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PostHeaderIcon Amici's East Coast Pizzeria

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Ask a New Yorker where to find good pizza and chances are they’ll tell you it doesn’t exist outside the New York City limits. New York style pizza is renowned for its large size and thin crust. A Los Angeles Times article (March 14, 2009) takes it even further, explaining that New York style pizza “should be less than one-fourth-inch thick until you get about 1 to 1 1/2 inches from the edge; this area should be thicker, with good hole structure, i.e., bubbles.”  The article goes on to explain that the pie should be baked in a wood or coal fired oven until the crust is nearly charred. Mozzarella is the preferred cheese.

There are countless restaurants that claim to be able to reproduce the famous pie, but Manhattanites, still turn their noses up.

So what’s the difference? In 2009, the television show, Food Detectives (Food Network), set out to dispel the claim that it’s the water. The water theory is prevalent. There are pizza joints throughout the country that claim to import New York City tap water to make their pizza. Despite their efforts to put this theory into the “urban myth” category, judges were able to pick out the pizza made with New York City tap water as the “true” New York style pizza.

So how does Danville’s Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria stack up? Friends and I filled a couple of tables recently to find out.

We started the evening with a couple of Amici’s salads: a spinach salad ($7.95) and the large version of an artichoke panzanella salad ($13.75), which easily served four. The spinach salad was filled with great toppings, like roasted red peppers, red onion, tomato, bacon, feta and toasted pine nuts tossed with a lemon basil vinaigrette dressing. The panzanella salad, billed as a classic Tuscan bread salad, included artichoke hearts, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, red onion and capers. It was a bit disappointing. I prefer the bread in my salad to be married with the rest of the ingredients. The bread in Amici’s version is tossed in more like unbaked croutons.

For our pies, we selected two large specialty pizzas. The spicy pepper chicken pizza ($24.95) had sliced chicken breast, mozzarella, roasted red peppers caramelized onions, cilantro, oregano and hot red pepper flakes. This pizza doesn’t come with tomato sauce, but the kitchen happily accommodated us by including it.

The Calabria ($24.95) pizza was topped with mozzarella, provolone, pancetta, and a choice of either green olives or tomatoes. Again we added tomato sauce to the pizza and opted for the green olives. The olives certainly added flavor, but if you’re not a big fan, they can be overwhelming, so opt for the tomatoes instead.

Both pizzas were fabulous – and nary a slice was left. 

The crust was definitely thin and on the charred side and the slices big enough to fold over, but as far as authenticity goes, this native Californian will yield to the yelpers who say it’s the closest you can get in the Bay Area.

I will definitely be a repeat customer.

Amici’s menu also features a dozen or so pastas. Low-carb crust and low-carb pastas are available. Some locations include gluten free options.

Amici’s has several Bay Area locations. Find Amici’s in Danville at 720 Camino Ramon and in Dublin at 4640 Tassajara Road. For a complete menu listing, visit www.amicis.com.

Last Updated (Monday, 21 March 2011 23:40)


PostHeaderIcon Panera Bread and So Much More

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Panera Bread bakery cafe is so much more than just hand-crafted, fresh-baked, artisan bread. It's also an excellent place to get a quick and healthy breakfast, lunch or dinner for a reasonable price. Panera Bread Company owns and franchises 1,362 bakery-cafes under the names Panera Bread, Saint Louis Bread Co., and the Paradise Bakery & Café and there are four Panera Bread bakery cafes right here in the East Bay.

I like to visit the Dublin location, nestled among shops off Dublin Boulevard at 7030 Amador Plaza Road. As you make your way to the entrance, you are greeted by outdoor fountains, umbrella-covered tables and an inviting patio seating area. There’s also Panera Bread bakery cafes in Alameda, Concord and Hayward.

The no-fuss, no- frills, yet comfortable interior welcomes you to the front counter, where you place your order. Many healthy choices, vegetarian options and kid-friendly meals are available. Once your order is placed, take a seat and within just a few minutes your meal will arrive from a friendly and efficient server.

One of my favorite entrees is the Asian Sesame Chicken salad with all natural antibiotic-free chicken, romaine lettuce, cilantro, almonds, sesame seeds, won ton chips and a reduced-sugar Asian sesame dressing. It’s filling, low in calories and comes with either a roll, a crisp red apple or baked potato chips.

Another great salad is the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, also with natural antibiotic-free chicken and romaine lettuce, but also heaping with asiago-parmesan cheese, ceasar dressing and freshly-baked asiago croutons. I had to take half of it home but it was just as good the next day.

Salmon-lovers can relish three new options: the Mediterranean Salmon Salad, Salmon Caesar Sallad and Salmon Club Croissant. The Mediterranean Salmon Salad combines a chilled Atlantic salmon filet, baby kalamata olives, Feta cheese, mandarin oranges, sliced almonds and red onions on a bed of romaine lettuce, all tossed with honey tangerine vinaigrette. Made with honey, vinegar, tangerines and oranges, the dressing brings a citrus flavor to the salad that pairs well with the flavors of the tender salmon.

Don’t want to stick to just one thing for lunch? Try one of the "you pick two" combos. Choose from a variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches. For those looking to manage their diets, Panera has added a new low-fat garden vegetable soup that combines diced tomatoes, sliced zucchini, yellow beans, Swiss chard, cauliflower, bell peppers and pearled barley in a steamy tomato broth. Once the soup is poured, a nut-free basil pesto is swirled in to complete the flavor.

Another highlight on the menu is turkey, artichoke, spinach, cheese, tomatoes and carmalized onions on grilled focaccia Bread sandwich. There's also a good variety of hot paninis.

For dessert, try a sticky bun, bear claw or your favorite bagel and decadent topping. Panera is also known as a place to start your morning. They are well-known for their baked egg soufflés and breakfast sandwiches for commuters. My pick of the morning menu is the Asiago Bagel Breakfast Sandwich, which includes an egg, Vermont white cheddar and applewood-smoked bacon on a freshly-baked bagel made with two kinds of asiago cheese.

Drinks include coffees, lattes, teas, smoothies and all-you-can-drink soda. Their signature freshly-baked artisan breads and tantalizing aroma of fresh pasteries make Panera an inviting experience from start to finish. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the café offers catering for parties, meetings or group events and boxed lunches. Most locations are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, go to www.Panerabread.com. ---KRB and KB.

Last Updated (Friday, 03 June 2011 23:58)


PostHeaderIcon 1400 Beers Down and Many To Go

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The calendar said Monday, but it seemed more like a Friday at Danville’s Pete’s Brass Rail and Carwash where the wait was 15 minutes to get a table. But given the chance to feast on great burgers and try out their always changing selection of beer that may otherwise go unnoticed, the 15 minutes was totally worth it.

Monday night was Pint Night at Pete’s, featuring selections from Dogfish Head Brewery and a raffle that kept those who opted to try one of the four Dogfish Head selections that the brewery showcased during the evening roaring as everyone was “oh so close” to winning a highly sought after pint glass. In fact, it was Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute I.P.A. (a beer continually-hopped for 90 minutes, which gives it a pungent, but not crushing hop flavor, according to the brewery) that marked the 1400th brew that Pete’s has served up since opening in April 1987.

I selected the San Ramon burger ($8.95) to go with my 90 Minute I.P.A. The half-pound burger was topped with bacon and avocado along with the usual lettuce, onions, pickles and pepperocini accompaniments. The burger was prepared medium on a flat grill. It was exactly the cure I needed to combat a stormy winter night. The I.P.A. which had a rich, bold flavor didn't disappoint.

Pete’s burgers come with a generous serving of french fries. Or do a “quickswitch” and change your fries into the restaurant's delicious garlic fries (my choice), curly fries, onion rings, veggies, chili or one of Pete’s salad options.

Add sprouts to the San Ramon burger to get the Danville burger ($8.95), which my friend enjoyed topped with grilled onions and paired with a pint of Snowshoe Apricot Wheat. The bacon-cheeseburger ($8.95) was equally good, my other dining companion said.

It’s not all burgers at Pete’s. The restaurant features a variety of chicken and turkey sandwiches, fish and chips, a pork tenderloin sandwich and many entrée salads as well. Or choose from one of the many daily specials to go with one of the twenty or so beers available on tap. Little ones may prefer peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese or a hot dog.

Pete’s is hosting the 5th annual charity Super Bowl Party benefiting Autism Speaks on Sunday, February 7. Guests will  enjoy Pete’s full menu and an open bar. Cost is $125 per person. For details and to reserve your spot in front of one of the four big screen TVs, visit www.petesbrassrail.com

Open daily at 11:00 a.m. Monday – Thursday the kitchen stays open until at least 9:30 p.m. The kitchen is open until at least 10:00 p.m on Friday and Saturday and 8:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Last Updated (Monday, 21 March 2011 23:32)


PostHeaderIcon Emeryville Restaurant Has Colorful Past

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Built in 1926 by Emeryville fireman Frank Mesnickow,  what’s now known as the Townhouse Bar and Grill had quite a notorious past. And according to the Journal of the Emeryville Historical Society, prohibition once paid the rent.

Since those early days as a bootlegging house, it’s been a neighborhood restaurant and bar, a country-western bar and a political handout. The Townhouse is even said to have attracted the likes of jockey Willy Shoemaker, movie stars Betty Grable and Tony Curtis and bandleader Harry James.

After the restaurant closed twice in the 80s, Chef Ellen Hope Rosenberg bought Townhouse and after a year of renovations reopened it complete with a galvanized bar, paved parking lot, outdoor patio and a revamped menu that’s been attracting diners from all over the bay area for years.

A recent dinner with a friend at Townhouse Bar and Grill started with the grilled jalapeno stuffed prawns appetizer. Less spicy than the description makes them out to be, these large juicy prawns were wrapped with thinly sliced pancetta ($13.95) and totally delicious.

For her entrée, my friend chose grilled filet medallions in a cognac-peppercorn sauce ($23.95). Grilled to order and perfectly maranaited, the filet was accompanied by generous servings of mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. The rich sauce was heavy on the peppercorns and slightly overwhelming, but nonetheless good.

Cold winter nights make me reach for comfort food, so I ordered Townhouse Bar and Grill’s braised short ribs ($20.95). These fork-tender melt in your mouth ribs were slow cooked in a red wine sauce and served on a bed of creamy polenta peppered with lots of cheese. Roasted root vegetables, crispy and slightly sweet rounded out this entree.

Sharing a generous portion of decadent bread pudding topped with a scoop of real vanilla ice cream completed our meal perfectly

Other dinner menu selections include entrée salads, such as a nicoise salad with seared ahi tuna, a grilled lamb salad, a grilled Thai steak salad and several chicken salads. Salad prices range from $15 to $20.

Seafood, pasta, meatloaf and Townhouse Grill’s famous burger on a kaiser bun are available as well.

Townhouse Bar and Grill features a wide selection of moderately priced wines available by the glass or bottle.

The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. - 2: 30 p.m. The bar is open for drinks and appetizers all afternoon. Dinner hours are Monday through Saturday 5:30 – 9:30 p.m., (Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.)  On Saturday, the bar opens at 5 p.m. Townhouse features live jazz Wednesday and Thursday nights from 7 -10 p.m.

Dine at Townhouse Bar and Grill located at 5862 Doyle St. in Emeryville. Call
510-652-6151 to make a reservation. Visit www.townhousebarandgrill.com for a complete menu listing.

Last Updated (Friday, 22 January 2010 14:42)


PostHeaderIcon Looney's BBQ is Spicing up Oakland

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Ken Looney might have been destined to be a chef and restaurant owner but it took him a while to find his way to a commercial kitchen.

"As a kid, my dad was always cooking and everyone said, ‘let’s go to Looney’s for dinner,’'’ said the Orinda man who owns Looney’s Southern Barbecue, with a new location near Children’s Hospital in Oakland and a restaurant by the UC Berkeley campus, which opened three years ago. In Oakland, he took over the building previous occupied by Sweetie Pie & Poppies.

The 53-year-old came to the restaurant business later in life. First he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. Then he worked as a submarine officer for 10 years, and ran two daycare centers in Maryland for a number of years.

Looney is an energetic guy who talks with as much enthusiasm about nuclear power as he does about his tasty barbeque sauces. He is proud of what he has built: two southern barbecue spots that specialize in smoked beef ribs, pork baby back ribs, pork spare ribs, chicken, beef brisket and pork shoulder.

Meats are cooked with Looney's dry rub before smoking for hours with apple wood. The brisket and pork are smoked for up to 14 hours, and the chicken and ribs spend at least five hours in the smoker at a low temperature to ensure the meats stay moist and tender, he says.

"We have short ribs that are a hunk of meat the size of your fist,’’ he says. Even some big, big guys can’t finish the food on their plates, he adds.

Looney isn’t kidding. My dining companion tried the one-third rack of beef short ribs ($14.95) with a side of hush puppies (deep fried cornbread with a spicy mayo dipping sauce) and garlic mashed potatoes. You can also order two thirds of a rack for $27.50 and a full rack for $38.50. Even the smallest portion gave him plenty left over for lunch the next day. The portions are enormous.

The ribs came with one sauce on the plate and a caddy of  eight different other sauces to test.

There’s the spicy and mild Kansas and Texas sauces, the spicy vinegar North Carolina sauce, two types of South Carolina (spicy mustard and vinegar), the honey Susie Q sauce, the Smokey Mountain Ike plum sauce and the bourbon sauce. All go well with beef, pork and poultry.

Pork baby back ribs come in a third of a rack for $13.95; a half for $19.50; and a full rack for $31.95. You can get a third of a rack of pork spare ribs for $13.95; a half for $19.50; and a full for $31.95.

I had a quarter of a barbecue chicken pulled off the bone with mixed vegetables and garlic rice. The veggies were seasoned with just the right mix of garlic and butter and the chicken was tender and juicy. I tried all the sauces so every bite was different.

If you don’t like barbecue –and Looney acknowledges it’s not for everyone –there’s a Cobb salad, a Waldorf salad (both $10.95) a full menu page of burgers (meatless Portobello burger: $9.50) sandwiches (southern catfish sandwich: $9.50) and potatoes that can be stuffed with cheese, bacon, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, sour cream, chives and salsa ($3.95 to $10.95 depending on toppings). There’s also lobster, steaks, fish, vegetarian dishes and mouth-watering bread pudding and cobblers to top off your meal.

"Not everyone is going to want barbecue,’’ says Looney. "My goal is to have enough stuff for everyone."

Looney’s roots are from the south. Both his parents were born and raised in Texas and Looney lived in several states while growing up with his mother and military father. But he always considered Texas, and its' food, home. His loves to eat biscuits and gravy, chicken and dumplings and lots of southern barbecue, he says. Schooled in Texas, Looney joined the U.S. Navy and entered their nuclear power submarine program, where he spent the next 10 years. While traveling with the Navy, he tried North Carolina style barbecue and regional variations of other types of barbecue.

When he came to California and settled in the Bay Area he began dating his future wife Susan, who is from the Mid-West. The first meal she cooked for him was a bit bland, he says.

It was then that he decided that if he was going to continue to see Susan, he was going to have to learn how to cook barbecue himself. "As I started to learn how to cook, I found that I loved vinegar and I used it in everything. I learned how to cook pork butt with a smoker in the backyard and finally I mastered it,’’ he says. He also created a variety of sauces and gave them to neighbors. "Pretty soon they were knocking on my door asking for the sauces,’’ he said. The rest, he says, is history.

Looney’s has live music three nights a week and is open six days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and until 1 a.m. on Saturdays. Check them out at 5319 Martin Luther King, Way in Oakland. For more information, call (510) 652-1238. Visit Looney's online at www.kenlooney.com. --KB and NVDG



Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 02:38)


PostHeaderIcon MaggieRay's

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Having grown up in Oakland, I’ve always had a fondness for good barbecue. Flint’s was just a stones throw away from my home and I still remember people lining up down the block for ribs, links or brisket. The meats were served on a heaping scoop of potato salad with a slice of white bread to mop up the mild, medium or, if you dared, spicy barbecue sauce.

So when MaggieRay’s opened in Alamo, I was skeptical. But after months of hemming and hawing about whether I wanted to put any place up against my standard, I decided to go ahead and try MaggieRay’s.

I went with a couple of friends to the casual (and small) restaurant for dinner. The front of the restaurant is take-out only, so we were instructed to walk around the back to get to the dining room. Not the best customer service, especially since the servers of the Mediterranean restaurant that used to be in the spot would escort patrons to the back. But I knew the way, so I didn’t say anything.

Watching as other diners receive their plates, we noticed that the serving sizes were generous, so we skipped appetizers (crab cakes, onion rings, prawns) and went right to the entrees. I decided on MaggieRay’s sliced beef brisket ($13.95), which the menu says is smoked for 12 hours. The large serving was tender and delicious and bathed in what I would call a mild barbecue sauce.

Our server brought out their spicy sauce when our entrees were served, which was good, but in the medium range. If you prefer a knock-you-over spicy sauce, sneak your own in.

Entrees come with and individually sized country corn cake, which was good, but a bit on the dry side, and two sides. I chose cole slaw, which was good, and the cooked carrots, which were sautéed with lots of garlic – just the way I like them.

My friends selected the half chicken ($12.95) and the grilled beef brisket salad ($12).  MaggieRay’s special rub not only keeps the chicken tender and juicy, it also adds amazing flavor. The salad was also good, with lots of brisket on a bed of romaine lettuce.

MaggieRay’s features a small list of very reasonable priced wines by the glass or the bottle. We shared a bottle of zinfandel for $19.

Despite a couple of service glitches, MaggieRay’s was an enjoyable experience and a good place to go when you need that barbecue fix.

Other menu items include baby back ribs, pulled pork and a fresh fish selection. Slider style sandwiches are also available and lunch-size portions are served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Find MaggieRay’s at 3206 Danville Blvd. in Alamo. Open Tuesday through Saturday: 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and 5 – 9 p.m. Take out and catering are available. For more information, visit www.maggieraysbbq.com.

Last Updated (Monday, 21 March 2011 23:36)

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