Man cannot live on brown bag fare alone. Sometimes you need to get out of the office and duck into a quick, fabulous eatery to remind yourself there's a big delicious world outside the cubicle walls. This trio of cafes may be just the ticket. There's something here for every palate, from New York-style pizza to savory kebabs -- there's even a cool cafe that caters to those who worship at the shrine of house-cured pastrami.
Address: 362 17th St., Oakland
Hours: Open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays
Lunch tab: $23 including sandwiches and sodas for two
Tucked into a side street in Oakland's increasingly trendy Uptown neighborhood, Stag's Lunchette serves up locavore, cruelty-free goods in such a decadent fashion, it's difficult to remember that you're actually eating organic, hormone-free, good-for-you fare. All you can think about is how drippy and divine it is.
The first thing you spot at this cozy, wood-paneled eatery are the antlers -- on the sign and hanging on the wall. Tall tables are tucked along the walls and a long line stretches to the counter, its hungry denizens peering up at a chalkboard sign that lists the day's offerings: cheddar beerwurst, for example, and Brussels sprouts tartine, as
The place is owned by Alexeis Filipello, who also runs Dogwood, a bar a few blocks away that serves house-cured meats and charcuterie in lieu of boring bar noshes. She's doing similar things here for the breakfast and lunch crowd, with house-made bacon, rotisseried pork and handmade sausages. Wash it down with espresso at breakfast time, or a Pellegrino, Izze or similar soda.
If you're into the Carnegie Deli-style of pastrami sandwich, where fatty meat is served in a pile bigger than your head on limp bread with a jar of squirt mustard to add flavor, don't dine here. This is the opposite of that. Here, a non-cardiac-arrest-inducing quantity of thin-sliced pastrami nestles between slices of toasted rye, a hint of melty cheese and tangy sauerkraut. The delicious combination grabs you by the taste buds and gives you a good shake.
A Croque Monsieur offers thinly sliced pork loin with melted gruyere, drizzled with a fresh tarragon Mornay sauce. It fairly bursts with flavor. Both sandwiches were accompanied by a vivid violet slaw that was savory and spicy. I can't wait to delve into the rest of the menu.
-- Jackie Burrell, Staff
Address: 3647 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette
Contact: 925-297-6343; http://kabab-burger.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays for lunch; 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. for dinner. Open 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.
Lunch tab: $29.71
Open six months in Lafayette's Happy Valley Shopping Center, Kabab Burger serves up grilled Mediterranean food with an Israeli flair.
The menu features eight appetizers, six sandwiches, hamburgers and other grilled entrees that come with generous servings of chopped cucmber-and-tomato Israeli salad and warm pita bread. The prices are reasonable, and the order-at-the-counter service is friendly.
If you judge a place by the falafel test, Kabab Burger is a winner. Their deep-fried chickpea balls are made to order hot out of the fryer. They are moist with pronounced fresh cilantro flavor. We started with a side order of five with tahini dip ($3.99).
The Chicken Shawarma Sandwich ($7.99), tender pieces of dark meat chicken shawarma tucked into a pita pocket with grilled onions and peppers, was equally delicious. While I never met a shawarma I didn't like, I've also rarely had one that stayed together. Kabab Burger's was no different, the weight of the marinated, warm chicken soaked the pita pocket and crumbled in my hand.
The Kofte Shish Kabab Plate ($9.99) was a more civil affair. The grilled skewer of seasoned lamb and ground beef was served piping hot on buttery basmati rice with a side of Israeli salad topped with tahini, or sesame seed paste, and a dollop of hummus heavy with ... tahini. Do you follow?
While most dishes I sampled were authentic, I did think the salad dressing, falafel dip, and hummus itself needed a squeeze of lemon to punch up the acid and balance the flavors. Some people can't get enough of tahini. Others, like me, think it can be overdone.
Otherwise, we enjoyed our meal and look forward to trying the schnitzel and fries. The baklava ($2.99), made in-house, was also excellent: Fresh and perfectly balanced in its walnut-honey-phyllo ratio. It was perfect with a demi-tasse of Turkish coffee ($2.49), which I watched them prepare over the stove in a Turkish coffee pot called an ibrik. Make sure to ask for no sugar if you don't like it sweet. I saw our server stir a teaspoon of the granulated white variety in my cup.
-- Jessica Yadegaran, Staff
Address: 1516 S. Main St., Walnut Creek
Contact: 925-954-1178; http://pancoastpizza.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; noon to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Lunch tab: $28.69
Thank you, Robert Pancoast and Julie Tobias-Pancoast, for bringing a slice of New York to Walnut Creek.
The Lafayette couple (and their local army of restaurant-savvy friends and family) opened the gem known as Pancoast Pizza back in February. The tiny pizza shop on South Main Street offers slices ($3-$4) that are thin, wide enough to fold, and made fresh daily with that perfect blend of sauce, cheese and crust in mind.
Stuff this good is usually named after a Ray or Joe.
Go with the daily deal and choose from a slice of cheese, pepperoni, vegetarian, or the alternating "Daily Bob" plus a side salad and soda for $7. Can't beat that. We loved the blistering cheese and roasted "kitchen-sink" vegetables on the veggie slice. I've heard they'll even make you a custom slice or two.
For neighboring Las Lomas High School students, a Pancoast employee will walk pizza across the bridge. Just call. For $2, they deliver to the rest of us. For specialty pizzas in small ($16) or large ($26), I recommend the Golden Gate, warm goat cheese, roasted fennel, kalamata olives, arugula, caramelized onions, and homemade tomato sauce on a warm, crisp crust. The B.E.L.T., applewood smoked bacon with soft-cooked eggs, spinach, and tomato sauce, sounds equally divine. Pancoast uses Italian meats and sources fresh produce daily for salads, like my new best friend, the Chopped Vegetable ($8, $13): lovingly diced bites of red bell peppers, hearts of romaine, cucumber, fennel, onion, fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, pepperoncinis and kalamata olives dressed with oregano garlic vinaigrette. Whoever thought salad wasn't flavorful or filling should try this beauty.
This place is legit. They use French Laundry Chef Thomas Keller's Cup for Cup flour in their gluten-free pizza ($12 for a small cheese; $1.50 per topping) and bake the bread for their hoagies and grinders. The Italian hoagie ($9)is a monster of a sandwich, brimming with hot coppa, capicola, mortadella, salami, provolone, dill pickles and hot and sweet peppers. Thanks again, Joe Pancoast.
-- Jessica Yadegaran, Staff