You know it’s a good sandwich when at the first bite, you can’t wait to tell someone about it. The Five Dot roast beef sandwich at Stag’s Lunchette  is named for the ranch in Napa Valley where the beef is sourced. The ingredients include pickled red onions, pepperoncinis, greens and a horseradish rosemary mustard sauce and all of it is local, sustainable, GMO free, cured and pickled in-house. Stag’s owner and chef, Alexeis Filipello believes the secret is in the sauces, but every item in this sandwich deserves its own byline.    Yelp reviewers say the sandwiches at Stag’s ruin them for all others.

The same might be said of Lexi that is said of her sandwiches, as she sets the bar for restaurateurs in Oakland with two stellar offerings at Dogwood and Stag’s.  Between the two she has you covered from breakfast to last call.

Self-taught and “without a dime to rub together”,  Lexi turned years of restaurant experience and the investment of “thirty to fifty” friends into Dogwood, her charcuterie bar at 17th and Telegraph. She began in 2009, before the economy began its alleged recovery. People said she was crazy, but alcohol and food proved to be a good bet.

In the first year at Dogwood, Lexi and her staff ate Mexican food at the same restaurant across the street, five days a week and the idea for Stag’s Lunchette, her second business,  was born. The sandwich shop model is working.  On a Friday morning at eleven-thirty there is a lull at Stag’s while six employees prep for lunch and the line at the counter begins to build.  Stag’s will celebrate its one year anniversary this week.

Stag’s and Dogwood are not shy about meat.  The cover of Stag’s Facebook profile is a ribbon of roast beef that looks like you could eat it off the wall. Lexi grew up in Sonoma County where her family roasted lambs and rabbits for Easter. When her mother, an early adopter of Rosie’s organic poultry asked Lexi to help cut the chicken into pieces, it nudged her into a teenage vegetarianism that she has decidedly outgrown. “I wasn’t very good at it.”

Lexi says, with a laugh, that behind every major story of her life you can find a break-up.  But from one relationship with a chef, she salvaged a passion and the skills for “snout-to-tail” cooking.

The whole animal movement that swept the culinary scene five years ago was lost on many outside the restaurant world. When Lexi brought suckling pigs to Stags in their first few weeks, people didn’t take to it.  “It was too soon.”  A beef cheek sandwich didn’t go over so well either. “The cheek!” she threw up her hands, “the best cut of meat!”

Sourcing the best local meat and seafood is its own kind of hunt.  Lexi lists the farms and fisheries she works with, and they are all over the map.  Crabs, which she loves, have a painfully short season and are caught somewhere beyond the Farrallons.  On Mondays, when the meat order comes in, she and an assistant break it down and look at cuts. She relies on a community of chefs to trade unusual cuts and swap recipes.  The menu at Stag’s changes weekly. For the anniversary, the cafe will feature SoMar Farm’s beef and veal sliders.

Lexi built both Dogwood and Stag’s from the inside out. “They were complete dumps.”   Both venues now have a similar historical society aesthetic, hung with artifacts, taxidermy and framed photos and set in a warm, after-hours archival light.   At the core of her design sense is a gifted selectivity and photographer’s eye, natural resources that she is fully exploiting.

Watching Lexi, the phrase:   “When you want something done, ask someone who is busy.” comes to mind. During our conversation, Lexi glanced at a family seated across from us with a small child perched on a tall stool and made a mental note, “I need to get a high chair.” Next, an employee stopped by the table to give her an update on the construction at Dogwood. The bar plans to expand into the site of a former jewelry shop next door.

There are no plans to slow down and the summer temperatures don’t seem to be suppressing appetites. During the recent heat wave, Stag’s seemed to have its own climate and weather system. The barista poured a perfect iced tea and offered refills with cheer that belied the humidity.  Lexi never has to advertise for staff. If you want to work for her, you have to know someone, and have mad knife skills. It helps to know your meat parts, but that can be taught. Being a badass cannot.

If you go:

Stag’s Lunchette

362 17th Street

Oakland, California 94612

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