Jeff Banker and Lori Baker are back on the restaurant scene at Maybeck's in San Francisco. (Photo/JTA-Marc Fiorito-Gamma Nine Photography)
Jeff Banker and Lori Baker are back on the restaurant scene at Maybeck's in San Francisco. (Photo/JTA-Marc Fiorito-Gamma Nine Photography)

At Maybeck’s, brisket like Mom used to make it — with Lipton and Lawry’s

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

When describing his cooking style, chef Jeff Banker uses the usual buzzwords familiar to casual observers of the Bay Area culinary scene.

Local. Seasonal. Farm to table. Made from scratch.

But when it comes to his brisket, Banker backtracks a bit. He grew up in Fullerton on his mother’s recipe (she was a New Jersey transplant, and his father came from the Bronx). In his mind, you don’t mess with perfection. It may appear on the menu as “pot-au-feu,” a fancified French way of describing a one-pot beef and vegetable dish, but it calls for some very not French ingredients reminiscent of a bygone era: Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and Lipton Onion Soup Mix.

Calling it “an old-school recipe,” Banker said, “I use ketchup, Lawry’s and the Lipton Soup Mix. They make one of those unique flavor profiles I can’t reproduce.” Together with the juices that come from the meat itself, he said, “it’s honestly delicious — ask anyone.”

Maybeck's Manischewitz spritz (Photo/Courtesy Maybeck's)
Maybeck’s Manischewitz spritz (Photo/Courtesy Maybeck’s)

From Dec. 20 to 23, his mother’s brisket will be part of an $85 Hanukkah menu at Maybeck’s in San Francisco that also includes matzah ball soup, and latkes topped with smoked salmon and pickled beets. His pastry chef and wife, Lori Baker, will make the dessert, a cinnamon apple cake with Calvados (apple brandy) ice cream. A Manischewitz spritz will also be on offer.

If their last names sound familiar, it’s for good reason: From 2009 to 2014, the Jewish couple, both now 50, owned and operated Baker and Banker, a highly regarded restaurant in Lower Pacific Heights. They closed it after the birth of their second child, and Baker mostly stayed home while Banker worked at Bluestem Brasserie for a time and then as a private chef.

But with their kids older and supportive of their parents returning to restaurant work, the couple is happy to be back where they feel they belong.

“I got tired of private cheffing,” Banker said. “I like cooking for the masses, where I get to do more things and what I want to do. I think it’s in my blood to be in a restaurant kitchen. I just feel comfortable there.”

Banker has been cooking as long as he can remember, his interest piqued by his mother’s seders and holiday meals. They also watched cooking shows together.

Maybeck's elevated potato latke is on the Hanukkah menu. (Photo/Brianna Danner)
Maybeck’s elevated potato latke is on the Hanukkah menu. (Photo/Brianna Danner)

“I think I knew I wanted to cook from as early as 12,” he said. “I started working in a restaurant while in a high school program. I always loved working with food.”

Chef/partner Aaron Toensing first opened Maybeck’s in the Marina District with another partner in 2015, but they closed it in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. This past June, Toensing reopened it with Banker and Baker. A few menu items are still in place while more vegetable-centric dishes have been introduced.

This isn’t the first time Banker has put together a Hanukkah menu; it was a popular offering at Baker & Banker, after the idea was suggested by their (Jewish) publicist Andrew Freeman, of AF&Co.

“I can make latkes, chicken soup and brisket in my sleep,” Banker said. “I’ve made those dishes all my life.”

Even if that’s the case, he admits he isn’t the one at the stove churning out the latkes.

“I’ve trained one of my cooks to make them for me so I don’t have to do it anymore,” he confessed. “He must have made over a thousand by now, and it’s not his favorite job, but he’s so good at them.”

Banker and Baker worked together at another restaurant, Postrio, before they opened their own. Coincidentally, their current business partner and friend Toensing, who knew each of them separately from prior restaurant work, introduced them.

I can make latkes, chicken soup and brisket in my sleep. I’ve made those dishes all my life.

“We really enjoy working together, we respect each other a lot,” Baker said about her husband, with Banker adding that they complement each other so well because they have different roles.

Baker, who does takes on classic American desserts, has made jelly doughnuts for Hanukkah dinners past; this year she’s focusing on cake and ice cream. She grew up on Graeter’s ice cream, the 150-year-old, Ohio-based company, and said her paternal grandmother was always baking cakes and pies.

Though Baker isn’t a New Yorker, she’s known for her Brooklyn Blackout Cake on Maybeck’s regular menu; it’s served with a small bottle of chocolate stout egg cream.

The fact that their desire to return to restaurant life coincided with people being excited to eat in restaurants again is a happy coincidence.

With the help of private events, Banker said, Maybeck’s is doing well.

“People are excited to be back and we’re excited to be back,” Baker said. “We really missed being in our own restaurant.”

Maybeck’s, 3213 Scott St., S.F. Make reservations online or by calling (415) 400-8500.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."