Artist and Sandwich maker displays both of her talents at The Sourdough Eatery.

What if a young girl went to Paris to study painting but had to support herself by dancing in the Folies Bergere for three years? Let's say her father was a chef at the Brown Derby in its Hollywood heyday and her seduction by the muses was inspired by his delicate crafting of ice sculptures. And for good measure, she becomes a model for the Academy Award-winning Edith Head, wearing dresses made with Grace Kelly in mind. Accompanied to the Oscars by Milton Berle . . .

No, this is not a pitch at the Polo Lounge to a producer in some flickering past. It's the true life-story of Barbara Lenhart, owner of The Sourdough Eatery on North First Street. This rich oasis in the center of San Jose's drab Civic Center boasts one of the largest patio dining area within miles. On a bright, sunny day it's a respite from the numbing machinery of county and city offices just across the street. Grab a sandwich, plunk down at a table next to a fin de siecle streetlight, wagon wheels and street signs, and you're in Santa Barbara for 35 minutes. This sandwich shop has been here for 39 years, the building for more than 100. Inside, it's cafeteria style: order by the number, pay perhaps a bit much-about $8 per sandwich-and have a seat in one of several tiny rooms on furniture too heavy to move...and eat with Oprah or Hillary or Kathie Lee or even Buddy the Presidential Dog staring down at you.

It's difficult to imagine finding as much art displayed in such small spaces, as you will find here. Every bit of it, from huge seascapes to naughty blondes in skimpy outfits is painted by Barbara. She also mans the cash register with Husband Michael or can be seen making sandwiches. Every sandwich is crafted on hot shimmering home-baked sourdough bread, and most meats are cooked in house. The No.4 (top-round beef, Idaho ham and turkey breast) is the bestseller. There are more than 20 choices, from corned beef and German salami to the Veggie (lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, tomatoes and Swiss).

Perhaps Barbara could have painted presidential portraits for, say, George Bush Sr., and he would have loved one so much he'd hang it in his library in Texas. Maybe invite her to the White House . . . Reality check! She did. He did. Barbara and Michael went. In fact, Barbara painted a portrait of President Clinton with JFK in the background and presented it to him at the Fairmont when he was first in town. He loved it. Sent her a picture of Hillary to paint. She did that, too. A copy is hanging on the all as you enter the old house. Some things really are stranger than fiction.

Review Metro

Where Sandwiches are supreme

   The SOURDOUGH EATERY is one of San Jose's most outstanding sandwich shops.   The owners refuse to cut corners or sacrifice quality for convenience.  As one patron said ”A sandwich made here is, one you can trust.”

   What sets the SOURDOUGH EATERY apart from other sandwich shops is not only its food, but also its setting.  As one of my guests pointed out once we took our seats on the patio. ”I feel like I'm in Austria.”  The owners have gone to great lengths to foster a homey, European atmosphere with patios along First Street and back.   The back is particularly enjoyable with its tree shaded alcoves and brick walkways.  Cozy, inside seating is also available.

   The room where you order your sandwiches is redolent with roasting meats, pungent cheeses and baking bread.  An efficient crew of sandwich makers meets your needs swiftly.

   The SOURDOUGH EATERY is not a chain and does not aspire to be.  It is one of a kind, a sandwich restaurant that builds its reputation on freshness, quality and good service.

Bon Appetit - Mercury News 1990

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