The new Doc Ricketts: dinner with the show

Sep 10, 2014 Published in SF Gate

So you can understand why Christopher Burnett of Darwin Cafe, Charlie Brown and chef Justin Deering hope they can fill a niche with their new North Beach projects: a street-level restaurant named Doc Ricketts (124 Columbus Ave.) and its subterranean venue, Doc’s Lab.

“Having the best food at a show in the city – that’s my ultimate goal,” Deering says.

The two-level project has big shoes to fill, taking the place of the Purple Onion, the historic comedy club that closed in 2012 after almost 60 years of business, but not before hosting the likes of Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, the Smothers Brothers and Richard Pryor, among others.

“We want to do something to honor the Purple Onion space. So many people got their start here, and we wanted to keep the venue aspect open – but also have a venue where you could eat well,” Deering says.

Doc Ricketts – named after the marine biologist friend of John Steinbeck immortalized in “Cannery Row” – will be a 40-seat restaurant helmed by Deering, who has been cooking for decades in San Francisco, including the likes of 15 Romolo, Cafe Des Amis and Conduit. Despite the name’s context, it won’t be a dedicated seafood restaurant, though there will be plenty of fish – and oysters – on the menu.

There will also be charcuterie, a burger, roast chicken and bar-friendly snacks especially amenable to the downstairs venue.

Speaking of which, Doc’s Lab already has performances booked for the first two months, ranging from comedy shows to Bunny Pistol; Mondays are comedy open mike night.

The room has a capacity of 65 people seated (or 99 standing), and the quirky basement space is positioned so that it’s literally under Columbus Avenue. In fact, the new regime has even opened up the glass “portholes” in the sidewalk above, which act as skylights.

Doc Ricketts is scheduled to open for dinner on Wednesday, with the venue opening the next week.