Townie: Berkeley’s New Neighborhood Hangout

| August 8, 2014 | 3 Comments
  • 3 Comments
Street view of Townie. Photo: Kim Westerman

Street view of Townie. Photo: Kim Westerman

Townie is the kind of place you might walk into if you were not from around here, but just checking out the neighborhood for a spot to relax. You wouldn’t know that the same building once housed somewhat of a local institution (Venezia) for a number of years, or that University Avenue doesn’t have a destination restaurant on every block. In fact, this may be the densest restaurant zone in all of Berkeley with, proportionately, the fewest great meals to be had. Townie, with its warm brick walls and dim lighting behind huge plate-glass windows, is just what it seems to be: a welcoming neighborhood hangout where you can get an excellent drink and a simply executed, affordable meal. Much thought has gone in to the relationship between the two.

Townie’s 75-seat open dining room, abuzz with locals. Photo: Courtesy of Townie

Townie’s 75-seat open dining room, abuzz with locals. Photo: Courtesy of Townie

Both the beverage and food menus are intentionally small, and thoughtfully curated. In homage to co-owner Nima Shokat’s divey Missouri Lounge, in West Berkeley, the drink list features a beer-and-whiskey-shot special every night for five bucks. The most popular cocktail thus far seems to be The Ginger Thistle (concocted by Diana Krell), a mix of Cynar, Citadelle gin, lemon juice, and Bundaberg ginger beer, which gives it an effervescent spice. Belly up or take a table; all the food and drinks are served both at the bar and at tables, both individual and communal. (The restaurant is about evenly divided between the two.)

Belly up to the bar at Townie. Photo: Kim Westerman

Belly up to the bar at Townie. Photo: Kim Westerman

Shokat and partner Maianna Voge have in mind a neighborhood spot, not a grand drinking or dining destination. And, despite having hired a chef with experience at duly lauded State Bird Provisions, they seem to have achieved just that.

Marin Atlantic oysters with roasted corn and bay leaf. Photo: Kim Westerman

Marin Atlantic oysters with roasted corn and bay leaf. Photo: Kim Westerman

All the food follows a shareable, small-plates format. We tried a variety of dishes, starting with two perfect Marin Atlantic oysters, served raw and topped with roasted corn and bay leaf, which paired nicely with a Spanish Brut Nature Cava. Next up were crisp, light croquettes of fluffy potato with Manchego cheese and Serrano ham, meltingly good. Homemade chicharrones are light as a feather, and dusted with a purple salt made from dehydrated sauerkraut.

Potato croquettes with Manchego cheese and Serrano ham and chicharrones. Photo: Kim Westerman

Potato croquettes with Manchego cheese and Serrano ham and chicharrones. Photo: Kim Westerman

The mussels in an aromatic broth with cubes of Spanish chorizo, served with toast, are not tricked out, just pure seafood and smoked-meat flavor.

Mussels with Spanish chorizo. Photo: Kim Westerman

Mussels with Spanish chorizo. Photo: Kim Westerman

We switched to a Greek Merlot (a surprising and delicious choice) with the seared hanger steak (perfectly rare) atop a smooth purée of potatoes, chunks of summer squash, and torn arugula.

Seared hanger steak with potato purée, summer squash, and arugula. Photo: Kim Westerman

Seared hanger steak with potato purée, summer squash, and arugula. Photo: Kim Westerman

It wasn’t until much later that I realized we hadn’t been offered dessert. That’s because the list is still in development, as are plans to offer breakfast and lunch. For now, Townie is wonderful hideaway in an otherwise culinarily sparse area of University Avenue.

Information:

Townie
Address: Map
1799 University Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94703
Phone: 510-356-4903
Hours: Daily, 4pm to midnight
Price Range: $$

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Category: Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, beer, berkeley, beverages, east bay, restaurants, bars, cafes, reviews, wine

About the Author ()

Kim Westerman has been writing about food and wine for most of her adult life. Originally from North Carolina, she moved to Berkeley in 2006 to pursue the California dream, which, it turns out, is all it’s cracked up to be. She’s a farmer’s market junkie, a lover of all things tomato, and Champagne-obsessed. She loves to cook with her five-year-old son, and she makes frequent pilgrimages to International Boulevard in search of her next favorite Mexican dish. She spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about food and wine pairing, often starting with the wine and working backwards when planning menus. She thinks the best places to eat outside the Bay Area are Rome, Crete and Shanghai. Her work has appeared in Forbes.com, the New York Times, Tasting Table, Fodor’s Travel Guides, and lots of other publications.
  • Kevin M

    Your google map link needs to be updated…

  • weegee

    Fixed- thanks!

  • Julie

    “In fact, this may be the densest restaurant zone in all of Berkeley with, proportionately, the fewest great meals to be had.”

    “For now, Townie is wonderful hideaway in an otherwise culinarily sparse area of University Avenue.”

    I’m not sure why it’s necessary to put down all of the other restaurants in the vicinity while praising this one.