Sunday, October 2, 2011

Travel Rule #3…

Be alert to what is happening around you.

Here we are at Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Berkeley, CA, a spot visited by Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and recommended to us by our dear friend Tom back in Newtown, PA.

It’s almost 1:00 p.m. and the place is packed. Bette is on to something here. The diner is owned by “Bette Kroening, an ex-social worker, who, after discovering that chopping carrots all day was the most fun she'd ever had, dove headfirst into the food industry. She took cooking classes, dabbled in catering, landed at the Fourth Street Grill and in 1982—and across the street, no less—opened Bette's Oceanview Diner in Berkeley (CA).

“‘Stories? I've got 28 years of them,’ Kroening says with a laugh” (Janny Hu, staff writer San Francisco Chronicle).

“You see professors and poets, pundits and punks, students and starving artists, builders, businessmen, neighborhood regulars, even tourists with maps, guidebooks and reviews in hand. It's an eclectic crowd, but then this is Berkeley. The birthplace of free speech. The epicenter of eclecticism. With their love of good food, strong coffee and lively conversation, our customers give new meaning to the phrase ‘counter culture.’”

And then there's the slice of pie hanging over the register.

I have no idea.

“Settle into a plush red Naugahyde booth, or find a place at the counter, and you're likely to be waited on by a cartoonist, a perfor-
mance artist, a Doctor of Theology, or a rock musician. Drop a quarter into the jukebox and you can choose from country, to rock, to classical, to opera. Anything goes. This is no ordinary diner” (

Even though the diner was busy, we were quickly seated. Not in a “plush red Naugahyde booth,” but at one of the smallest restaurant tables ever. It couldn’t have been more than thirty inches square with much of the space taken by the carrier containing sugar, cream, jam, salt and pepper, Equal, Dijon mustard, catsup, and Tabasco. Not much room for my note-taking notebook.

Like many small independent restaurants, Bette’s is open for breakfast and lunch, and breakfast is served all day. And the breakfast menu was intriguing. Some of the offerings included: the Mexican scramble—scrambled eggs with cheese & salsa, smoky black beans, house-made chorizo, and a flour tortilla; the Lox Scramble—scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and green onions, served with home fries, bagel and cream cheese; the Philadelphia Breakfast—poached eggs served house-made scrapple (Yuk), grilled tomatoes, and toast; the Maryland Breakfast—house-made corned beef hash with poached eggs and choice of muffin, toast, or cream scone; and the California Breakfast—poached eggs on ham and toast with a lemon and herb butter sauce and served with home fries and grilled tomatoes. And, of course, there are the pancakes for which Bette’s is famous.

I knew the minute I looked at the menu that Chuck would order the Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes with gravy. This came with a side salad containing spinach, frisée (a type of chicory), red leaf lettuce, parsley, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and pickled red onions with their house-made Russian dressing.

The meatloaf was everything you could hope for—a moist slab of gently seasoned ground meats served with wonderful mashed potatoes. But the superstar of the plate was the intensely rich and velvety gravy that had a hint (and a few specks) of wild mushrooms. Even my non-mushroom-loving Traveling Companion was raving about this earthy and deep gravy.

My choice was one of the day’s specials—the salmon burger on an Acme Baking Company (“…a Berkeley, California-based bakery that is one of the pioneers of the San Francisco Bay Area's ‘Bread Revolution’ which in turn created the modern artisan bread movement in America and remains a benchmark for commercial handmade bread” [wikipedia.
com]. Acme has an outlet at San Francisco’s Ferry Building and has a stand at the Saturday Farmers Market.) bun with herb aioli and a salad with cucumber, tomato, and marinated red onion salad with a basil, oil, and vinegar dressing.

But I should have followed Rule #3. If it is after 1:00 p.m. and three-quarters of a diner’s customers are eating breakfast, maybe you should consider breakfast. Maybe it’s me. I have tried salmon burgers on a number of occasions (I have spared you the unpleasant details.) and have yet to find one that I like. I love salmon. I love anything (almost) served on a great roll. I just don’t like salmon burgers. The toasted bun was spectacular. The house-made herb aioli was delicious. But I just didn’t enjoy the salmon patty.

To finish off our meal, we shared a raisin scone. In addition to her pancakes, Bette is also famous for her scones. We were not impressed.

It is hard for me to rate Bette’s. I really didn’t enjoy the salmon burger, but maybe it’s me. With the exception of the very dry scone, everything else was delicious, and Chuck really liked his mushroom gravy. So I guess Bette’s earns a 4.0 Addie rating.

As we left, we took a moment to enjoy the ocean view. You don’t see the ocean? Neither did we. I think Bette is playing a joke on all of us by naming her place Bette’s Oceanview Diner.

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