Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Dish on Dining: Bette’s Oceanview Diner

Crazy for Counter Food in Berkeley
1807 Fourth St., Berkeley
Fourth Street Shopping District
PH: 510.644.3230
Open Mon.–Fri., 6:30 .m.–2:30 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 6:30 a.m.–4 p.m.
No reservations, major credit cards accepted

Bette’s Oceanview Diner is an institution in Berkeley, but I had yet to dine there for its popular brunch — mostly because of the waits.

But during Thanksgiving weekend, when my nephew was visiting from college and I was in a lounge-around kind of mood, we went for Sunday brunch and were told it would be a one-hour wait for a table of three. We sat and took in the retro diner motif and watched the toy train circle the tracks up near the ceiling.

People came and went like Bette’s is the only option for brunch in the area (it pretty much is with the closing of Eccolo across the street), and I observed how the host’s tone shifted from happily welcoming regulars to an “are you sure you want to wait?” tone with others. He was never apologetic about the wait because it’s something people expect when it comes to eating at Bette’s.

When we were finally seated, the service was prompt and courteous, but lacking the fun and familiarity you’d expect from a diner. I guess with everyone waiting, they don’t really take the time to get to know you.

For brunch, I ordered the Maryland Breakfast, which is Bette’s famous house-made corned beef hash with poached eggs. You can get it with your choice of toast, cornbread and scone and I went with the scone because I knew Bette’s has a great baker.

The corned beef had a nice crispy edge to it, but it was primarily potatoes and I didn’t get enough of the saltiness you’d expect from corned beef. The egg was a nice touch to get a creamy texture, and the scone (a cranberry-orange) was especially good because of the crispy edges and light fluffy interior.

My nephew’s girlfriend, Mary, ordered the pancake special. Bette’s calls its pancakes soufflé pancakes. The special was gingerbread and came with scrambled eggs and choice of sausages. Mary went with bangers. She also ordered a side of house fries.

The gingerbread pancakes had a definite gingerbread taste, which was nice for the season. But it seemed really dark when eating. I guess you can’t get around that being gingerbread and all.

Chris went for the hearty and also “famous” — according to the menu — meatloaf with mashed potatoes. I have to say, it really came out looking like perfect nostalgic slice of meatloaf. A nice big chunk smothered in light brown gravy, served with a heaping helping of mashed potatoes and some large broccoli heads.

I tried a bit of the meatloaf and it was definitely worth the title “famous” because of the nice texture and crusty edges (there’s something about crusty edges to diner food that makes you feel like you’re getting all the best parts of the greasy grill).

Bette’s Oceanview Diner (btw, there’s no ocean view from any of the seats) is a fun skip back to the past with some food, especially the baked goods and meatloaf, that serves as a strong supporting act. But I might pass on the wait and go during off times, or visit its “Bette’s To-Go” next door. I wonder if you can get the meatloaf to go?

Single guy rating: 3 stars (Comforting and retro)

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

Bette's Oceanview Diner on Urbanspoon
Other places for brunch:
Foreign Cinema: “Now Playing an Innovative Brunch Menu”
La Note: “A Touch of Provence in Berkeley”
Maverick: “Refined American Classics for Brunch and Beyond”


Hungry Dog said...

The meatloaf sounds good. I can't bring myself to wait an hour for brunch, though, so I doubt I'll make it there. Nice review as always!

davidsl said...

sometimes the waits aren't nearly so bad. people wander away and don't hear their name called and you get in quicker. in general, though, i don't think the food is worth the wait. it's okay. the service is fine. the wait is just too long.

Single Guy Ben said...

Yeah, I don't usually wait for an hour for food. But like I said, I was just spending the time catching up with my nephew. If I didn't have anyone to talk with, I would have just left.

Carolyn Jung said...

Meatloaf for brunch! Now, that sounds like something Meat Boy (aka husband) would really get into. Me? I'd zero in on that lovely scone.

egg to the apples said...

I only have eaten there once and was not too impressed. While their pancakes were pretty tasty, I don't think they were worth the wait.

abstractpoet said...

FYI, the "souffle pancakes" are a different item from their regular pancakes--much thicker than the ones in your picture; literally a cross between a souffle and a regular pancake. They're pricey, but worth trying, IMO, if you have a sweet tooth. So light and fluffy. Try the chocolate version. I do generally like their pancake specials though.

Bette's is also known for its soft-scrambled eggs, and they do a pretty good job with bacon. But on the whole it's not worth it unless you happen by when there isn't a long wait. Cafe M around the corner offers a more-than-solid breakfast without the hype.

abstractpoet said...

Oh, and if you've never had scrapple, you can try it here. It's an east coast thing. =)

Food Dude said...

I love Bette's but I'm also one of those regulars you mentioned. I don't go out for brunch very often (maybe every two months) and for a tasty and not overly fancy brunch (meaning foreign cinema etc.) nothing beats Bette's. I've been to Mama's, Rick & Ann's (good but terribly inconsistent), Ella's etc. and Bette's is my favorite. But I also never just sit and wait. We put in our names and go check out one of the number of stores on 4th street. So if you like your eggs in the french style (creamy & slow cooked), great pancakes, and an amazing meatloaf (after 11....I think)and in my long experience really expedient service, check out Bettes.