Sidle Into Chop Bar

A bountiful burger with blue cheese, avocado and bacon at Chop Bar.

A bountiful burger with blue cheese, avocado and bacon at Chop Bar.

 

Chop Bar in Oakland is named for the West African term for a roadside bar-restaurant that’s a true gathering place for the community. And it fits that description to a “T.”

It’s like a hipper version of the Cheers bar, a warm space where regulars are recognized and newcomers made to feel welcome, as my husband and I were when we visited one recent Sunday, paying our own tab at the end.

Owners Chris Pastena and Lev Delany opened the convivial spot in 2009 in Jack London Square. It’s a compact space with a few tables and a good number of counter seats at the bar. Later this summer, Pastena and Delany will be moving Chop Bar across the street to a roomier location, a dream come true for the duo.

In the summer, the floor-to-ceiling windows are rolled up to bring the outdoors in.

In the summer, the floor-to-ceiling garage-door windows are rolled up to bring the outdoors in.

On a lazy late-afternoon, we dropped into Chop Bar. We were too late for lunch but too early for dinner. Fortunately, it has an “in-between” menu, 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., that offered plenty of choices, and which many people were taking advantage of because the place was packed even at 4:30 p.m.

The restaurant's mascot.

The restaurant’s mascot.

But first, a cocktail. My must-try was the Spicy Q, a bracing blend of rum, lemon juice, house-made pineapple syrup, cilantro and Serrano pepper. Chop Bar, along with that specialty cocktail, are featured in my upcoming cookbook, “East Bay Cooks” (Figure 1), debuting in September. This is a cocktail with tropical fruitiness, along with a potent punch of heat and a nice grassiness from the pepper. Best yet, with most cocktails costing double digits these days, this one was just $6.

Get your taste buds ready for the Spicy Q.

Get your taste buds ready for the Spicy Q.

The soup of the day ($9) turned out to be a lovely, creamy carrot done up with cumin to give it a curry profile. Swirls of chive-creme fraiche added a cooling note.

The Chop Bar Burger ($15) is a solid rendition made with a Marin Suns Farms ground beef patty, topped with bacon, tomato, avocado and house-made aioli. Add a side arugula salad for $1 for a nice mound of bitter green leaves tossed with a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette. My husband also added blue cheese to his burger for an extra $2.

Potato wedges.

Potato wedges.

Tender, meaty pork ribs.

Tender, meaty pork ribs.

Jo Jo’s Potatoes ($8) are fried wedges topped with a thick chimichurri sauce heavy on the capers. I wish the sauce were a little looser to coat the potatoes a little more easily.

Slow Roasted Pork Ribs ($17) are plenty tender and get a lick of sweetness from caramelized apple jus that contains chunks of soft apples. They are every bit finger-licking good.

Chop Bar is a perfect place to gather on a carefree afternoon in the East Bay.

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