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Connie's Cantina rant [Oakland]

Marc Wallace | Jan 20, 200305:05 PM

Several years ago, a Mexican place named Connie's opened on Grand Ave, a bit down the road from the Grand Lake Theater. I recall going there three or four times -- service was prompt, food was good, prices were a bit high, but worth it. I even recall geing offered some "freebies" (like chips and salsa), just because it was a slow day. For some reason, we just hadn't made it back there in years.

Ended up there today, after a long walk looking for places that were open. [went to Senor Nero's; the door was open, but nobody was there, and nobody came out to meet us... went past the "new Autumn Moon" but they're not open yet]

Alas, I'll be crossing Connie's off my list.

We got there at 1pm, and there were only three other tables with people. Got menus, decided what we wanted, and.. waited. About ten minutes passed. The server had come out twice, once bearing a dish, once to chat with a local, but I'd had no luck flagging her down. This is going to be a trend.

After giving our order (which she didn't write down), she had to come back twice to confirm our drink orders. Chips and salsa arrived about ten minutes before the drinks, and I had to ask a second time for water. The salsa *was* good, freshly made, but the chips were clearly purchased from a grocery store.

The good point: the food, when it arrived, was excellent. Chile verde was very spicy, and the pork was nice and tender. Quesadilla was huge, and pre-assembled, which is a bonus in my book (hard to put guac into the quesadilla after the cheese is binding it!) The coffee had cinnamon and milk -- I would have hated that, but SO loved it.

Server stops by several tables throughout our meal to chat, ask how their food was, etc. Never came to ours. It seems that you have to be a regular to get good service.

Turns out we can't finish everything, even though we only ordered a dish apiece (and chips+salsa). We wait, wait, then manage to flag her down to ask for takeout boxes. She takes the plates and does it herself, returning with boxes that look way too small! Both of us had half of our food left, but the size of the boxes isn't big enough for even one of our leftovers.

We wait expectantly for the check. And wait. She comes out, takes another order, delivers some food, but never looks at us. By now it's been almost two hours, and I'm ready to leave. I manage to catch the other server, who indicates that we should pay up front. Odd, since all the regulars had checks brought out to them!

I go up, but have to wait while the server delivers a receipt to another table. She adds it up, announces that it was like $22. I hand her $40, and she counts out change. She says "$17", but only hands me a ten and two ones! I try to correct her (assuming she just forgot the five). This requires her to recompute the bill. Note that she hasn't shown me the bill at any point. This time, instead of realizing that she hadn't given me enough change, she comes up with $26!

Okay, by now I've had enough. Clearly she just isn't competent. I grab my change and leave, figuring the $4 "overcharge" will just be considered the "tip". In retrospect, I should have complained, but I was getting a headache and just wanted to leave.

At home, I looked at the leftovers. Sure enough, she put the "main" part of my chile verde in, but tossed out the rice, beans, salad, and tortilla!

Then I pull out the copy of the menu I grabbed off the counter, and add up my meal. It comes to $18, so (at most) $20 with tax. So we were overcharged by 30%, much more than I would have left as a tip (given the service).

Pros: The food was excellent. The quantities huge. Great salsa. If you're a regular, you can laugh at the people who aren't.

Cons: If you aren't a regular, the service is pathetically slow. You may have to repeat your order. You may not get to see the bill. You may be massively overcharged. Even sitting within easy view of the kitchen, it might be impossible to flag anyone down.

I'm terribly sad about Connie's. I used to love it and recommend it to friends living in the area. They got two hours of my life, and much more money than they deserved. This offering had better last them, since I'm never returning there.

And, no, I'm not posting the address, phone#, or hours. On purpose.

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