Bette's Oceanview Diner
1807 Fourth Street
Date of Visit: Monday, March 9, 2009
Time: Breakfast - 8:30 AM
Number of Diners: 2
Food Quality: 5
Even though there's no ocean view, and there's probably no Bette, I had high hopes for our breakfast in this place. "Don't even think about going there on Saturday or Sunday without waiting an hour or more," was the local buzz. "Best breakfast in the East Bay, the Bay Area, the West Coast, the Country, the World, the Universe..." were the raves. I love breakfast, and I wanted to love Bette's. It was not meant to be.
Located in an oasis of redeveloped industrial area with two blocks of hoity-toity shops and restaurants a block from the rescue mission and its associated hundreds of transients on the streets, the Diner is true to the genre. Small in black and white tile with red vinyl, seating choices of counter, booth, table or patio, the place is jammed from 6AM daily. At 8:30 on a Monday it was busy, but we hit a seam between waves and were seated in a booth immediately. Coffee for one of us and no bottled water available for me. I asked if I could therefore drink my own, prompting a small yet agitated conference with management, who decided to allow it - just this once. Whatever. Be advised that if you like coffee, you will get exactly one cupful. More on this later.
We perused the menu, which was quite extensive and looked harmless enough. There was a full slate of specials on the blackboard, and they looked pretty good. Our waitress came quickly, perhaps too quickly, and made it clear that SHE was ready, so that we would know that we should be also. We ordered hastily. Lest you think that this was a "Madge" sort of older diner-style waitress who is the ultimate professional and would brook no nonsense as part of the Bette's Diner shtick, be advised that our server was a very attractive female in her mid 20s, devoid of the de-rigueur Berkeley tattoos and piercings (as far as I could see), and reeking of attitude. Every movement screamed something along the lines of: "Like, kind of, well... ya know this job would be OK if I didn't have to be here so early, and if there weren't all these damned customers, and if they would just do what I want and stay out of the way..." Her attitude made me feel like I was back in Utah! Annoyed and completely humorless, she took our order and disappeared. The food arrived very quickly, delivered by the other waitress (who seemed much nicer), and we set about the business of the morning.
What we had with menu descriptions...
omelettes 3 eggs cooked in the French style (soft on the inside) served with home fries & sour cream, and choice of muffin, cream scone, light wheat, sourdough, or rye toast - fresh herb & cheese $8.95 (there were other choices)
(from the specials board) organic whole grain waffle with butter and maple syrup with two eggs any style $10.95
side order chicken-apple sausage $3.50
(from the specials board) fresh organic veggie frittata, with home fries & sour cream, and choice of muffin, cream scone, light wheat, sourdough, or rye toast $11.95
The omelet was creamy with specks of fresh green herbs and completely bland - a bit of a surprise. The waffle was on the small side, golden brown, and the room-temperature syrup was the real deal. The butter was in foil-wrapped pats and hard as a stone, as if fresh from the freezer. The taste was... OK. The turkey-apple sausage looked delicious and was completely tasteless - bland would have been a step up. The frittata was tiny, mildly rubbery, and also bland. If there had been Tabasco on the table, it might have redeemed some of the sorry breakfast, but salt and pepper were our only source of flavor. I had ordered sourdough with one entree and a blueberry scone with the other. Hold the home fries on both. The sourdough toast was the most flavorful part of the meal. The scone was dry, even for a scone, and remarkably unencumbered by blueberries. I wondered how old it was.
My partner had been out of coffee for some time, and the fellow in the booth facing me had been lunging at our very attractive and very quick waitress with his empty cup for 5-10 minutes to no avail. She was completely focused on the task of taking orders from tables to kitchen. No room for any other duties. I grabbed the empty cup from our table and walked to the rear of the restaurant where the regular tables were. The coffee pot was sitting on a warmer, so I grabbed it to fill the cup. "Stop that right now!" yelled our waitress, charging at me and suddenly aware of my existence. "I was just trying to help," was my reply with a smile. "Put that down. I will bring you coffee at your table." I shrugged and complied, being in no mood for a fight. A few minutes later she delivered, still ignoring the man at the next booth who mumbled and thrust his cup at her again. I grabbed her free hand and pointed out the unfortunate victim of her inattention. She walked over, and upon finding that he wanted decaf when she had only regular, gave him the most disdainful eye roll I have ever witnessed. That certainly showed HIM. That second cup of coffee, far too late, was the last coffee either of us would see that day. I had to wonder what she did when the place was actually busy?
All in all the meal was edible and expensive. With coffee and taxes the bill was $39.26, prompting me to begrudgingly leave $3 cash tip. To the waitress, should you read this, here's an additional tip: "Good looks will only excuse your bad attitude for a few years. After that you're screwed." At least the experience was quick. We were back in the car and on our way before 9AM, never to return, leaving a long-ish line of people begging to spend their hard-earned cash for some abuse. It certainly could not have been for the food. Bette's was the sort of place who had been told for so long how great they were - to the point that they actually believed it. And now they treat diners as interlopers to be fleeced and barely tolerated. They must be thankful that Berkeley houses so many wealthy masochists upon which to prey.
Perhaps you are thinking that my expectations are too high for simple breakfast fare. I would submit as evidence to the contrary the breakfast we'd had at First Awakenings in Monterey a few days earlier, and sadly over two hours away from Berkeley.
Bette's Oceanview Diner - NOT RECOMMENDED unless you have too much money, too much time, and prefer to be treated rudely for mediocre fare
Lows: Incompetent and rude service, obscene prices for nothing special on the plate, obsessed with their own reputation
Bon Appétit! - W. Ego