Monday, April 7, 2014

The Politeness of Strangers in Oakland

Piedmont Cafe and Bakery is just the sort of unassuming-looking, hole-in-the-wall diner that immediately made my mouth water the first time I passed it. Even on a street packed with every type of restaurant, and literally across the street from the incredible Caffe Trieste (all in due time, my foodies!), the Piedmont Cafe screamed out for a low-key, high-calorie breakfast experience. Just the kind I like! Piedmont is a cool little street, the area between MacArthur and where the street literally dead-ends into one of the most beautiful and sprawling cemeteries I've ever seen, the Chapel of the Chimes. Along this little stretch of street there's three bookstores, five coffee shops, one theatre, any food you could want, a handful of boutiques, and one hundred places to get your nails done. On one of our first explorations of Piedmont, the Lady and I began talking to a local in the A.G. Ferrari's, an impressive Italian deli. One of the first questions he asked of us upon hearing we'd moved to the area was "Have you found your closest Trader Joe's yet?" That's kind of the vibe of Piedmont... lots of chai lattes and North Face jackets.
But not the Piedmont Cafe and Bakery! It is salt-of-the-earth, greasy spoon diner at its best. And by best, I mean they bake their own donuts! I'll wait while you process that.
The Lady and I walked in and stood awkwardly in that way that one does upon entering a new restaurant, when a guy behind us came in and sat down at the bar. We looked at each other, shrugged, and sat in between him and an elderly gentlemen reading on his iPad. We eyed the menu and got coffee in mugs plastered with ads for other businesses, most I suspect are no longer functioning. The Lady ordered a stack of pancakes, while I opted for a chili cheese omelette with home fries because chili cheese omelette.
This would typically be right around the part of the blog where I post a photo of the food, but something happened. I forget how it started, but we ended up striking up a conversation with our bar-mate, as it were, the gentleman named Darryl that had entered behind us and guided us, Moses-like, to our seats. This is a fact about the Bay Area. Everyone is nice here. Everyone will talk to you. Whether it's the guy at Ferrari's asking us whether we'd found our Trader Joe's, Darryl telling the tale of how he stole his dad's comic books back from his mom after the divorce, or the cyclist riding up to me to tell me that I had his name (Read, pronounced like, y'know, the name) on my shirt, strangers will start conversations with you and it does not mean that they are crazy. It's a wonderful thing.
So my omelette arrived, delicious and with two neat slices of melted cheddar on top, the potatoes fabulous if not novel, and the Lady's pancakes floated down from Heaven like a half-stack of clouds, and Darryl got pancakes AND a bacon omelette, I think, because he is a champ and it is a biological law that unless you write a breakfast blog on the regular, if you are a human being you always think you want an entire stack of pancakes but you always, always forget that it is almost impossible to complete them. Also, at least one of the employees had a shirt emblazoned with "Piedmond Cafe," perhaps signaling that he is from an alternate reality.
The bathroom, semi-hidden behind a curtain at the back of the diner, is covered with a pastoral mural, which the Lady and I deduce was executed by the same artist that has painted the entire inside of the Coffee Mill, which if I recall correctly, boasts being the first coffee shop in Oakland. This mural, in turn, has been rather expertly graffitied with unicorns, a couple of creatures which are either flying spaghetti monsters or mi-gos, and a bit of metagraffiti which declares the farmhouse is "HELL." So what I'm saying is, it is awesome.

  Atmosphere: 4/13
Clean: 2/3
Structural: 0/3
Decor: 1/3
Signage 0/2
Service: 1/2

  Menu: 7/8
Variety: 1/2
Size: 2/2
Beverages: 2/2
Prices: 2/2

  Food: 5/9
Presentation: 1/3
Portion: 2/3
Taste: 2/3

  Bathroom: 4/5
Clean: 1/2
Structural: 1/1
Decor: 2/2

  Overall 20/35

Friday, March 28, 2014

Oola La!

Welcome and welcome back, readers! Pinkies up if you're fancy! My first breakfast visit as an official Bay Arean (wait, scratch that... and stop reading out loud!) ...let's just say Oaklander. My first breakfast visit as an official Oaklander is San Francisco's Oola!

The Lady and I met up with mutual friends for brunch last week. It's in a funny spot by the Yerba Buena Gardens, and seems to be a bit of a secret for now. Going for brunch at 9 o'clock on a Saturday is dangerous business, this city loves it some brunch! So I was surprised when we opened the giant, industrial door to find we had the place pretty much to ourselves! The interior is a little cavernous, in that repurposed-warehouse sort of way that is the look du jour. We fell into one of thei soft-leather booths. The Lady and her friend both ordered the Mission Standoff, which includes a shot of Patron, a Bloody Mary, and a PBR. Our other friend ordered all day mimosas, which allowed him to choose which juice he would like each time, as he rotated through their options of orange, blood orange, mango, and pineapple.
I ordered a coffee, which was a surprisingly delicious French Roast from Equator Roasters. Along with the requisite ramekin of cream it came with a tiny mason jar full of sugars, including both raw and bleached sugar cubes, which was a very nice touch. Our server was pretty much THE NICEST guy ever, even acknowledging the shameless foodstagramming going on by waiting patiently until we got our shots. We ordered a round of oysters on the half shell that were pretty incredible, and then a round a fairly hearty breakfasts. Our friends ordered the Loco Moco and two poached eggs on mascarpone polenta, The Lady got some swedish pancakes, and I could not pass up some good old fashioned chicken and waffles.
The chicken comes in nuggets, with lemon and black pepper, and is damn tasty. It's lightly glazed with their apple maple syrup, but comes with another healthy serving if you want to drown those chickies. The Lady's meal was probably the lightest (I fell I should have known this, but apparently "Swedish pancakes" means "crepes"), but the rest were fairly substantial. The Loco Moco was definitely the crowd pleaser, with that seductively tender pork belly. Seriously, it's obscene.
We spent the rest of the morning shopping along Market, before we went our separate ways for the day. Oola is most definitely recommended for a City brunch, especially if you're tired of fighting the morning crowds in Hayes Valley and other feeding zones!

 Atmosphere: 9/13
Clean: 2
Structural: 2
Decor: 2
Signage: 1
Service: 2

Menu: 6/8
Variety: 2
Size: 1
Beverages: 2
Prices: 1

Food: 6/9
Presentation: 2
Portion: 2
Taste: 2

Bathroom: 3/5
Clean: 2
Structural: 0
Decor: 1

Overall: 24/35

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Glorious Return

Hello, again readers! How are you? How have you been? As some of you may know, I have recently relocated. Nowhere near as exotic as Iran or India, but I have recently left the tree-lined streets of sunny Sacramento for the saline shores of the lovely Lake Merritt in Oakland. Do you know what that means? A whole new major metropolitan area to explore! Designer donuts, copious caf├ęs, and so much more. So the Morning Constitution will return, now bringing you the best breakfasts in the Bay! See you soon!