Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dish on Dining: Red Door Café (Renamed Brown Couch Cafe)

One-Man Show at this Little Oakland Gem
340 14th St. (at Webster), Oakland
North of Chinatown
PH: 510.452.1664
No reservations, credit cards accepted ($10 minimum)

UPDATE (07/17/09): The place was renamed Brown Couch Cafe

This funky looking café opened last year and it caught my eye for its name and eclectic décor. But I never ate here because once I walked in and saw the prices averaged $7, which I thought was a lot to pay for lunch.

Well, welcome to the new economy.

After a few months—and with rising fuel prices and tough economic times—seems like everyone is raising their prices. So eventually, eating at Red Door Café sounded like a bargain!

I guess your perspective changes when you put it all in context. Now on to my visits!

So the Red Door Café turns out to be another lunch option for me during the work week because it’s half way between my Lake Merritt offices and Oakland’s Chinatown. Like I said earlier, the café has an eclectic décor, with its mix of plush velvet arm chairs and wooden tables. The wall is covered with framed artwork that’s also a mix of vintage photography and paintings.

The café is actually quite small. I think there were maybe five small round tables. It’s really more a lunch spot as opposed to a place to hangout at nights, or even the afternoon.

The music mostly leans toward jazz, but can sometimes break out into Broadway tunes. This is definitely a place with a lot of personality.

It looks like Red Door Cafe is owned and run by one guy because he’s the only one there every time I visited. A young, friendly man, he would take my order and then make it, then serve it up if you’re eating in. It was all very personable like going to a friend’s place for lunch.

The problem with this one-man show (I guess it would only be a problem for those with little time on their hands) is that the wait can be long. Once during the peak of lunch, the guy would tell people coming in that he wouldn’t be able to get to them for 15 minutes. (Most people had a good attitude and said they didn’t mind waiting.)

I noticed that a lot of regulars know the trick of calling ahead and then just coming in to pick up their orders, and most regulars don’t seem to eat in since it’s such a small space.

The menu leans heavily on the wraps, of which there is a large selection of them. You can also get hot or cold sandwiches, salads and smoothies.

On one visit, I ordered the Spicy Cowgirl wrap ($6.75), which is a spicy BBQ chicken wrap with fresh spinach, onions, tomatoes and sauce. It’s served with a small little spinach salad with an Asian dressing.

What I liked about the wrap was how everything was fresh. The wrap itself was warm and toasty, which really made the overall dish seem like something served at a restaurant. The chicken pieces were generous and the spicy BBQ sauce was just as advertised. It was spicy but luckily not 5-alarm spicy. Just the right amount of heat if you like spicy food.

Because I’m a big fan of grilled sandwiches, I ordered from the panini section on my next visit. The panini selection is a bit slim, I feel, with maybe five options, and most were just vegetables and cheese with very little meat options other than the ham and cheese panini or the Alaskan Smoked Salmon ($7.50), which is what I ended up ordering.

The smoked salmon panini was made with lox and cream cheese spotted with capers, tomatoes and onions. I was actually surprised to see that the grilled bread looked like any ordinary bread and not, say, a ciabatta or even sourdough bun. Still, it was perfectly toasted to give it that crispiness without being tough.

The combination of smoked salmon, capers and cream cheese is classic, so I didn’t have any qualms about this sandwich although it wasn’t necessarily innovative.

Red Door Café is the kind of small business that I like to support. It’s in a not-so-glamorous area and the owner is working his butt off to keep his red doors open. While others might be turned off at the small space, limited hours and sometimes long wait, I find it a quaint spot and the food surprisingly tasty for café fare. In this economy, these are the kind of little gems that we all should be supporting.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (Paying for the Personal Touch)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Red Door Cafe on Urbanspoon


Passionate Eater said...

For ~$7, the amt of food looks a little paltry. Also, the sandwich sounds like it would be incredible, just by the name, but by the looks, it isn't that impressive. I agree, regular toast kind of does the fancy smoked salmon a disservice.

Single Guy Ben said...

I know, I'm really torn about the price point. I think I'll go back regularly for the wraps.

Anonymous said...

Well, compared to what I'm paying in the city these days for lunch, that is a pretty good deal. And I am perfectly happy to wait in line for a well-crafted sandwich!