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900 Grayson Restaurant, Berkeley CA

Serving strictly breakfast, lunch, and special brunch on Saturday (closed on Sunday), 900 Grayson has built a name for itself on pillars of freshness and quality.  Had this place been around when August went to Cal, she would have been so frequent they’d know her by name.  We came here for lunch on a Friday, and like all the other patrons filling every seat in the house, we left full and satisfied.

seasonal vegetables

seasonal veggies

Much of the owners’ intent is based in what’s local and available in season.  The current selection for the seasonal veggie side included broccoli, romano beans, cherry tomatoes, rainbow chard, summer squash, and carrot.  Each bite was fresh and, while cooked, still had a bit of give from the natural texture of the vegetables.  Light seasoning complemented all the greens (and reds and oranges).

grayson burger and herb french fries

grayson burger and herb french fries

Zach had the Grayson Burger, which put the place on the map as one of Zagat’s “25 best burger joints” earlier this year.  A natural beef patty comes with apple wood smoked bacon, New York white cheddar, shoestring onions, and house-made barbecue sauce on a soft Acme French bun, with herb French fries as an automatic side.  Zach thought the patty was particularly lean and juicy, cooked to his desired temperature on a good, clean grill.  Hand-forming results in a tender, not tough, burger.  The mild white cheddar and crisp smoky bacon added extra creamy and savory layers, and despite being a fully loaded burger, the bacon was more meaty than fatty, therefore not adding so much grease.  Zach says you’d better have good teeth, because this bacon is almost all meat and very high quality.  Crunchy onion strings and a lightly smoky and tangy barbecue sauce are finishing touches, but were necessary to make this burger mouthwatering and complete.  Zach thought the fries were cut in-house so we were surprised to learn they were frozen, albeit from a very good company, so they didn’t taste like they came from a frozen state; most frozen fries are made from potato puree, extruded and molded to look like fries, but the fries here were cut from whole potatoes.  Zach the supertaster was nearly fooled by the quality and preparation.

The chef’s sandwich is a daily creation with choice of a salad or herb fries, and luckily for August, the day’s feature was a Reuben.  Instead of traditional rye bread, this one came on buttery salt focaccia, warmed and crunchy out of a panini press.  Thick slices of meat gave this sandwich some real chew.  The sauerkraut was crisp, tangy, and house-made, offset by a semi-sweet French dressing.  Thanks to the panini press, the Swiss cheese was nicely gooey without getting oily and soaking into the focaccia.  Since Zach already got fries with his cheeseburger, August chose a side salad.  The colorful, fresh lettuce was tossed in a light shallot vinaigrette, and the firm beets and zingy pickled onions, both made in-house, were excellent for this summery mix.

ice cream sandwich

ice cream sandwich

We sat near the front and were able to eye the desserts at the counter, so we couldn’t pass up an ice cream cookie sandwich made with decadent fudge cookies like those we had been staring at through the meal.  Extremely rich chocolate flavor held creamy vanilla gelato, accented by homemade strawberry jam with chunks of fruit.  The jam was not overly sweet, in fact it was more tangy and true to real strawberry flavor.  The hand-whipped whipped cream was lightly sweetened, providing a light and smooth texture without overpowering the rest of the dessert.

For our 300th post, we couldn’t have asked for a better lunch.  We anticipate coming back for a Saturday brunch, or to try the whimsical “Hobbit” selection, or a “TV dinner” – like the chef’s sandwich, is a daily special with “a veggie and a starch” that pleases diners’ nostalgia and palates.  The entire menu is tempting, be the items quixotic and inspired by fiction or based in reality, so we’re sure anything had here is delicious.

The Lunch Box, Oakland CA

Anyone can make a sandwich, but not everyone can cook their own meats.  The Lunch Box is a wondrous find because the quality of the meat is impressive, and the freshness of the produce, breads, and, well, everything, matches.  It is like most deli/sandwich shops in its layout: order at a counter, and either sit at a tinier counter or take your food to go.  But what keeps a steady flow of customers in the small establishment is the consistency in uber-friendly customer service, speed, and the finest ingredients made and used by expert hands.

wrapped to-go, no matter what

wrapped to go, no matter what

To minimize water and energy waste, foods are packaged in biodegradable or recyclable materials.  Whether you choose to stay or go with your food, it will remain piping fresh until you open it, be it sandwich, soup, salad, wrap, or hot plate.

The gumbo soup had a base of a rich and mildly spicy chicken broth, slightly thickened from the okra (the origin of the name of the dish; gumbo is derived from the Bantu word for okra).  The chicken was tender and juicy, and the plentiful vegetables were still somewhat crisp and not at all overcooked or mushy.  Green pepper is one of our least favorite ingredients, but its use in this soup didn’t phase us in the least and we both enjoyed it thoroughly.

baked ham and swiss

baked ham and swiss

On one of the softest french rolls we’ve tried with a thin crispy, crunchy exterior and soft, chewy inside, came the fork-tender baked ham sandwich.  We got it with all the fixings: choice of cheese, mayonnaise, zippy brown mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and choice of homemade tapenade.  Zach always loves a good ham and Swiss, so that was the choice of cheese.  The tapenades included olive & garlic, sweet pepper, and jalapeño carrot.  It was tough choosing among those, but he went with olive & garlic.  He was a little apprehensive that it would overpower the delicate, smoky, delicious oven-baked ham, but the balance was perfect.

classic rueben

classic rueben

Mexican sodas are making their way into the most unexpected places.  This is due in part to increasing awareness of the issues of hyper-processed ingredients, therefore natural sugar sodas instead of American versions with high-fructose corn syrup are being sought out and embraced.  The Mexican Pepsi, not yet as popular as Mexican Coca Cola, was refreshing with the classic Rueben on soft marbled rye with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, creamy and tangy thousand island, and the shop’s own corned beef.  The meat was extremely tender, so much that we could bite right through without having to tear away.

roasted turkey hot plate

roasted turkey hot plate

And there’s the Mexican Coca Cola, sabroso and great for washing down this giant hot plate.  For about $8, you get thick, moist, abundant roasted turkey, smothered in savory gravy, on a bed of creamy homestyle mashed potatoes with the skins mixed in, plus a hefty house or caesar salad and a hunk of bread.  Add a side of cranberry sauce, and it’s almost Thanksgiving (yes, you can get a side of cranberry sauce if you ask).  With the house salad we chose ranch dressing, which is house made.  It is very creamy as it is made with buttermilk and sour cream.  The herbs come through as a pleasant aftertaste, with dill being the star of the salad show.

There is a paid parking lot right around the corner that’s “never full,” and while the lots’ and meters’ fees might be a tad bit steep, the surprisingly low costs at The Lunch Box help mediate what you pay for your vehicle.  It’s worth it, though, to drive in for lunch, but if you’re already in the area, you have no excuse not to eat here.

Morucci’s Si Mangia Bene, Walnut Creek CA

Zach’s youngest brother suggested we try Morucci’s Si Mangia Bene in Walnut Creek.  Since we were disappointed by the let down of the morning, we hoped for a good lunch.  When we drove up, we could see this place is popular, so our spirits lifted a bit.

reuben sandwich

“number 7” reuben sandwich

August tries the Reuben her first time at any restaurant that has them.  This one had the standard corned beef with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing on rye bread, and also sweet hot mustard, sprouts, and Bermuda onion slices.  The added zing from the horseradish in the sweet hot mustard makes this a Reuben that’s more memorable (in a good way).

"00" oven roasted turkey

“number 00” oven roasted turkey sandwich

Zach’s oven roasted turkey sandwich was on fresh dutch crunch bread, which was crunchy on the outside and tender on the middle.  The oven roasted turkey was flavorful, “just like you’re having leftover turkey the day after Thanksgiving.”  The particular Swiss cheese used was mild and the vegetables were fresh, making an all-around good sandwich.

Stop by for a sandwich or maybe a salad, although you should be prepared for a long line in a crowded space.  Grab your beverage from the refrigerator before placing your order, or else other patrons will glare at you.  There are tables outsides to eat in the fresh air (and away from the people you inadvertently offended by trying to get a bottle of water from the fridge behind them).