Back A Yard

meter-greatIf you look up “hole in the wall” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of Back A Yard. This tiny little Caribbean eatery is exactly my kind of place – it’s quirky, unique, and adored by locals. From the moment I first heard about this place I knew I’d have to pay it a visit.

” Oh, how I’ve dreamt about those sides “

I don’t tend to trust Yelp very much, thanks to their questionable policies and gangster-like business practices, but it’s worth noting that Back A Yard is perched comfortably on top of Yelp’s highest rated list for the area. That is no easy feat, even if you’ve paid your monthly protection money. But enough about Yelp. This is about a great little restaurant and its relationship to my stomach.

This is the whole place. No really, this is it.

This is the whole place. No really, this is it.

Parking at Back A Yard’s Menlo Park location is tricky at best, so if you have the opportunity to talk someone else into driving you there, you should. Once you manage to make your way inside, you will be greeted by an array of hand-written menu boards detailing the eight million different things you can order. There are a number of delightfully authentic choices available (Oxtails and sweet potato pudding anyone?), as well as a selection of more typically American lunch options.

The BBQ chicken was no-nonsense and delicious. Pretty good coleslaw too.

The BBQ chicken was no-nonsense and delicious. Pretty good coleslaw too.

On my first visit I opted for a barbecue chicken lunch. In retrospect this was a stupid choice, because why would I go out of my way to visit a Caribbean joint and then not order Caribbean food? Yeah, sometimes I don’t understand me either. In any case, the barbecue chicken was wonderful. It was cooked to perfection and absolutely drenched in sauce. It came with a healthy serving of crinkle fries, cole slaw, and a dinner roll. A metric ton of napkins were also provided, which was a good thing – it was MESSY.

The jerk chicken was the lunch of my dreams.

The jerk chicken was the lunch of my dreams.

Realizing that I had been an idiot, I returned a few days later and got myself some jerk chicken. Where, oh where has this place been all of my life?? The chicken was nothing short of amazing; it had an entire spice cupboard’s worth of flavor packed into every bite, and it was neither too spicy nor too mild. And the sides! Oh, how I’ve dreamt about those sides since I visited. The jerk chicken lunch comes with rice and beans – a personal favorite – as well as fried plantains – an even favoriter.. personal… uh, thing. I kind of wrote myself into a corner there.

Listen. It’s difficult to write sentences that make sense when you have fried plantains on the brain. They are one of the very best things in the entire world, and Back A Yard knows how to cook up a mean batch of them. Go get some. Now.

There is exactly as much seating available outside as there is inside: Not much.

There is exactly as much seating available outside as there is inside: Not much.

Back A Yard is exactly the kind of place I love discovering: A homey little joint with fantastic food tucked away in a forgotten corner of town. If you’re a fan of Caribbean cuisine, this is the place you’ve been looking for. If you’ve never tried Caribbean, then get your butt down to Menlo Park sometime and give it a whirl. This eatery earns a respectable 16 out of 18 deliciously fried plantain slices, making it well worth a lunchtime visit. Just remember to get there a bit early if you expect to both park and find a place to sit.

      Pros
+ 1) Authentic
+ 2) Caribbean
+ 3) Food
+ See pros 1-3
      Cons
It’s tiny inside
I mean like really tiny
+ But nobody cares about that

Back A Yard
Two locations in the Bay Area
www.backayard.net

Back a Yard Caribbean American Grill on Urbanspoon


Jan’s Deli

meter-good-greatJan’s Deli can be summed up in five simple words: Best turkey sandwiches in California. I don’t really need to say anything else about this place, and in fact there isn’t a whole lot more to report. Don’t worry though, I’ll find something to blather on about for another couple paragraphs. Trust me about the sandwiches though. Holy crap.

The signage doubles as the menu.

The signage doubles as the menu.

” A one-trick pony … but what a trick it is “

As it turns out, Menlo Park is full of excellent, quirky eateries. These tiny, hole-in-the-wall, locally owned food joints are exactly the kind of places I seek out when I’m looking for a bite. Sure, I could guarantee myself a modestly below average lunch at Panera Bread or Subway, but I’d much rather take a gamble on something new and different. One of the best of these gambles has turned out to be Jan’s Deli.

Besides sandwiches, there really isn't much else going on here.

Besides sandwiches, there really isn’t much else going on here.

The menu at Jan’s consists of a couple varieties of deli salad and to-order sandwiches. There are the usual varieties of cold cuts to choose from, spicy pork, meatloaf, and legendary hot roast turkey. I’m not exaggerating about the turkey. I would be thrilled if, just once in my entire life, I could make a Thanksgiving turkey half as good as the stuff Jan’s cranks out every day.

This is where the magic happens.

This is where the magic happens.

I usually get the same thing whenever I visit here for lunch: Turkey on Dutch crunch with everything. Deeeeeeeeelish. You can also ask for white meat only and, if you’re in the mood for it, cranberry sauce is a tasty addition. The perfectly fresh bread complements the hot roast turkey and the cool, fresh veggies. A sandwich of this absolute quality is a rare thing indeed. Above all else, the succulent, savory juiciness of the turkey takes center stage. THAT is what good turkey is supposed to taste like.

Pictures do not do this sandwich justice.

Pictures do not do this sandwich justice.

On a recent visit, I also tried out an order of mac salad. It was a bit on the plain side, but I liked it just fine. It wasn’t the best mac salad I’ve ever had; if I’m honest, I can’t even say it was above average. I would order it again for myself, but it’s probably not for everyone.

The minimum definition of macaroni salad.

The minimum definition of macaroni salad.

For a turkey fanatic, Jan’s Deli is the go-to lunch place in Menlo Park. I have dragged a number of other people to this place with mostly positive results. Those who were indifferent about Jan’s just so turned out to be the same people that didn’t order turkey sandwiches. Without a doubt, this strange little place is a one-trick pony … but what a trick it is.

It’s difficult to rate establishments like this. Jan’s doesn’t have a lot of strengths, but what strengths it has it plays to quite well. Jan’s doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t, and I have to admire the simple purity and focus of the friendly folks that run this joint. I rate Jan’s Deli 20 out of 24 Dutch crunch rolls, somewhere between the utter perfection of their flagship turkey sandwiches and the mediocrity of everything else.

      Pros
+ You will have dreams about the turkey
…but not about the mac salad
+ Fresh, perfect bread
++ THE TURRRKEYY omg
+ Did I mention the turkey?
      Cons
Limited hours
Menu is all but nonexistent

Jan’s Deli
1004 Alma Street
Menlo Park, CA 94025
(650) 321-9372

Jan's Deli on Urbanspoon


May the drooling begin.

May the drooling begin.

The REFUGE

meter-great-haThe REFUGE is no joke. It’s the ideal eatery as far as I’m concerned; they have fantastic beer and a no-bullcrap menu executed to perfection. What’s not to like? I’m really not sure how else to sum it up… I honestly wish all restaurants were exactly like this place.

” It’s the Disneyland of beer and meat “

The first time I heard about The REFUGE was on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I was only halfway listening to the television at the time, but the discussion of Belgian beer and crazy good pastrami got my full attention. When I heard it was within fifteen miles of my house I knew right then I’d be paying a visit. And so I have.

It's a Belgian beer kind of lunch. Quite the tasty dubbel I might add.

It’s a Belgian beer kind of lunch. Quite the tasty dubbel I might add.

I suppose I should start with the beer. The REFUGE offers a lot of varieties with a heavy emphasis on Belgian styles. I don’t mean ten or twelve beers, I’m talking over a hundred. MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED KINDS OF BEER.

Let that sink in a moment.

Yeah, you’re right. That’s a lot of drinking that needs to be done, and there’s no time to waste. It’s a big responsibility, but I know that if we all work together we can tackle this challenge. And for the love of all that is good and pure in this world, please don’t order a Coors Light or an MGD or any other mainstream domestic atrocity of modern pisscraft. Hey, if that offends you then you don’t deserve the best beer in the entire Bay Area anyway, so quit being all sensitive and get over to The REFUGE for a REAL glass of suds.

It's the Disneyland of beer and meat.

It’s the Disneyland of beer and meat.

The next thing I’d like to cover is the pastrami. The culinary wizards at The REFUGE have elevated this single, humble meat into a new tier of food awesomeness all its own. The pastrami melts, literally melts, when you eat it and.. There, you see? I’ve gone and droobled on my keyboard. Yes, “droobled”. But anyway, this pastrami is hands down the very best I have ever had in my entire life and, as evidenced by my doughy physique, I’ve sampled quite a lot of it over the years. I know my pastrami, so believe me when I say this stuff is the cat’s ass.

You have never had a pastrami burger like this. Never.

You have never had a pastrami burger like this. Never.

As you can imagine, The REFUGE of course makes one of the best Reuben sandwiches you are ever likely to find. It’s piled so ridiculously high with meaty goodness that it’s too big to serve with fries. On my most recent visit I skipped the Reuben and gave the pastrami burger a try, and I was wowed yet again. The bun (pretzel I believe) was straight-out-of-the-oven fresh, the hamburger patty was seasoned to perfection and grilled with a nice crust on it, and a lovely little hill of that magical pastrami topped it all off.

I don't know why they're called 'goofy fries', but I don't have any better suggestions.

I don’t know why they’re called ‘goofy fries’, but I don’t have any better suggestions.

The REFUGE also produces an array of epic salads, appetizers, and sides, including “goofy fries”. These begin life as garlic fries (which are excellent on their own, by the way), but are also topped with pastrami and cheddar cheese sauce. But probably the biggest surprise of the meal, for me at least, were the Brussels sprouts. They were decadently bacon-y, cooked perfectly, and absolutely delicious. I couldn’t get enough of them. And why were they a surprise? Because I can’t freaking stand Brussels sprouts, that’s why. Those nasty, skunky little green pods of misery come straight from the depths of Hell, I’m sure of it, and yet somehow The REFUGE made them awesome. Now that’s impressive.

I discovered that I like Brussels sprouts. Well whaddya know.

I discovered that I like Brussels sprouts. Well whaddya know.

By now it should be relatively clear that I have a total food crush on The REFUGE. Top notch grub, top notch beer, no ridiculousness. I give it 99 Belgian beer bottles (on a Belgian wall of course) out of 100. I plan to spend quite a bit of quality time here. Oh yes.

The REFUGE
Two locations in the Bay Area
www.refugesc.com

The REFUGE on Urbanspoon


This is the Reuben you've been looking for.

This is the Reuben you’ve been looking for.


Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.