Once a Texan, you’re always a Texan.
Earlier last week I exchanged a few words with my friend about our food logging endeavour, and I got reminded of steak. (Yes, Sarah, you’re responsible ;-)). I thought it was gone. That evil desire of eating an innocent cow who just a few days ago was wandering the meadow with dreamy eyes. It has resurfaced. Granted I recently enjoy the occasional meatballs from Ikea, a Whopper at the Burger King on San Pablo, and various Top Dog‘s sausages, I haven’t had a chunky slab of steak for months. Now that’s serious. When I’m in Houston, we go to Potatoe Patch almost every other week. When I’m in College Station, I can always rely on Sodolak’s for a hearty fill. Where can I go in Berkeley?
Yelp reveals a gargantuan list of six “steak” locations in the area (for comparison, Humble (TX) has twelve, and Humble is half the area of Berkeley). So starting today I will eat at and blog about every steak house East of the Bay, alphabetically. First stop: The Alley.
It’s the shadiest little hole in the wall I’ve ever been to. The inside is dark and frumpy like the sluggish voice of old black men at the bar counter sharing stories about job and children. The walls are blackish wooden planks, covered in thousands of staples and business cards, like a flaky fish deep fried with scales on and forgotten until it turns ivory with mildew dots. How do they say it, this place got character.
Whatever, I just want my steak. The Alley Special comes with a small bundle of iceberg lettuce, a slice of cucumber, and one cherry tomato. The typical salad of guilt that always comes with cheap steaks and dressed in crocodile’s tears of vinaigrette. For 11.75 we get a 12 oz slab, some half cooked vegetable, garlic bread, and a baked potato.
We ask for no sour cream on our potato, but I’m not sure if that was necessary, as the potato comes simple and spare. No cheese, no chives, no bacon bits, two butter packets still wrapped and melting on the hot steak. We are also given one skimpy knife and one fork each, the knife blade is narrow like a snake’s tongue.
We slice and chew, industriously. This is steak that you can make into mattresses, springy and resilient, and taste like hard work. The steak juice flavors well the half cooked onion, broccoli, and carrots. The garlic bread feels hasty. The bare baked potato fits stupendously beautiful with butter and generous shakings of salt, as it should. Its burnt skin, soaked with steak juice, is something I’ve learned to eat and enjoy, but this time it easily peels off to reveal the tastiest part of a perfect baked potato: the dry, hard shell between the skin and the moist flesh. It’s like pie crust without gooey sugar mess.
So that’s it. The Alley lives true to its name: a dark hangout that only accepts cash in exchange for a recharge reeking of grill smoke, cigarette smoke, beer, old men’s stories, and our backstreet side.
Address: The Alley
3325 Grand Avenue (between Elwood and Lake Park)
Oakland, CA 94610
(parking on the street)
Next on Steak Search: Buckhorn Grill (Emeryville)