Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Fourth Street

I plan to write about some of my favorite Bay Area spots in my blog. One of those places is Fourth Street, Berkeley.

Although I thoroughly enjoy living in my condo in Emeryville, I am not one of those people who can just putter around home all day without venturing out. I need to have places that I can go to hang out and to feel like I am part of a community. Many of us Emeryville residents have adopted Fourth Street as our neighborhood spot even though we are two miles away.

I get really frustrated when I have to fight traffic or parking, so I figure out what times are the best to go to all my favorite places. Some people have only been to Fourth Street during the middle of the day or during the holidays when it is way over crowded and parking feels impossible. But in reality, most of the time it is quite easy. I go in the morning before 10:00am or in the afternoons after 3:00pm and never have to fight for a parking space.

Once you are parked everything is easily within walking distance. My first stop is usually at Bette's, Peet's or Tacubaya. Bette's breakfasts are always delicious and completely satisfying. My favorite order is the "California Breakfast" which is two poached eggs on top of thinly sliced grilled ham on toast. The really indulgent part is the fabulous lemon-butter they pour over it. The plate is rounded out with grilled tomatoes, onions and homefries. A bottomless mug of strong Peet's coffee is essential, of course. The potential 1-1 1/2 hour wait to get in is easily avoided if you are by yourself and willling to sit at the counter. I actually think it is great to be at the counter. It has a throwback- to- the -50's feel as well as the bonuses of seeing the short order cooks sling the food and maybe even meeting someone interesting sitting next to you.

If you are with other people, you should be prepared to wait an hour to be seated. If you know it's likely to happen, the wait it isn't quite as big of a shock. Convienetly located next door is Bette's To Go which serves great coffee drinks, pastries and some deli items. (Hint: try one of the old-fashion muffins which are a cinnamon sugar delight and resemble a cross between a muffin and a doughnut or another winner is the homemade cinnamon crumble coffee cake) You can grab some coffee and sit on the benches or at the tables outside and chat it up while you people- watch. There are even newspaper stands on the sidewalk if you forgot to bring some reading material.

A more recent culinary option on Fourth Street is Tacubaya, a Mexican cafe just down the row from Peet's. I wish that it opened before 10:00am because it is hard to wait that long to munch on their chilaquiles ( homemade tortilla chips sauteed in a very spicy red guajillo chili sauce and topped with scrambled eggs, onions , queso fresca and cilantro). If you can't quite take the heat, there is the chorizo scrambled eggs served with freshly mashed and refried black beans and hot- off -the- grill homemade tortillas. For lunch they offer tacos which are so good that they make you understand what tacos are really supposed to taste like. The first time I went I ordered a cup of coffee to go with my breakfast. As I drank it I wondered why in the world did it taste so good. I went back to the counter to read the menu again and discovered that the coffee was from a new local small roaster named "Blue Bottle" and then was brewed by the cup to order. I instantly became a fan and have a new awareness about how the roasting process can effect the outcome of one's coffee. (For more info on coffee roasting go to sweetmarias.com)

There are wonderful shops on Fourth Street to browse or spend tons of money in. There used to be more outlets offering good prices, but now only Crate and Barrell and Dansk are truly outlets with discounted prices. That being said, I love to walk through Sur La Table and fill my head with culinary dreams or buy birthday gifts at the delightful children's store. There are boutiques of all kinds, a Hear Music store, a gourmet organic Gelato shop, a Cody's bookstore as well as the expected Restoration Hardware, Z Gallery and Garden Store. Yet even with all of these shops beckoning me what I usually do is head to the patio stretching from Peet's to the Pasta shop, grab a coffee or snack and read.

Well, I intend to read. Often I do, but the people-watching is so interesting that I can just sit there for hours, soaking in the life all around me. Right now as I am writing this outside of Peet's there is a trio of musicians playing, parents pushing kids in strollers while negotiating around the tables and through the dogs who are enjoying a morning out with their owners and streams of colorful people strolling about. I see a friend come out of Peet's with his son and he stops for a quick chat. I almost always run into people I know here, but they frequently are not my close friends, rather they are people I have known in one capacity or another over the years and probably wouldn't see if we hadn't casually run into each other here. Those sorts of encounters feel like a little surprise gift to me.

I like being here before the shops open so I can watch the storekeepers go about their routines of setting up for the day. The flower stall owner sets up the flowers that she bought before dawn at the flower mart, the wait staff at Cafe Rouge and Tacubaya set up their tables and chairs outside and everything is put in place for the shops to do business. There is something about the daily rhythm that seems peaceful to me. I sense a kind of beauty in it all.

There are lovely old sycamore trees all around which the sunlight shines through. People sit on the ledge above the sidewalk or at the tables and chairs on the patio and drink their coffee or eat deli foods from the Pasta Shop and talk with each other. Every now and then Amtrack cruises by loudly blowing its' whistle. It is all ordinary stuff, yet I love it and feel blessed to be able to be here, part of it and observing it at the same time.


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