Who says there’s no “American” food left? What, no more No more greasy spoons? You’ve got to be kidding me. Taint true, even though most have disappeared into the dust, relics from a bygone era whose time had already past when we were still children. Well, the existence of this website says otherwise, and the correspondence I receive is fulsome and positive enough for me to keep posting articles like this one to let you know where to go and what to cook to keep the fires burning.
In California, there are two special joints that richly deserve some publicity. They’re not for everyone, to be sure, but I heartily recommend them, with the very serious caveats that 1) You may run into cops at one, and 2) You may run into their opposite number at the other. The first has GREAT food and tepid atmosphere, and the other, predictably, has GREAT atmosphere and rather mediocre food. So take your choice.
The Warehouse Cafe in Port Costa, California
5 Canyon Lake Dr
Port Costa, CA 94569
- Get Directions
On the weekends it will be filled with 100s of motorcycles (and even a few bicycles), but weekdays will be mostly empty. A very haunted looking two-story unpainted structure from the 1800s peaks out at you from the moss and greenery clinging to two of its sides.
You walk in the door and are startled by a six-foot tall white Polar bear rearing up on its hind legs. It is a large interior space. Unnameable things hang from all the walls and much of the open floor space is cluttered with museum rejects. Sometimes the other patrons aren’t much better, but sometimes they are. There’s a very large and long wooden bar. Tables are thrown about haphazardly.
The beers available are over 100 in variety. The food is barely on the expensive side (mostly Maine lobster, king crab or Sunday barbecue), and entirely secondary to the liquid libation and atmosphere. The funky here isn’t artificial. If you get drunk here without a designated driver you’ll never be able to navigate the pitch black winding road out of town.
The Alley Cafe in Pinole, California
2265 Pear St
Pinole, CA 94564
- Get Directions
This here is some real nitty-gritty food absent the fancy frills of the 21st Century. A seemingly heroic mom (alone at the tiny grill) and her three daughters dish out “American” food in this wonderfully dingy cop shop. “Meat and potatoes” type brunch here is to die for, and well you may if you have an aversion to unwashed walls and waits long enough to drive to Port Costa and back before the food appears on your table.
The mom is on the tiny grill and the three daughters work the floor. Orders are taken in no particular order, and you will see folks who come in after you served before you are. That’s just the way it is. It has been that way for me every time I’ve been there. Fee-fees must be checked at the door. The portions are huge. THE pancake is the size of my past sins. Hash browns are literally heaping on the plate. No shi-shi homefries here. No gluten-free. This is a 1950s truck-stop somehow transported to a former alley-way. It is what it is, but for what it is it has no peers.
If it is not an authentic dinery, there’s no authenticity left anywhere anymore in America. No middle ground here. You’ll either love it (and return repeatedly) or run screaming from the place for the safety of any relatively modern eatery.
For what it is worth, I’ve never been murdered, arrested, or even threatened with assault at either cafe. Neither has resulted in any food poisoning despite repeat visits. I deeply truly and madly love both places, but before considering visiting you should ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do you? I myself feel lucky about twice a year.