Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bay Area Breakfasts

     It's hard to find time to enjoy a nice sit-down breakfast in the Bay Area, especially when the commute eats away hours from your day.  But when the opportunity arrives, you want to do it right. That's why I strongly recommend the Buttercup Grill at Jack London Square in Oakland and Ole's Waffle Shop on Park Street in Alameda.
     I go to Buttercup Grill solely for the eggs benedict.  These babies are always cooked to perfection here.  The hollandaise sauce is always the right texture and has the right buttery richness.  I've never seen more consistency and quality of service on such a difficult dish.  You can get all your other favorite breakfast items here as well, and the staff is very friendly.  If you, like me, are an eggs benedict fan and live in the Bay Area, you know that most restaurants only offer this dish on certain days and at certain times.  But at Buttercup Grill, you can get this heavenly creation daily. And Buttercup is open from 6 am to 11 pm, so you can squeeze them into your tight schedule.  Check out their website for menus and tantalizing photos, but don't do it hungry:
     If you're more of a sweet breakfast fan, then you can't find a better place than Ole's.  Ole's makes the best waffles in the whole Bay Area.  I know it's cliché, but these suckers literally melt in your mouth.  They're buttery and hearty and will leave you full and satisfied.  I usually get the pecan waffle.  The combination of nuts, maple syrup, and waffle create a level of rich perfection that borders on celestial.  You can also get fresh-squeezed orange juice and giant, juicy slabs of bacon.  Ole's is THE place to have breakfast in Alameda, so get there as early as you can, and be prepared to wait in line outside to get a table.  But trust me, this is but a small price to pay for the bliss you'll experience.  Ole's opens at 5:30 am Monday through Friday and 6 am on Saturday and Sunday, so they also accommodate a busy schedule. Just remember that you'll probably have a longer wait time.
     If you choose to enjoy either of these restaurants, don't forget to show your appreciation for your perfect breakfast by leaving a big tip for the waiter/waitress.  It's always important to pass on positive tummy vibes, for as you give, so shall you receive.

Just take it in.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tummy-Rumbling Bay Area Sandwich Shops

     One of my favorite things for lunch is a big, veggie-packed deli sandwich.  I’m a sucker for homemade bread, a liberal use of sauces and dressings, and meat that’s cooked in house.  Fortunately, the Bay Area offers many eateries that have mastered the art of the deli sandwich.  My three personal favorites, in order of yum, are 1) The Sandwich Board in Alameda, 2) Levy’s Bagel & Co. in Alameda, and 3) Gallery Café in San Francisco.
     The Sandwich Board has won a “Best of Alameda” designation, but I’m going to boldly declare that this is the best sandwich shop in the entire Bay Area, and I do so based on one simple sandwich: the roasted turkey.  You know those beautiful sandwiches you make with turkey leftovers after Thanksgiving?  Well this is better, and you can have it year round.  Turkeys are cooked in the shop daily, so when you order, you aren’t getting cold, thin slices of processed turkey.  No.  You can choose between white or dark meat, and you get great, juicy slabs of it.  You can choose among a huge variety of bread, including the Bay Area favorite Dutch Crunch.  I usually get the sourdough roll.  And then you can have it piled with your favorite, fresh veggies and the perfect ratio of mayo and mustard.  Top the meal off with a can of soda, and you’re living it large, my friend.
     The Sandwich Board is located on Webb, just off Park.  It’s a tiny shop with a real Mom-and-Pop spirit.  You order at a counter that occupies most of the interior, and while you’re waiting, you can peruse the community event flyers covering the front of this counter.  There are a couple tables just outside, but why not find a bench on Park and people-watch while you eat?  The shop is open 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday and 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday.  See the pictures below if you still haven’t decided to give this amazing place a try.
     In comparison to the Sandwich Board, Levy’s Bagel & Co. is passable, but in comparison to other sandwich shops, it’s nom-nom-nom.  You can choose from an excellent variety of New York style sandwich creations, and you can choose either bread or bagel to hold those lovely fillings.  These sandwiches are juicy, well balanced, and fresh.  The meat, alas, is nowhere near the quality of Sandwich Board’s meat, but everything is super fresh and oh-so-good.  Levy’s also has a wonderland of sweet treats to top off your meal.  They even have muffin tops (you know it’s the best part of the muffin).  Plus, Levy’s is right next to the slowest Starbucks in the Bay Area, but at least you can get a coffee to go with your sandwich if you don’t want a soda.  The advantage Levy’s has over my beloved Sandwich Board is its hours.  Levy’s is on Webster in Alameda and is open 6 am to 6pm Monday through Friday, 6:30 am to 5 pm on Saturday, and 6:30 am to 4 pm on Sunday.  So, yes, make it a breakfast sandwich if you'd like.
     The Gallery Café, while having sandwiches on par with both Sandwich Board and Levy’s, has something the other two lack: location, location, location.  It’s located right across the street from the San Francisco Cable Car Museum in Nob Hill, one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in The City.  This is the perfect date destination.  You can ride the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason cable car to the museum, which is free and open every day of the year except Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  After your sandwich, you can wander the neighborhood and enjoy the awesome views.
     Gallery Café also has unique sandwich choices for the adventurous or developed pallet.  I’ve only had the tuna melt and the veggie sandwich, but they were blissful.  Gallery Café is open from 7 am to 6:30 pm Monday through Friday and 7:30 am to 6:30 pm on Sunday, and they have a larger drink selection, including espresso, tea, beer, and wine.  The interior of the café is homey, spacious, and has an art studio feel to it.  There are great window seats as well as large tables for bigger gatherings.  You can’t beat the friendly, San Francisco vibe of this café.  But bring cash!
     Tourists come to the Bay Area for fresh seafood, but don’t miss out on the fresh, delicious deli sandwiches Bay Area natives love.  These are just my top three choices, but there are many more to choose from, including Domenico’s Italian Deli in Alameda.  These shops let you put wholesome, ingredient-rich food back into your life while shopping local.  Everyone wins.
I present, for your viewing pleasure, the Roasted Turkey on Dutch Crunch.

How about a close up?

Cue inspirational music...
The San Fran

The Sam's on a Cheddar Bagel

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Neptune Beach Community Celebration

     If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll notice I give a lot of space to Alameda.  As an Alameda resident, I may be biased.  But anyone who’s been to “The Island” will agree that Alameda is special.  Quiet, laid back, family and pet friendly, filled with trees and lush parks, right next to the Bay with views of San Francisco on clear days…Alameda is a gem and a close getaway for frazzled city dwellers.  It’s also a city rich in history, and the Neptune Beach Community Celebration is an event that means to honor and cherish that history.
     This is the second year for the celebration, and it takes place on one of Alameda’s most popular streets, Webster.  This is where the Alameda Farmer’s Market operates on Tuesdays and Saturdays (just off Webster on Haight), where you can find the wonderful Alameda Sports Cards and Comics shop, where you can get a delicious sandwich from Domenicos Italian Deli, and where you can get a classy meal from Café Jolie or Croll’s.
     In the early 1900’s, the area at the end of Webster was also home to an amusement park called Neptune Beach.  Before the Bay Bridge was finished, visitors could get to this amusement park via rail and enjoy its swimming pools, carousel, and Ferris wheel.  Vacationers could also rent one of Neptune Beach’s bath cottages.  People came to Neptune Beach to picnic, barbecue, dance, and forget about city life.  The park closed in 1939, and the area became known as Crab Cove and Crown Memorial State Beach.  Today, residents and visitors can still enjoy large, green parks and beautiful beaches.
     The Neptune Beach Celebration is a way for residents and visitors to show appreciation for the natural gifts Alameda provides but also the history and current community that makes this city a great place to live.  I attended this event on Saturday, and there were a lot of things to do and see.  A large bandstand set up where Webster meets Central hosted many bands and a variety of music throughout the day.  I hummed along to songs like "Home" while browsing booths selling jewelry, wall hangings, garden decorations, clothing, and more. 
     For the adventurous spirit, there was a rock climbing wall.  For families, there were many different bounce houses, a Ferris wheel, a giant slide, and even real pony rides.  This is definitely an event that makes you wish you were a kid again.  And the Crab Cove Visitor’s Center had a booth where children (and curious adults) could learn about and explore the plants and animals found along Alameda’s shoreline.
     If you missed the event on Saturday, September 7th, you can still make it on Sunday, September 8th, from 10 am to 5pm.  Don’t miss out on the history walk with local historians Eric Kos and Dennis Evanosky from 11 am to noon.  They’re sure to give you tidbits you can impress friends with over drinks or dinner.
     I must warn you that in comparison to other festivals in the Bay Area, the Neptune Beach Community Celebration is pretty small.  To make the most of this event, I suggest riding your bike to it via one of the many scenic pathways along the Bay.  You can park your bike in a supervised bike lot set up at US Bank on Webster.  This is also an event that families with children might appreciate the most.  There are a lot of activities for children, and the area is safe and quiet.  Be prepared to talk to residents and other visitors because this is definitely a friendly, talkative place.
     I have to admit I wasn’t impressed by the food vendor selection.  There were three or four food booths, most boasting BBQ and deep fry.  If this doesn’t sound appealing, there are many delicious restaurants on Webster, and most were offering special deals in honor of the event.  There was an excellent shaved ice shack, Hula Hawaiian Shave Ice, where you can mix flavors, add ice cream, and even get a topping of condensed cream.  You can visit the event’s website to learn more about its features and watch historical videos:
     My personal recommendation would be to have a picnic over in Washington Park in honor of Neptune Beach’s spirit.  There are also barbecue pits in this park, a playground and basketball court, tennis courts, and the best dog park in the whole Bay Area.  After your picnic, you could go enjoy the beach, where you can see views of San Francisco, watch windsurfers, and play beach volleyball.
     If shopping is your sole pleasure at festivals, the Neptune Beach Community Celebration might not fully satisfy you.  However, if you are the type who likes to enjoy the outdoors or if you need a break from the hustle and bustle, this is a perfect event for you.  This is a place where you can kick off your shoes, lay back, and just enjoy being a member of the Bay Area.