’Tis the season for outdoor eating
As the Omicron tide arrives on our shores, dining indoors might not be at the top of our to-do list this month. Atmospheric rivers notwithstanding, there are plenty of outdoor mall or mall-like settings to grab a bite at on the way to a Tennessee Valley or Marin Headlands hike. If you’re starting a northward journey from the East Bay, Berkeley’s 4th Street (fourthstreet.com) is an ideal stopping place for shopping, morning coffee and morning buns.
Although the 4th Street Bagel shop closed down during the pandemic, Bette’s To Go toasts them up with the usual fixings, including lox. By noon, they’ve usually sold out. In case that happens, turn your attention to their egg-filled breakfast sandwich, frittata or in-house selection of pastries. Bette’s also sells plenty of caffeinated beverages, too, but there’s a Peet’s Coffee across the street if you’re after a second or third cup.
Tacubaya, a nearby taqueria, has set up a small area with seating outside. But those who venture to the tables further out in the courtyard will have to take their orders to go. It would be a shame to miss out on Tacubaya’s chile relleno, always filled with seasonal ingredients, but it’s much better on a plate than as takeaway. The deli inside Market Hall Foods, and Pollara Pizzeria, also face out on the same shared courtyard.
Holiday gift shopping is less stressful on 4th Street than it is in a great big mall. To start, Builders Booksource is a small, but well-stocked, bookstore that carries other categories of reading material in addition to design and construction books. Across the street, I like to browse around in The Gardener. It’s like a gift store at a contemporary art museum—pricey, with lots of items to covet from a distance. Both Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart would feel at home there, testing out European lotions and smelling the pretty varieties of expensive soaps.
Once you’ve piled back into the car, the 580 freeway entrance to the Richmond Bridge is just down the street on University Avenue. Across the bridge and around the corner from San Quentin State Prison, the Marin Country Mart (marincountrymart.com)appears on the right-hand side of the road. About a decade ago, this outdoor mall was a dead zone—not much more than an office park anchored by a Bed Bath & Beyond. When the Bay Area started its upward trend toward incomparable incomes, the mart slowly became a hangout and hub for the citizens of Marin.
The change may have been helped along by the Saturday Farmers’ Market, which capitalized on the advent of the food-truck revolution. But the presence of a Rustic Bakery location, with its grouping of clean white tables, umbrellas and benches, fixed the idea that the sleepy mall was a sunny go-to brunch and lunch destination. Without fail, there’s a line out the door at Rustic—and I always stick with it. I have a personal weakness for bakeries that serve sandwiches, baked goods and iced tea. That combination sums up my favorite food groups. The Rustic menu is especially suitable to pack up for a picnic.
The consistent crowds at Rustic made the rest of the mart feel less and less like a ghost-town mall. More upscale restaurants like Marin Brewing Company, Farmshop and Hog Island Oyster Co. refined their indoor and outdoor spaces. There’s also a Shake Shack behind the main isthmus of retail shops. It, too, has its own large patio.
For those willing to brave the January elements, traveling further afield to Point Reyes Station is worth a day trip just to sample the goods at Cowgirl Creamery Barn Shop & Cantina (cowgirlcreamery.com)—even if some of the Point Reyes parks and beaches limit their openings this season. And, yes, it’s true—Cowgirl does make fine sandwiches, but I like to stock up on the many cheeses at their point of origin. And, on the opposite side of the courtyard, the vitrine at Brickmaiden Breads (brickmaidenbreads.com) is stocked with a Thursday-to-Sunday bread schedule—perfect companions for Cowgirl cheeses—and an ever-changing array of quiches, scones, cookies, muffins and croissants.