Barlata and Barkada on Telegraph Avenue. They had their run, and, this being Temescal, they’ve already been replaced by Grange Hall and Nick and Aron’s respectively. This longtime neighbor recently went to check them out.
The first thing you notice when you walk into Grange Hall, which took over the Barlata space, is the rolling ladder at the bar. A little bit library, a little bit Vegas, it seems to say: “Yes, we take our booze seriously.”
And the cocktail menu only confirms that, with a complicated diagram on one page, listing spirits by category. The collection of house-made cocktails has so many unrecognizable liqueurs and bitters and house-made elixirs, that this reviewer couldn’t find a single one that appealed.
They even have a deal where you can buy your own favorite spirit at a discounted price, and they’ll save it for you when you come in.
This was all a bit off-putting at first, and seemingly pretentious – especially since navigating a cocktail menu is not something this diner normally has trouble with – but the server soon appeared to inform that we could order any classic cocktail or request something based on a favorite spirit. The second route seemed by far the more fun choice. By offering up that the Italian herbal digestif sometimes used in cocktails as well, Amaro, is a favorite, soon a bartender came over to ask whether shaken or stirred was preferred. He then soon returned with a drink he made up on the spot with rye, Zucca Amaro – a rhubarb variety – topped with a bit of citrus-y froth and then dusted with allspice (there were some other things in it too, no doubt). It was so delicious that whatever pretentious vibe initially felt was immediately forgiven.
The interior feels like a log cabin, and the decibel level is high, even when not that full. By staying open until midnight, it closes later than many other places in this part of Oakland, and intends to be a place to get some late-night food and drinks, not always so easy to come by. A shortened version of the menu is offered after 10 p.m.
The menu is wide-ranging, with everything from salads to pork on top of pork on top of pork. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Many plates are easily shareable, and these are the typical things – read fried – you’d expect to find on a bar menu: chicken wings, cheese curds, pastrami fries, with some dishes coming in two sizes, also a plus.
We started out with the chicken wings, which come either with a traditional buffalo sauce or sweet and spicy bacon and pineapple, and we chose the latter. They weren’t traditional in the least, but still paid homage to the original, with the pineapple-bacon sauce being the kind of condiment that would inspire you to lick the plate clean, if you did that sort of thing.
Given the menu changes daily, the seasonal salad that night had snap peas, sliced almonds and goat cheese. We would have preferred more snap peas – they seemed to be scant in number since they were among the items given top billing – and less raw onion, which can often overpower, but the greatest problem was the dressing had no flavor. Visually, it was clear that the salad was dressed, but the dressing lacked both acidity and seasoning, leaving the whole dish uninspired. It tasted as if the salad as a whole was lightly drizzled with nothing but oil, and a flavorless one at that.
While a lamb sirloin – with grilled blueberries and pine nut gremolata, no less — and spring vegetable pot pie with shiitake “bacon” both beckoned from the “bigger” section of the menu, we chose to try two items from the “between bread” section instead.
Made of their own house blend of short rib, sirloin and brisket, the Grange Burger was a knock-out. (While the menu doesn’t list specifics, the waiter did tell us that they do source their meat and produce from local farms, and while neither of us are gluten-free, it should be noted that they offer a gluten-free bun.) The char on the meat was the perfect amount, and the generous amount of white cheddar made the most excellent cheesy companion. We loved the sweet yet tangy house-made pickles, and felt that at $11, this finely-crafted burger was a bargain.
We had mixed feelings about the “Porky.” Made of ground pork shoulder and belly, this “burger” is topped with a jalapeno tomato relish, cabbage, house-smoked cheddar on a potato bun and topped with pork rinds. While it was the best kind of flavor explosion of salty and sweet in its first few bites, we did find the meat to bun ratio a bit off – a bit less bread would have been preferred – and we felt it would be a serious commitment for one person to eat the entire thing, while one could easily polish off the burger.
Both come with a choice of salad and fries, and we got one of each. The house-cut fries were excellent, but once again, the salad – this time just lettuce – was once again lacking dressing and flavor.
We shared a meyer lemon tart with raspberry puree for dessert, and were wowed by its generous portion size; it was easily enough for two people to share, and it was a perfect ending.
Nick and Aron’s: Pizza and more in the former Barkada spot
Meanwhile, a few blocks down in the old Barkada space, Nick and Aron’s has opened. Those familiar with Nick’s Pizza on Shattuck will recognize much of the same food at play here.
The décor is also largely wood, but this time it’s much lighter and airier than down the street. While we opted for table service, many come in just to get slices to go, as they are always on offer, and during the day the place serves numerous types of scones both savory and sweet, and pastries as well as McLaughlin Coffee and Scarlet City Espresso. Given they open at 7 a.m. on weekdays, it seems they are catering to the before-work coffee crowd as well.
We began with a salad of greens, goat cheese, dates and hazelnuts in a lemon vinaigrette. The brightness of the lemon worked wonders with the dates, which can often be too sweet. Now this was a well-executed salad.
Lamb meatballs in a harissa sauce with sourdough toast was an excellent starter. Pizza places often have the requisite meatballs, but we liked this variation. We found the sauce flavorful without being spicy, with more of a smoky flavor. With three nice-sized meatballs, this was a highlight.
There will always be pepperoni and cheese pizza available, and if you are a traditionalist, you’ll no doubt stick to those. But if you are a bit more adventurous, we highly recommend those in the “specialty” section. Having a lactose-intolerant person with us, we tried both versions of the Harissa pizza, which has caramelized onions, roasted cauliflower, feta and cilantro and the zesty spice combo – with the vegan version omitting the cheese, of course. This combination is so flavorful that the cheese in the vegan version was barely missed, a high compliment indeed. No doubt many will say “what’s the point?” to vegan pizza, but they do an excellent rendition.
We also especially enjoyed the spring garlic, which had a bit of bacon and goat cheese, which all complimented each other beautifully.
The crust at Nick and Aron’s is sourdough, and it’s definitely different than many Bay Area pizza joints. It’s thin yes, but thicker than what’s traditionally known as “thin crust.” But it’s also crispy enough to stand up to whatever toppings you put on it – none of that fold-over business necessary. We had a disagreement among us about whether it was just crispy enough or bordered on too crisp; and same with the cheese distribution; one liked the restraint used, as this pizza didn’t leave you feeling disgusted, while the other would have preferred more cheese.
The strawberry shortcake dessert was a perfect rendition, with the biscuit being a highlight.
The menu is rounded out by a roast chicken (and can be ordered as either a quarter, half or whole chicken) and it comes with several sides like stuffing and chard. There is also a mushroom polenta and several more salads.
While the restaurant is still waiting for its permit to serve beer and wine, it may find more of its niche in doing take out, since it always has numerous types of slices on offer. And while we haven’t yet tried the breads or breakfast pastries, it seems that Nick and Aron could easily fill the space that Barkada left.