Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 39
Back A Yard, Menlo Park, San Jose, Campbell
There is comfort food. And then, there is comfort food with panache — heady with loads of allspice, ginger, and garlic.
That’s what Back A Yard serves up in spades. And for those still indulging in takeout, you’ll be glad to know this Caribbean fare travels well, too.
The plates come complete with a starchy mash of rice and red beans, and thoroughly addictive sweetly caramelized plaintains. You choose a main or a combo of two. The jerk chicken plate ($10.95) includes three pieces of tender dark-meat poultry, seasoned in a moderately spiced jerk rub redolent of fragrant cloves and allspice. You could also get all-white chicken for $11.95, but why? The dark meat is where it’s at.
The oxtails ($14.95 for a plate) are fabulous — fall-apart-tender in a sticky, reduced sauce, and with that fatty, meaty unctuousness that can’t be beat. It’s a rendition you’ll be craving anytime the weather turns chilly.
Rivaling it is the curried goat ($14.45 for a plate), which is a daily special that is fortunately served, yes, every day. The meat is similar in texture to the bone-in oxtail, but milder tasting in the way that veal compares to regular beef. The green curry is fairly mellow in heat yet deeply flavorful.
The least successful was the jerk pork ($10.95), a mound of chopped pork meat that was rather dry, with only a few chunks here and there moist enough.
If I could have, I would have ordered one of each of the Jamaican patties ($3.45 each) — beef, chicken, and vegetable. Unfortunately, only beef was available, but it was definitely worth getting. The crisp-as-can-be, pie crust-like crescent-shaped pastry is gloriously golden and flaky, shattering into shards at the first bite. Its shredded beef filling is smack-your-lips spicy and savory.
All I needed was the melodic sound of steel drums to complete the experience.
Pro Tip: Yes, the plates are enough food for a meal unto themselves. But do yourself a favor and get an order of the cornbread ($3.25), too. This is not your Southern-style cornbread. Instead, this cornbread takes the form of big round fritters that are fried to a crisp with a tender, airy interior. The taste is faintly sweet. In fact, they reminded me of Chinese crullers typically served alongside rice porridge. And they are just as much of a guilty pleasure.
Acme Bread Company, Berkeley, San Francisco Ferry Building
Sure, you can buy Acme Bread loaves at many grocery stores these days. But you can only get its pizza at its retail store in Berkeley and at the San Francisco’s Ferry Building.
Just get there early — or else you may be out of luck. The pizza goes fast, selling out usually before 2 p.m., at least at the Berkeley location, when I’ve visited.
Signs on the window say the pizza is generally available by noon. We lucked out and snagged a couple pieces at 11:30 a.m. one weekday, which was early enough before the ubiquitous long lines had yet formed. Don’t be intimidated by that, though. Even if there’s a line, it moves fairly quickly. And while the parking lot in front is tiny and typically full, there is a larger parking lot directly behind the building, where you can almost always snag a spot.
Only one pizza is available each day. The day I went, it was a splendid combo of shiitakes, roasted shallots, Nicoise olives, kale, parsley, mozzarella, and fontina. Yes, a truly gourmet mushroom pizza that’s focaccia-like, and cut into slabs so bountiful that you’ll need two hands to lift it to take a bite. At $5 each, this Roman-style pizza makes for a satisfying lunch with its crisp edges and bottom, and fluffy crumb.
For a sweet treat afterward, snag a raspberry dark chocolate mini puff ($2.22). It’s a three-bite, flaky, buttery pastry shell with a center of sweet-tart berries with a smear of chocolate. It is mini, though, so you just might want to get two, if you know what I mean.
Pro Tip: Since you’ve already waited in line at the retail shop, you might as well load up on a couple other items you can’t find in the grocery stores. Namely, the cinnamon currant bread ($7.03) and the jalapeno cheese bread ($7.39).
The former is a tender, pull-apart monkey bread-like loaf modestly slicked on top with cinnamon glaze, and studded with sweet dried currants. Compared to most, it’s much more restrained in sweetness, which I really appreciate. That way, you can still appreciate the actual warmth and spiciness of the cinnamon.
The latter carries a pretty big kick of heat with the jalapeno bits inside. The peppers also lend a nice grassy note, adding a brightness to the nutty, rich Asiago and Gruyere in this moist, complex tasting sourdough loaf. It would perk up any sandwich fixings or make a grilled cheese especially grand. According to the web site, the jalapeno cheese bread is available only on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Berkeley, so plan accordingly.