Brunch, Little House Cafe, Alameda
I've been watching Little House Cafe take shape for quite a while now, at first wondering about the story behind it, and then wanting to try it but not being able to because its hours (M-F 6:30-4:30) didn't fit my schedule. But when I drove by there (it's a couple of blocks from my house) a couple of weeks ago I noticed a sign out front that said they were now open for brunch 9-2 Saturday and Sunday, so I finally had a chance to check it out.
The story: I watched with puzzlement as this tiny old house on an industrial block was picked up, moved, and meticulously restored. And was then even more surprised when it became clear it was going to be a cafe in an area with no foot traffic. But eventually, I learned the secret: the lot was bought by the owner of the adjacent building, who was expanding his software company. The cafe is intended to serve his employees and is partially subsidized by his company, even though it's open to the public. He recruited the woman who was the pastry/brunch chef at Pappo and who had before that owned the Boniere Bakery, during which time the pastries were stellar (she's a trained French pastry chef), to run the place.
LHC doesn't appear to have a specific brunch menu -- the regular breakfast and lunch menus are available, and there are some specials on the board. I guess I'd describe it as a typical California cafe menu: breakfast pastries and a few hot dishes (oatmeal, bacon and eggs, an omelet, a special of French toast with strawberries and whipped cream), lunch offerings like "gourmet" hot and cold sandwiches on Semifreddi bread; quiches of the day, soup (today was red pepper), salad; three kinds of crepes (two dessert, one savory); cookies, brownies, organic tea, fresh juice, fancy sodas, San Pellegrino water, etc. The reviews (unanimous raves) on Yelp describe some really fabulous-sounding specials (a Valentine's Day special chocolate beet soup!) that make me wish I could hit it for lunch more often. Some items were available pre-packed to go (salad, fruit salad, granola). You order at the counter, get your cold dishes and a number stanchion for your table, and your hot food is brought to you. The service seemed a little slow and discombobulated, but based on what I saw when I poked by head in briefly a couple of weeks ago, they were short-staffed this morning.
I had the ham and cheese crepes ($6.50) -- which came two to an order. They were good (the ham was real ham, not pre-sliced deli ham), but there weren't any garnishes on the plate, so it came across a little one-note. I would have liked it better with one crepe and a small side salad or some fruit garnishes -- next time I'll ask. I also had a slice of apple tart ($3) -- a thin, double-crusted wedge that was absolutely delicious: the apples were tart and flavorful and the crust melted in my mouth. I was reminded of how much I'd enjoyed the quiche at Pappo because the bottom crust was miraculously tender and unsoggy. I rounded out the meal with a glass of iced tea that was cloudy but still crisp and tannic (I hate fruity ice tea). Total was $10.50 (menu prices include tax).
It really is a little house (maybe 400 square feet), but beautifully restored to 1900 charm. About five two-tops inside and another half dozen, plus a couple of benches, outside. My favorite table was on the tiny porch, but the whole place was friendly, casual and inviting. The newspaper bin has everything from the NY Times to the free twice-weekly Alameda Sun. (Note to hhc: one very nice unisex bathroom in the back.)
Not a destination, but a great neighborhood place for well-prepared food using good ingredients at a reasonable price, served in a charming setting. According to the yelp listing, it also has free wi-fi (I'm guessing from the Software company's network).
Little House Cafe
2300 Blanding Ave, Alameda, CA 94501
No view, although you may be able to get a glimpse of something looking down the driveways of the strip mall across the street. Alameda has only recently realized that it's done a crappy job of making use of its waterfront: like most of the older cities around the Bay, the waterfront was originally zoned commercial/manufacturing for economic reasons, and so the estauary side of Alameda is still mostly older industrial/warehouse-type development. This is starting to improve: the new shopping center by the Fruitvale bridge has a nice landscaped trail along the estuary, as does the little strip mall across from Little House Cafe, but on the west end there's a big warehouse that cuts off both the sightlines and the trail. That's what makes this such an odd location for a cafe -- but he built it and people have come: it looked like it was doing good business Sunday.
I've eaten at Little House for lunch a number of times. I really like the "Bavette's Feast" sandwich with bavette steak. She also makes a delicious bread pudding sometimes with leftover croissants.
I've never had any problems with the service.
I would second the comments about the restoration. They really took great care with it. The bathroom is particularly nice with cool wallpaper and a gothic looking bat light fixture.
Unfortunately, they were broken into about 2 weeks ago and the cash register was stolen. They came through the window in the bathroom.
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I was off work doing errands today and was going to check out Little House for lunch, but was side tracked by Zen Asian Fusion Tapas + Lounge. But I stopped in anyway and got a piece of quiche for dinner. The quiche of the day was linguica and carmelized onions, and it was perfect: chunks of sausage, rich but light custard, and a light, flaky crust. Quiche is $4.50/slice, $5.50 with a side salad and $7.50 with soup.