Saturday, 30 March 2013

Where to Eat (and Drink) in Berkeley

After nearly two weeks of eating mostly vegetarian meals while on the recent University of Exeter field course to California, I was more than ready to indulge in some red meat last week when I rolled in to Berkeley with my colleague Caitlin (yes, we have the same name; we're also both American expats and we both have brown hair, among other similarities). We parked on Cedar Street with plans to stroll along restaurant-heavy Shattuck Street until we encountered a venue to our liking, but before we even got to the intersection of the two roads, our attention was captured by signs for Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers.

Barney's, as we discovered once we entered the restaurant, is a local-ish chain that first opened in 1978 and has since won a vast array of burger-oriented awards; one entire wall of the restaurant was plastered with certificates and newspaper clippings associated with its many accolades. Similarly vast was its menu, which listed several dozen specialty burgers, as well as the "plain" Barney's burger that can be tailored to suit any diner's individual tastes.

(Hot air balloons were only one part of the eclectic decor at Barney's)

Since we were in the mood to really let loose, we started off with a plate of spicy curly fries accompanied by Barney's ranch dressing. So unhealthy, and so delicious. These were washed down with one of my all-time favorite drinks: an Arnold Palmer (otherwise known as half-and-half, or half iced tea and half fresh lemonade).

(My Arnold Palmer)

Caitlin opted for a Barney's burger, but I decided to order off the specialty menu and asked for a Baja burger, a beef burger with bacon, avocado, Monterey Jack cheese, and a side of fresh salsa. It was decadent and delicious and huge--so huge that I had to discard the lid halfway through, since I just didn't have enough room for it in my stomach. 

When we left Barney's, I thought I might never want to eat or drink again, but within a couple of hours I was ready to have my regular afternoon cup of tea. Luckily for me, Caitlin's and my next destination (Black Oak Books) was two doors town from a delightful tea shop called Far Leaves Tea. Far Leaves is the type of place I have always wanted to visit, but never had access to. It was clearly established by people who love tea as much as I do--and I love tea a lot. I could happily have sampled dozens of different flavors, but since we only had a limited amount of time on our parking meter, I settled for a single order of Moroccan mint tea.

The thing that made Far Leaves really special was that the server didn't just hand me a prepared cup of tea and send me on my way. Instead, he brought over a tray with all the necessary accoutrements for me to prepare the tea for myself. He placed the kettle on an electric stand that boiled the water for my initial cup, and then periodically re-boiled the water every few minutes afterwards so that it would be ready for me to make whatever follow-up brews I might desire. I know that might not seem desirable to a person who just wants to add a little sugar and leave with a to-go cup, but for someone who loves the drink and everything about the ritual of consuming it, it was a very fun experience.

Berkeley, of course, has a veritable glut of restaurants and cafes, and I'm sure there are many other places where Caitlin and I could also have had fantastic fare; one that I was particularly interested in was Crepevine--partly because I love crepes, and partly because I like witty names. Regardless, I was quite pleased with our choices of Barney's and Far Leaves; they were a tasty way to celebrate our equally delicious freedom from students and the beginning of our spring holiday.

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