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Albany - Britt-Marie's Cafe & Wine Bar – Cash Only

rworange | Aug 7, 200502:00 AM

If Britt-Marie’s was in Europe, people would be patting themselves on the back for finding an authentic local bistro where the food is very good, the portions large, the prices low and the wine affordable.

I slipped into Britt-Marie’s for a glass of wine one day when a parking space opened in front. The menu was a surprise.

The dishes spanned the globe – chicken and duck liver terrine, spanakopita, Hungarian Goulash, schnitzel, Portuguese sandwich, black beans and rice, topinka, a Bulgarian feta sandwich, chile rellenos, ham and Emmenthaler.

There were lots of less exotic offerings like roasted chicken and pork chops. What pork chops they are, stuffed with sage cornbread, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, apples, onions, celery, fontina cheese and spices. The roast duck comes with caraway and red cabbage.

The bartender said quite a few of the dishes were made with the same recipes used when the restaurant opened a few decades ago. The original owner was a Czech and the current owner, who bought the place (along with the recipes) about 20 years ago, is Greek and added some of his favorites.

In a link to a Chronicle review below, the description is on target …

“Britt-Marie … is a cousin to a hundred establishments in middle- to working-class neighborhoods of France and Italy: The settings are plain, wines are good but not exalted, and they are poured and consumed without much ceremony.”

During one lunch, three older gentlemen sat at a table with glasses of wine and soup and talked politics, literature and poetry as if someone from central casting placed them there to complete the atmosphere. Friday evening the restaurant was filled and lively. There was nice background music from Spanish to Sinatra (good Sinatra).

The rustic house-made chicken and duck liver terrine ($5.95) with mushrooms, onions and shallots was thick, dense and large as a slab of meatloaf. Laced with brandy and port, each bite had gentle hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. It came with a nice green salad with thin slices of red onion, a few Greek olives and some cherry tomatoes,

The house baked bread that isn’t a clone of every other bread in the area. This is the same bread that was baked when the restaurant opened. It has a bit of a crust and is dense, soft and a little salty. .A perfect lunch with a modest priced glass of wine cost just under eleven dollars.

According to the Chronicle article, produce is from Monterey Market. The tomato salad with thin red onions and sprinkled with parsley ($5.95) actually had the best tasting tomatoes to date with some large slices of brandywine and another variety. Britt-Marie does go heavy on the vinaigrette in their salads.

The roasted chicken had a crackly crust and was perfectly cooked, the breast meat was juicy. It came with lightly buttered carrot, bright green broccoli and wonderful roasted potatoes ($10.95). It was an entire half of a chicken … a large chicken. It far surpassed the chicken at Nizza la Bella.

Many people were sharing the dinners which makes an even better value. Others took the remainder home as I did. For eleven dollars I had two meals. Many of the appetizers, like the terrine are substantial enough as a lunch or light dinner.

Come autumn, when it gets colder, I’ll be at Britte-Marie’s trying the Pork Schnitzel and Hungarian Goulash. Tables near me ordered these. They looked amazing and came with lovely parslied noodles. It was all I could do not to ask next table for a bite

At dinner, there is a list of specials. They are a little more expensive and an old Chowhound post says the better value is the regular dishes. However, the Chile Rellenos, which were a special, sold out quickly. The poached pear in red wine, brandy and spices was also gone.

Desserts are $3.95 and are little dishes of pure comfort. The peach and plum cobbler was warm. It was a soupy cobbler, thickened with tapioca, with a butter shortcake on top and a dollop of fresh, thick whipped cream.

At lunch, the rice pudding was warm and each grain of rice had absorbed the maximum amount of milk that it could absorb. There was a touch of cinnamon and a tiny bit of orange peal. Each bite was warm, soft without being mushy and almost velvety smooth. The pudding didn’t overwhelm the rice. .

Other desserts that night were chocolate cake, lemon mousse, Renee’s chocolate mousse and tiramisu with fresh strawberries. There are respectable sherries, ports, maderas and aparatifs for $5.50 like Lillet, Punt e Mes and 2003 Bonny Doon Viognier Doux.

Beers on tap ($2.50) include Pilsner Urguel and Sierra Nevada. Bottled beer is Duvel Belgium Ale, Fullers ESB, Lost Coast Downtown Brown and Haake Beck (non alcoholic).

The cappuccino is good. It reminded me of my first cup, the coffee rich and flavorful with a nice foam. It didn’t matter where the beans came from or that there wasn’t a Barista. This isn’t that kind of place. This is tasty food without the fuss. Britt-Marie is not a place to obsess about food. It is a place to enjoy it.

One past Chowhound post had a great description of the food … “Meals are hearty and have a comfort food feel (although, definitely a cut above home-cooked)”.

The black paint on the chairs shows signs of wear. It is the distressed look that doesn’t come from a fancy decorator but rather from years of use by satisfied customers. Under the bar there are hooks for purses. My guess is that when it opened, men still wore hats and this was a place to hang their hats.

The windows with potted plants also have stacks of local free newspapers. The art on the wall is for sale and the current artist is a regular customer. The tables are covered with brown oilcloth. Two plastic tiffany lamps hang near the bar, probably the only redecorating the second owner made twenty years ago. The place has a North Beach café vibe.

There is a black and white sketch near the bar of an old woman. Asked if it was Britte-Marie, the server said no. They just liked the picture. Britte-Marie was the sister of the original owner. Either that or it was a combination of the names of his two sisters. It was busy and I didn’t want to keep the very nice server from her job.

The old Chronicle review says that dinner is served until 11:30, making it a good late nite dining option. Double check about that since I was too full and happy to remember to check the hours on my way out. As mentioned at the top of the post … Cash only.

Britt-Marie's Cafe & Wine Bar
1369 Solano Ave.
Albany, CA 94706


Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
dinner 5:30-11:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, until 10 p.m. Sunday.

Link: ars

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