Townie is a friendly neighborhood casual eatery and bar, located off of University Avenue in Berkeley, serving up small plates prepared by Executive Chef Dana Ryan, who has an impressive background having recently worked at State Bird Provisions, RN74, and Gather in Berkeley. Nima Shokat is the owner and manager, who also runs West Berkeley's Missouri Lounge.
I was thrilled to be invited to Townie for a hosted meal to try out their menu and drinks with some of my favorite people Christina of East Bay Dish, Ben of Focus:Snap:Eat, and Sandy of Foodhoe. In fact, we were all planning our next dinner to be at Townie and this opportunity was presented to us thanks to Christina (you rock, girl).
Townie has a nice selection of craft beers and a simple cocktail list, making it a great neighborhood hangout. The food options are small plates, so do not arrive ordering one dish expecting generous portions to fill you up completely. Here are the highlights of every dish we ordered; we had nearly every item on the menu!
Marin Atlantic Oysters with Grilled Corn, Old Bay Butter ($3 each)
These sweet succulent oysters were addicting. I enjoyed the beautiful presentation and small peek of the oyster meat towards the narrow end of the shell. One wasn't nearly enough for me. The grilled corn and old bay butter made for a rich and complementary explosive combo that didn't distract away from the star of the dish.
The Chicken Liver Mousse with Parsley Gelée and Crostini ($8)
We all agreed that the mousse was the most unique item we had and while everyone else enjoyed it, I wasn't a fan. I found it difficult to identify the liver taste because it was masked with a powerful lemon flavor. The parsley gelee was definitely interesting but because I'm not a huge parsley fan, I cannot be a fair judge of that. Sandy took a great photo of the actual mousse that you can check out on her post here.
When you bite into the chicharones, you will be startled by how crackly and loud the skin is. The pork skin texture is crunchy and a bit tough to bite. You will definitely want to have a couple of beers with this.
Potato Croquettes with Serrano Ham, Manchego Cheese ($8)
Imagine the taste of creamy mashed potatoes fried into a ball with a delicate and crispy exterior. The manchego cheese contributed to the richness of the filling, followed by subtle hints of ham, which wasn't as noticeable as I'd like but it was still very tasty.
Garlic Cheese Toast with Gruyere Cheese, Arugula Salad ($7)
As the cheese toasts makes way over to our table, we can smell the pungent rich aroma of melted gruyere. The melted cheese on each piece of toast was generous and the taste was sharp, nutty, and buttery. The toasts were topped with bits of arugula, creating a taste of peppery brightness.
Grilled Caesar Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes, Country Croutons, Bacon ($9) and Hangar Steak ($5)
I liked the charred lettuce - it highlights the vegetable in a unique and tasty way. The sweet tomatoes added brightness to the salad. Overall, it was a fantastic salad and the steak was a great addition. See below for a review of the full steak dish.
Pork Belly 'Banh Mi' ($10)
The pork belly was nicely caramelized; well-balanced between sweetness and acidity - it was almost candied-like. The picked carrots and daikon resembled the version you would find in Vietnamese food. I liked how the mayonnaise was layered on thick, and that the entire cilantro stems and raw jalapeños were used as you would expect on a traditional banh mi. The bread used wasn't the french baguette I expected but I think that was intentional given the sauciness of the pork belly caramel sauce. Overall, I think they did a nice job on this and would recommend it.
Mussels with Chorizo, White Wine ($12)
The mussels were generous and the Spanish influenced white wine broth was enjoyed by all. Nice bits of chorizo chunks went well with the mussels and the rich pork flavor was represented well in the broth.
Hanger Steak with Potato Puree, Summer Squash, Arugula ($15)
The steak was charred nicely and the cook was perfect. It was simply seasoned and served with a colorful set of vegetables.
Stone Fruit Salad with Vanilla, Absinthe, Citrus, Peanut ($10)
When I first saw that this was the only dessert offered on the menu, my response to our waiter was, "Where's the ice cream?". I never order a fresh fruit dessert at a restaurant but I was so glad that we had this because it was very delicious and I want to go back and order it again. The pluot and peaches were perfectly ripe, sweet, and acidic. The sweet citric foam contained hints of vanilla and absinthe. The mascarpone gave it a nice rich cooling component. The peanut crumbles tasted like a sweet crumbly peanut butter - I had spoonfuls. The entire combination was great. Even the little micro greens used as garnish on top was wonderful; it's called nepitella, which tastes like a cross between a mint and oregano. I would highly recommend saving room for this; it's light and refreshing.
Thanks for dinner, Townie!
1799 University Avenue, Berkeley, CA
Opens Tuesday to Sunday from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.