of strawberries and whipped cream in a twist on a shortcake.
Other Asian bakeries may bake some unusual filled buns, but none has quite the crazy-creative selection as this 10-year-old Japanese bakery in the Mitsuwa market plaza. Visitors from as far as Sacramento and Los Angeles come calling to buy armloads of buns to take home for their freezer. Clover also delivers regularlly to Super Mira market in San Francisco’s Japantown and to Suruki in San Mateo.
Owner Hisae Liang used to work in an office building. But when this former Japanese cake bakery came up for sale, she pleaded and convinced the owner to sell it to her even though plenty of ramen cafes were vying for it. The former owner taught Liang how to bake bread and a relative who was a chef helped create some of the more outlandish buns.
In Japan, where buns are eaten as a quick snack or lunch on the go, the classic croquette sandwich is the most popular. Liang sells that variety, but also jalapeno-laced ones, which are not popular in Japan, but are here. One of her newest creations is a bread baked with bright-orange fish roe and shards of nori.
Eaten at room temperature or warmed in a toaster oven, these carb lover’s treats ($1.75 to $3 each) are weirdly satisfying. The spaghetti bun has slices of hot dog over the top, as well as a sprinkle of Parmesan. There’s quite a lot of spaghetti stuffed into it, too, with a sweet, almost catsup-like sauce.
The chow mein bun has soft, thin noodles and a garnish of pink, pickled ginger. The potato croquette bun is like a patty of mashed potatoes on bread, with slivers of cabbage and a thick teriyaki-like sauce.
The matcha roll is soft, fluffy, vivid green and barely sweet.
Clover Bakery also makes outstanding onigiri — rice balls wrapped in crisp nori. ($1.75 each). A signature creation — and my favorite — has a filling of miso-flavored stewed eggplant hidden in the center.
The bakery is also open for dinner now, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, when it offers hearty dishes such as fried pork cutlet with tonkatsu or ponzu sauce, along with rice, soup, salad and bread ($9).
When Liang first opened her bakery, her customers were primarily those of Japanese descent, who longed for a taste of home. Then, other Asians started discovering the fun food on the shelves. Now, it draws a cross-section of curious customers, many of whom come in to take a photo of the superstar spaghetti bun.
For the best selection, come before 3 p.m., when many items sell out. And bring cash or check, as Clover Bakery doesn’t take credit cards.
More Sandwiches Worth Trying: Ike’s Place at Stanford University