The changing face of downtown Walnut Creek

COVID-19 has proved a tough hurdle for all of us, but businesses have been hit especially hard. With California’s phases changing, going backwards, we’ve seen businesses shutter and the economy as a whole begin to dip.

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It’s no different for us in the real estate industry – home sales and the buying/selling process are looking different than they were even back in January due to the pandemic. Anyway, I was wandering around downtown Walnut Creek the other day after work (yes, with my mask on!) and noticed the innovative ways it is changing.

With indoor seating banned, the city streamlined permitting for outdoor dining by getting parking spaces blocked off to allow for more seating. It’s sad to see how this is all affecting the downtown that thrives on human traffic. There is a bunch of outdoor seating on Locust from Brodericks to Limon. A few spots already have outdoor seating (Sauced, Torsop but got more out front

Among the other casualties of the pandemic economy, PRIMA Ristorante has decided to close its doors – a Walnut Creek staple that had been around nearly half a century. I’m sad to see it go. Salons were open for a month and as the state recently pushed back opening, caused the salons to re-close. Some such as Ashley Flowers Hair found they have some outdoor space where they can still legally operate. Hopefully as a country, we can get a grasp on the spread of this virus as other countries have done before winter. I really need a mani/pedi. Continue to be careful, wear a mask in public and follow the local health guidelines so we can get back to some semblance of our previous lives!

Morucci’s: A History

During shelter-in-place, I did some giveaways supporting local businesses. One of them was a gift card to Morucci’s on Boulevard. I had an opportunity to speak with the owner, Robert Fambrini (a very Italian name for the owner of an Italian deli!), and ask a few questions.

He told me he spent 25 years in the Petrini’s market chain, a family-owned business until 1989. It was founded as a butcher shop in San Francisco in 1935 by Italian immigrant Frank Petrini and later expanded to specialize in gourmet foods. At the start of the 20th century, grocery stores were a lot like department stores, with different partners owning and operating their departments.

Robert was in six of the Petrini locations from San Francisco, Novato, and Moraga, to Walnut Creek. When asked what words of wisdom he would give his 18-year-old self, Robert replied, “Go slow. When you are young, you want to conquer the world, however financial issues will arise and you don’t want to extend yourself too far!”

He found trying to manage six locations at once was too much, and in 1989 Petrini’s ultimately sold to a Canadian company. Now he has been happy to focus on just one deli for the last 20 years – Morucci’s, in Walnut Creek. He says it is more profitable and much easier to manage. “It’s been a wild ride,” says Robert.

He said having one bigger deli is always better and that he’s happy it is in Walnut Creek. In hindsight, I wished I’d asked him how the name “Morucci’s” came about, but it was crowded and busy (no surprise to those who have been there!), so I’m grateful for his time.

Searching for the best local Chinese food…

I recently ordered takeout from Peony Garden, which is right next to Las Lomas, across from Kaiser. It is always a search for the best Chinese food, because from different regions the flavor and dishes change. I have had takeout from Peony before and, for me, it was good, not great. I am not a fan when restaurants make sauces too sweet when they shouldn’t, such as on Kung Pao Chicken.

I ordered a lot of food thinking I would eat it over a couple of days because Chinese is wonderful as a leftover dish, but I found a hair in my asparagus beef and ended up tossing it. That said, I struggle to note that because restaurants are struggling and have had no issues in the past. Surprisingly, they have dim sum and some great appetizers, so I would love to hear your feedback.

It is super close to my neighborhood so very convenient, however, I’m still searching for that local Chinese restaurant that I completely fall in love with. If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

A Walnut Creek classic: Genova Deli

The first name that comes to mind when someone in Walnut Creek says “deli” is probably Morucci’s. Nothing wrong with that! However, keep in mind that Genova Delicatessen – located between CVS and Philz Coffee on Mt. Diablo Blvd. and S. California Blvd. – is also a Walnut Creek staple! It also has a second location on Treat Blvd on the backside of Safeway on Bancroft.

Genova is a classic Italian deli, where you choose your own bread and take a number before presenting both at the counter and getting a scrumptious, hefty sandwich made for you by any member of the quick, friendly staff. There are hot items as well, and desserts like cannoli and espresso.

Genova opened in Oakland in 1926 and their recipes (and family) come from beautiful Genova, a small port city in Northern Italy. They also have their own factory where they create authentic Italian entrees, raviolis, sauces, pastas, etc. When I recently went to grab a sandwich, during lunch on a weekend, it was packed with groups – from families getting a couple sandwiches up to a box full for a sports team!

For years I have been trying to recreate a sandwich for a local sub shop in Sparks, NV where I grew up: Roast beef on a french roll with sprouts, mayo, red onions and a vinegar & oil sprinkle. I keep trying to find a deli who can match it, so far Domincos in Danville has come the closest. I think it is because they have regular vinegar and not basaltic.

If the lines are too long at Morucci’s, or you simply want to mix it, give Genova Deli a try – I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. They recently emailed me 20% off for coming in and wanting me to come back, but it has a very short life – a week and they don’t honor it even if you are a day past the date.

Burgerim in Walnut Creek

Recently, I tried a new burger place in town! It is called Burgerim and it is in the recently remodeled Rossmoor Village, across from Safeway. The food was good – I went very vanilla on my choices. The angus beef seemed super fresh. I just had a traditional burger there. But I was thoroughly impressed!

Burgerim is an Israeli franchise. It was started originally in Tel Aviv, but was brought to the United States by the new owners and franchised out. Now it’s one of the faster-growing chains in the country! The name is a combination of “burger” and the Herbrew plural suffix “-im,” which reflects the company’s focus on selling smaller slider-style burgers in orders of 2-3 or more!

On that note, you can get party packs of sliders and burgers for office meetings and other events. The fries are kind of like potato chips but sliced thicker. Everything was really good. I would like to try one of the more unique burgers they offer, like the Hawaiian salmon burger with pineapple.

The ordering was a little bit slow and while I was waiting, another customer said, “Can I change my vanilla shake to chocolate?” They said yes. About three minutes later, they started to make the shake and I noticed they were making vanilla and I mentioned they switched it to chocolate. They are just getting settled; I spoke with one of the owners and they are still training and working out the process. The restaurant was crowded when I first walked in, which is a bit unusual for being nighttime in Rossmoor. But that is good for business and there is some seating, but they are banking on outdoor seating with our great weather. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

“Broadway Club” coming to Walnut Creek

The seemingly always rotating lot where Corner’s Tavern and Bing Crosby’s have been is getting another new tenant. This time, it will be a concept called Broadway Club. From what I understand, it will be a music, dinner, and drinks club.

Image result for broadway club walnut creek
Courtesy of BroadwayPlaza.com

One thing I’m not sure about is how they will justify charging $20 or more to see a cover band, when you can get a similar musical experience for $5 at Dan’s (or for free some nights in Broadway Plaza!)? On the surface, it doesn’t seem worth it to me.

They will cater to events or corporate rental space, which could work. Maybe if it becomes a fun place to meet people like Bing Crosby’s was, they will make something out of it. We will see! I personally don’t really want to visit and pay that much for a cover band, but I’ll see how it all plays out. I would enjoy upcoming artists – maybe somebody like Alejandro from last year’s runner-up on American Idol.

What are your thoughts? Where is your go-to place for music downtown? Do you see yourself paying extra for a bigger, newer space to enjoy a band? Have you been? Would love your feedback.

Trying pupusas for the first time!

I had never had pupusas before visiting this El Salvadorian taqueria called Taqueria Los Gallos. A group of us stopped there before our outing to the Red Door Escape Room. The express shop is one of a couple in the Bay Area (this one was in Concord), and they offer all your classic taqueria bites, but the one that stood out to me was the pupusa.

A pupusa, I learned, is “a thick flatbread from El Salvador made with cornmeal or rice flour, similar to the arepa!” It is usually stuffed with ingredients like cheese, vegetables, meat, or beans. I was curious about what they were cooking on the grill and then they actually brought one to our table. Ours had cheese, kinda like a quesadilla (but not really, it is more fluffy/doughy).

Overall, I think they do good business; there were a lot of locals and Hispanics eating at the taqueria. Would I go back? Probably not, as it is a bit out of the way – down Willow Pass in the big strip mall. However, if you have a hankering for pupusas, then this is the place to go!

DeAfghanan is a new flavor in Walnut Creek

I love variety, especially when it comes to food and other cultures. Cinco de Mayo, which used to occupy the space next to San Francisco Creamery, is now a Kabob House called DeAfghanan. I went recently and was pleasantly surprised.

The owner, Wais Omar, who is pictured below, left Kabul, Afghanistan in 1979 and moved to Fremont. There is a large Afghani population there, so that’s where he got his start with restaurants. He’s been cooking Afghani food for a long time, and you can tell! The meal was excellent.

Of course, we ordered a chicken Kabob, just like the one he is holding. We were asked if we wanted white or brown rice. The brown rice is really white rice with some special seasoning, which was recommended. And it was the right choice. We were also given some flatbread with a spread that most likely was some sort of yogurt dip.

Wais was a gracious host, who gave us a free eggplant appetizer that was out of this world! I really enjoyed my visit to DeAfghanan, and a vast improvement from the last establishment that lasted maybe six months. I look forward to going back and trying something new! The portions are a good size and if you are not too hungry, they could be split. I can see having a cold beer with these dishes once their liquor license is in hand. I would love to hear what you think!

A good Italian meal at Montecatini Ristorante

Montecatini Ristorante is one of the rare food establishments that has hung around through Walnut Creek’s renaissance as an expensive, fine-dining mecca in the Bay Area. They recently celebrated their 30th anniversary (funny enough, they opened about 5 minutes before the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989!).

Over the years, it has been one of my favorite go-to places for a special occasion. This year, a friend took me to dinner for my birthday. We were planning on sitting at the bar. However, when we got there at 6:00 pm the bar was packed and only a few tables were available. We waited for 15 minutes and the maître d’ sat us at a table in the bar area. It was so interesting – at 7:00 the bar was empty. Then, within 15 minutes, it was full again! Apparently people come in dinner shifts (one around 6 pm and one around 7 pm).

We started off with a bowl of clams. Oops, I forgot to take a picture, but it is one of my favorite dishes. The broth of butter, garlic and delicious juices is to die for, especially good when you soak it up with their bread. We then each had a half order of pasta. Mine was the tortellini al a panna – very rich, but soooo good. And Teresa’s was simply a tomato and basil sauce. I am not used to eating such rich food, but it was a nice splurge.

Italian food is plentiful in the Bay Area, and especially around Walnut Creek. But if you want one that has stood the test of time, you have to check out Montecatini on Civic, near the corner of N. Main St. It never disappoints!

The best Pho in the Creek!

Have you been to Kevin’s Noodle House? The restaurant is also known as Pho Huynh Hiep, and is located near BART on Main (next to Dorito Bros). It is family-owned, and they have six Bay Area locations. The back story is that the family patriarch loved to cook and entertain with traditional Vietnamese dishes from his childhood – especially pho.

His dream had always been to open a Vietnamese restaurant. In 1994, the family DID open their first in Oakland! I had heard about this place from some friends, and decided to try it out a while back. It was phenomenal, to say the least. Now, it’s one of my go-to places when I want something delicious and warm to eat!

My favorite dish is #22B (Chicken & Shrimp Rice Noodle Soup). Of course, that is what you see in the pics from one of my visits, along with fresh spring rolls with shrimp. To be honest, I love this dish so much that I have not ventured further into their menu, but some of the beef dishes look good when I have noticed what other people are eating. You also get a side of bean sprouts, jalapeños, basil and, for me, the dreaded cilantro. Add all these veggies with some of their hot or plum sauce into your bowl for a tasty delight!

There’s nothing like a good, hot bowl of pho and Kevin’s Noodle House is the place to go. It can get crowded at lunch and parking is somewhat limited, but well worth the hunt for a parking spot.