Augie’s Montreal Deli – Berkeley

I was running errands with my friend Brian which took us into Berkeley at lunchtime. Brian is a great foodie finder and this one is a little off the beaten track but going to Augie’s Montreal Deli was a real treat.

We split the L’Montroyal, which came with what looked like a pound of Augie’s Montreal smoked meat. This sandwich (which is just meat and bread) is huge! The meat is a beef brisket which is cured, rubbed, smoked, and slow roasted. Sort of like pastrami and corned beef joining together and bringing out the best of each other. You can order it lean or fatty – just look at our sandwich and try to guess what we went for:

The sandwich came with pickles and some coleslaw that some purist put on it. I enjoyed the pickle but left the coleslaw for Brian.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t also order a bowl of poutine –  French fried red potatoes with St Hubert poutine gravy and authentic squeaky cheese curds. Very yummy. We ordered the smaller bowl and it was plenty for two people.

The order came up fast and hot. They brought it to our table and the owner, Lex, even stopped by to make sure we had everything we needed. There is seating both inside and out and they’ll even bring your order to the car, if you can’t find parking and decide to get it to go.

They have a small refrigerated cabinet and they sell smoked brisket and bacon.  They also have cans of poutine gravy, if you wanted to take it home and make your own.

I’d definitely recommend this place. Check out their hours before going as they close at 3pm during the middle of the week.

Augie’s Montreal Deli
augiesmontrealdeli.com
875 Potter St
Berkeley CA 94710
(510) 984-0283

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NOLA – Palo Alto

I flew into California and had a great day talking books and food with friends. We rounded out our evening by going to Kepler’s Books to enjoy a lively and informative conversation between authors Lucy Jane Bledsoe and Emma Donoghue about Emma’s new book, Akin.

Prior to the event, we had to fuel up. Dar recommended NOLA Restaurant in downtown Palo Alto and I’m very glad she did. The place is a tribute to New Orleans that adds a California flair to the food. The cocktails were creative and delicious, the walls were covered in Southern art and the food was as good or better than the best Creole and Cajun I’ve had the pleasure to eat.

We focused ordering nearly all their small plates. I had cornbread plus their BBQ shrimp and grits with garlic bread. Big shrimp with a richly flavored sauce over savory, stone-ground grits. The garlic studded bread was good and, as you see from the picture, a lot for such a tiny skillet.

Luan offered me her Mamma’s Mac and cheese for the picture and I got a bite of it as well. Very smooth and generously cheesy, with just a hint of spice over the plump, well cooked pasta. My mama doesn’t make it that way but I sure wish she did.

Karin had the shrimp as well and also ordered a flight of fried green tomatoes. They came with a couple of sauces but the crunchy, cornmeal coated tomatoes needed no boost of flavor as they tasted divine. Not sure they needed the sprinkling of greens but we are in California, so they are par for the course.

Their chef had the patience and keen eye and nose to get a deep mahogany roux on the seafood etouffee that Peggy ordered. Complex layers of flavor and full of scallops, crawfish and shrimp, this dish was good to the last bite.

Just look at the meat in this flank steak salad that Maria ordered! Sure there were noodles and greens and edamame but the marinated meat was tender and flavorful. Salad isn’t usually food in my world but for this I’m willing to make an exception.

I didn’t get pics of the ribs that Dar ordered* but she did give me a bite and it was meltingly tender to the tooth. I did snap a picture of the large boiled shrimp in the bucket of ice she also ordered. I’m not sure what we were supposed to with the celery but the shrimp easily found their way into our mouths.

I also neglected to get pictures of the cornbread.** It was sweet but with a very nice crumb. The plate had two large pieces and came with a rosemary honey that was good enough to sip out of the container. The nice server also brought us some butter to slather on it.

The servers in the lounge and in the restaurant were attentive and the cocktails sized generously. I’m glad we had reservations because the bar and lounge were packed at 5pm. The place is set up with many small areas in two stories around an open courtyard so groups could get raucous (not my group, of course, we were the height of decorum!) without disturbing others. Each place setting came with Mardi Gras beads and that helped get everyone into the right festive mood.

A good atmosphere, excellent service and just the right amount of spice to the eclectic menu makes this a restaurant I would return to in the future. I recommend it.

NOLA
https://www.nolas.com/
535 Ramona St.,
Palo Alto, CA 94301
650.328.2722

Author notes and corrections:
*note – correction Luan ordered the ribs
** the server took our picture and the cornbread can be seen next to me (after Dar and Peggy). Here it is:

Dar, Peggy and I and the cornbread

Sourdough I have known and loved

I’m a bread hound. If I could live on (good) bread and water, I would definitely give it a try. While out here in the San Francisco Bay Area (home of the wild yeast Lactobacillus sanfrancisco), I have eaten nearly a loaf of sourdough bread a day.


I started my visit with a stop by Safeway. Unfortunately, at the time of night that my plane landed all they had was Semifreddi’s. While their rustic is good, what was still soft was the sour batard and it doesn’t have the tang I was craving. It is a nice, dense, chewy bread, though, so I mainly used it for sandwiches.


At Arizmendi’s on Lakeshore, I tried the city sour batard. Very good flavor, although the crust was darker and thicker than expected, making it tough to get through to the bread inside. I finally ended up tunneling my way through the loaf and dipping the quite delicious center into lightly salted and peppered olive oil.


So far my favorite (of this trip) has been Raymond’s. Made in South San Francisco, it had a wonderful sour bite and was chewy, with a great crust. 


At the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market, I picked up a baguette of rustic olive bread from Phoenix Pastafico. It was filled with large black and green olives for lovely, well balanced olive flavor. It made the best tomato sandwiches!

Anchor Oyster Bar – San Francisco

What visit to San Francisco can be called complete without some clam chowder or Dungeness crab? Not a one!

We were in the Castro today around lunchtime, so we stopped at Anchor Oyster Bar. I used to live up the street from there and would regularly come down to sit at the bar with a cup of chowder and some sourdough bread.


We started the meal the same way with a cup of chowder each and we ended up with three orders of bread, as I was using mine as a spoon. The soup is rich and creamy with lots of clams. After a chilly morning of photographing, it certainly hit the spot.

We both ordered the special – Dungeness crab meat burger on a toasted sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, and tarter sauce. Large pieces of lump crab meat on an overfilled sandwich. Just a hint of sauce to hold things together but not overwhelm the delicate taste of the crab.

In short, it was a terrific sandwich and a wonderful meal!

While I think they are a little stingy with the bread, the wait staff is quick and efficient.

Val’s Burgers – Castro Valley

My good friend Brian turned me onto Val’s Burgers several years ago and it was good to learn during this trip that nothing has changed. In fact, it is probably safe to say that nothing has changed on the decor or menu or service since the 50’s!

Val’s is an old style diner with wood instead of chrome but the burgers are thick, juicy and affordable. The burgers are so juicy that the bun nearly disintegrates by the time you get to the last bite. There isn’t a lot of seasonings or fillers in this burger–it is pure meat, cooked to order. The three of us had an excellent meal for right around $20 bucks. I got the baby burger (that’s 1/3 lb) with cheese and it was plenty good. I can’t imagine eating a papa burger–1 lb of meat!

A couple of tips–one order of fries will feed two, maybe three people and the milkshake is enough to share as well. They only take cash and are closed Sundays/Mondays.

Luke’s Grill – San Leandro

I met up with an author friend of mine for lunch in San Leandro. We went to Luke’s Grill for Greek Food.



I started with a glass of retsina, a traditional white wine with the unique scent and taste of pine resin. Originally distributed in amphora sealed with resin, the wine now is either aged in pine barrels or has actually pieces of pine resin added during fermentation. I love the taste and the glass I had was quite delicious.

Our appetizers were the tsatziki with warm pita. I love this yogurt garlic dip and ate most of it myself. We also got the saganaki, a goat cheese that they flambe at the table. Very fun (what can beat cheese AND fire?) and incredibly tasty, too.



For the meal, I had the souvlaki in pita with chicken. Well seasoned meat with veggies and more of the tsatziki. It was served with french fries that were a little overcooked but tasted very good dipped in the leftover appetizer tsatziki. My dining companion had the spanakopita, a spinach and cheese filled pastry. She seemed to enjoy it but I’m not a fan of cooked spinach, so I didn’t try any.

The wait staff is very friendly and quick to answer questions. We also arrived right after a large group and they snuck our orders in first so we didn’t have to wait forever. Luke’s Grill remains my go to place for Greek while visiting Northern California.