Soufflé Hooray!

What’s this?  A restaurant review on Order of the Zombie?  Well, think about it:  the OZ team has to eat, either before or after visiting strange places.  Sometimes we load up on a high-calorie breakfast before heading out; sometimes we recap our adventures over a relaxing dinner.  And aren’t you curious about where we eat?  Of course you are.  You know we don’t chow down at Mickey D’s or the nearest chain restaurant.  We have style.  And class.  And enormous appetites.  We eat gooooood.

Take Bette’s Oceanview Diner, for example.  We were in Berkeley on a top-secret mission, and word on the street (er, the internet) said that Bette’s food was so good, the line formed out the door at six a.m.  We had to check it out.

We arrived mid-morning so the aforementioned line had long since been served and sated, but the crowd around the doorway was significant nonetheless.  The host, a tall man with a commanding presence and an equally commanding German accent, told us the wait for a table would be at least an hour.

“But be positive!,” he added.  “If somebody cancels, it may be only forty-five minutes.  You wait; I’ll do my best.”

We snagged the red naugahyde banquette in the corner near the jukebox and watched the parade of hungry humanity stream in.  The host was all over the place, calling names to the crowd on the sidewalk, advising newcomers of the wait times, and barking orders with a sly grin.  Table for two?  Half an hour.  Table for one?  “You go back to the counter – there’s one seat there.  You go take it!  Go sit!”  The morning was chilly so the outdoor tables were readily available.  A few brave souls chose to take them.  “You want to sit out there in the cold?  You can have that table now or you can wait for one inside.”  A hardy couple chose the outdoor table.  “SOLD!”

We quickly decided we loved that man.

We finally got our table, all the way in the back of the tiny diner.  It was a sweet spot, too, with a big window behind us and a view of the entire restaurant in front of us.  When you hear the words “fifties-style diner” you probably think of tacky fake collectibles and overdone decor.  Not so with Bette’s.  The place is only thirty years old but it looks comfortably lived-in.  The art deco decor is period-accurate with well-thought-out accessories, right down to the Vornado Silver Swan fan sweeping cold air near our table.  There’s not an Elvis LP or life-size Marilyn Monroe cutout to be found.  Even the restroom, in confectionery pink and green, fits the bill.  (Oh, but if you gotta go, be warned:  it’s a solo seater and there’s usually a line.)

Three of us decided on Bette’s special soufflé pancakes, in peach, banana rum and apple brandy.  Lor chose the lox scramble with country potatoes.  We were warned that the pancakes “take longer” so we settled down to wait, and to our surprise (and delight) the host brought us a complimentary fruit plate to tide us over.  It was perfect, with sweet, juicy slices of strawberries, grapefruit and half a dozen other fruits.  Our server was also cheerful and on top of things – drinks arrived promptly and were refilled quickly.  Every employee in the place was busy, busy, busy and I didn’t see a single frown.

When our meals arrived we did the slice-and-share.  Wire and I cut into our beautiful, enormous pancakes and traded slices.  Lor and Trill shared pancake and scramble, and Lor added some onions from Wire’s side order of potatoes.

And then, oh joy, the chowing-down began.  I do believe my peach soufflé pancake was the best pancake I’ve ever eaten in my whole entire life, ever.  Ever.  We were all in breakfast heaven.  And breakfast nirvana, breakfast cloud nine, breakfast unicorn-and-rainbow-land.  Yes, it was that good.

Of course a meal like that isn’t dirt cheap – this is no “dollar menu” joint.  Prices were a smidge higher than most mom-and-pop diners.  But it was worth it.  Very, very worth it.  Ten hours after scarfing down my peach pancake (and some of Wire’s banana pancake) I was still full, and still marveling over what a treasure we found in Berkeley.  Bette, you’re the best.

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