Townie in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Townie in Berkeley has the potential to become a new neighborhood favorite with a great atmosphere, a fantastic bar program and a menu that’s small but features one hit after another. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Diners have a cool, new option in Berkeley with the opening last month of Townie, at 1799 University Ave., in what was for decades Caffe Venezia until it closed last year. The interior has gotten a major overhaul and Chef Dana Ryan is at the helm of this small plates New American restaurant at Grant Street, not far from downtown Berkeley.

The menu is small, but features one hit after another, using seasonal ingredients and what the owners describe as “the highest quality meats and seafood.” Potato croquettes, the garlic cheese toast and the mussels with chorizo and white wine were some of the favorites during a recent meal.

Chef Ryan is originally from Boston, but worked most recently at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, and previously at Gather in Berkeley and RN74 in San Francisco. Owner and manager Nima Shokat, an East Bay native who grew up in Albany and Berkeley, has run Berkeley’s Missouri Lounge since 2005.

The cocktail menu and international wine list has been selected by lead bartender Diana Krell. Popular signature drinks ($8-$10) include The Ginger Thistle and Barley Flower; Horton’s Daiquiri is another stand-out. Sixteen domestic craft and imported beers are offered on draught ($6). For those looking for a cheaper option, cans of Olympia cost $3 a pop.

The 75-seat dining room was designed by Frank/Architects of Berkeley, and includes community tables, reclaimed wood tabletops, art deco-style chandeliers, a zinc-topped bar and built-in bench seating. The original-construction exposed brick wall, ample natural light, and high ceiling all contribute to an upscale but relaxed atmosphere. Last week, Nosh was invited for a complimentary meal for two to try it out.

Townie is open Tuesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to midnight. Street parking is generally available and there is a free private off-street lot behind the building. See the menu here. For reservations or more information, call 510-356-4903. Learn more about Townie on its website, or connect with the restaurant on Twitter and Facebook. (Photographs by Emilie Raguso.)

The Ginger Thistle: Cynar, Citadelle gin, lemon, Cock & Bull ginger beer, lemon twist (left, $9) and Pretty in Pink: Campari, Sobieski vodka, simple syrup, lemon, Angostura bitters, orange twist ($9).
Marin Miyagi oysters with grilled corn and Old Bay butter ($3 each): Well-seasoned and delicious. One probably won’t be enough.
Townie on University Avenue: A relaxed new restaurant and bar near downtown Berkeley.
Don’t miss the potato croquettes with serrano ham and Manchego cheese: lighter than, and just as addictive as, the famous Gregoire potato puffs.
Castelvetrano olives ($4) are always a pleasant snack.
Garlic cheese toast with gruyere and arugula salad ($7): comfort food at its best.
There’s ample natural light and a beautiful, original exposed brick wall at Townie in Berkeley.
A big hit: Horton’s Daiquiri with Sailor Jerry’s rum, lime juice, simple syrup, orange peel ($9).
Mussels with chorizo and white wine ($13): You’ll want to sop up all the rich broth with any available bread.
Grilled Caesar salad with heirloom tomatoes, country croutons, bacon dressing with grilled hanger steak ($14).
The cocktail menu and international wine list has been selected by lead bartender Diana Krell.
Save room for the stone fruit dessert with vanilla, absinthe, citrus, peanuts and mascarpone ($10): A feast for the eyes and mouth.
Don’t miss the game room, with foosball and an arcade video game, in the back of Townie in Berkeley.

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Bites: Townie opens, Sanctuary vegan spot coming (07.18.14)
Nosh on the town: Doukkala in Temescal (05.22.14)
Bites: Townie, Coloso Coffee, Plum, Standard Fare (05.16.14)
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Nosh on the town: Great China in Berkeley (05.07.14)
Nosh on the town: Duende in Uptown Oakland (04.01.14)
Nosh on the town: Centouno in Jack London Square (03.12.14)

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Emilie Raguso (senior editor, news) joined the Berkeleyside team in 2012. She covers politics, public safety and development. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...