Alameda, CA

Alley & Vine Gives Farm-to-Table a Whole New Meaning

Thomas Smith
Original photo by the author

Lots of restaurants in the Bay Area serve farm-to-table food. But Alley & Vine, a restaurant on Alameda Island, takes things one step further. Much of the produce and even the eggs served at the locally-owned restaurant aren’t just from any Bay Area farm — they come directly from the family farm of Alley & Vine co-founder Casey Hunt. With Hunt’s involvement, the restaurant isn’t just offering farm-to-table cuisine — it’s more like my-farm-to-your-table cuisine.

Alley & Vine’s name is accurate. The restaurant is located on a small alleyway just off Park Avenue, which is effectively Alameda Island’s main street. The alleyway is blanketed in ivy, and the restaurant itself is fronted by a vine-covered trellis. If you didn’t know Alley & Vine was there, you might miss it. But once you arrive at the restaurant, you’ll find both outdoor seating under the trellis and a largeish indoor dining room with lots of Mission revival style arched doorways, as well as a full bar and a wine nook stacked with bottles from Napa and Sonoma.

Alley & Vine primarily serves dinner, opening each night for the meal. But on the weekend, the restaurant also offers brunch. There’s plenty of other things to do on the Alameda on a weekend day (visiting the USS Hornet, shopping at Books Inc, or driving around the island’s spooky abandoned naval base all stand out), so the brunch option is appealing. On a recent Saturday, Alley & Vine hosted me and my family for a tasting so I could check out their food.

The restaurant is relatively new, launching in January of 2021 smack dab in the middle of the pandemic. It’s a project of restaurateurs Francisco Bazo and Casey Hunt, as well as chef Jason Ryczek, who was previously the executive chef of the now-defunct Farallon. Bazo hails from Peru, Hunt’s family owns a local farm (again, much of the restaurant’s food is sourced from there), and Ryczek has worked his way up and down the state of California from San Diego to SF. Alley & Vine’s team comes from an eclectic mix of backgrounds, and those eclectic origins are reflected in the restaurant’s food.

During my visit, I started with Alley & Vine’s black pepper gruyere toast, which is a bit like a fancy piece of bruschetta, brimming with prosciutto and goat cheese and topped with cape gooseberries. I also tried the sea scallop tostada, which was my favorite of the restaurant's appetizers. It’s a bed of ceviche-like sea scallops on top of a rich avocado cream, resting on a fried tortilla and topped with not-too-spicy Fresno chilis. Bazo’s Peruvian background was clearly present in the dish, and I enjoyed the contrasting textures of the ceviche and the crunchy, fried tortilla.
Original photo by the author

Eggs from Hunt’s farm feature prominently on Alley & Vine’s menu, and much of its brunch menu is centered around dishes with names like “Poached Eggs” and “Sunny Side Up Eggs.” To call these egg dishes, though, is a bit of a misnomer. The Poached Eggs, for example, does indeed include poached eggs. But it’s also full of tasty strips of Flannery beef and frise lettuce. Likewise, the Sunny Side Up Eggs has a couple of the eponymous fried eggs in it, but the anchor of the dish is a crunchy quarter duck prepared as a confit, cured in its own fat. I love duck confit, so this was a winner for me.

My favorite dish, though, was Alley & Vine’s shakshouka (pictured at top). Shakshouka is a Middle Eastern stew of tomatoes and spices. Eggs are cracked into the stew, where they cook into little pockets of fluffy, gooey deliciousness, taking on the flavor of the tomatoes as they poach. The whole thing is served with plenty of crusty bread to sop up the sauce and grab hunks of the tomatoey egg. Shakshouka is a staple of Sephardic Jewish cuisine, and for me evokes fond memories of wandering around souks in Jerusalem.
Original photo by the author

Alley & Vine is also known for its creative cocktails. With three kids in tow at 11am on a weekend, my wife and I weren’t dipping into those. But I did try two of the restaurant’s mocktails, including the Pink Elephant, which incorporates guava and black currant, and an unnamed blood orange drink topped with egg white foam (those eggs again) and a piece of dehydrated blood orange. The latter was especially good — ask for one if you visit the restaurant, and maybe add a splash of reposado if you’re game. Alley & Vine’s bar is dramatic and leads into an open kitchen. This is a small, local restaurant, not one led by an absentee celebrity chef — you’re likely to see Ryczek at work if you poke your head into the kitchen while ordering your drink.

I finished my meal at Alley & Vine with the restaurant’s Manjari chocolate pot de creme. Pot de creme is usually a dense, relatively monotonous (if rich and delicious) dish. But Alley & Vines was playful, served with peanut brittle, peanut ice cream, grape jelly, and edible flowers. The dish evoked an old-school PB&J and was a nice way to finish the meal. For an even more decadent finish, you could also conclude your meal with some of the restaurant’s house-made white sturgeon caviar, or Russian caviar from Deborah Keene of the California Caviar Company. At $95 per ounce that didn’t quite fit the vibe of our family brunch, but for a celebration or a really fancy date night it sounds delicious.

Alley & Vine has a multi-course kid’s menu, with dishes like French toast and an egg salad sandwich. For carb-loving kids, Ryczek is also happy to whip up a rich, buttery risotto. I’d recommend bringing older kids to the restaurant. Alley & Vine is the kind of place that encourages you to linger over a meal of several courses. My under-fives are the children of a food photographer/writer, so they’re very comfortable hanging around restaurants. But many littles may want to get in and out faster. For a tween or young teen, though, ordering from Alley & Vine’s three-course prix fixe menu would likely feel pretty special and grown-up. You might have to hold yourself back from “sampling” their butter risotto, though.

Overall, Alley & Vine feels like it would work best as the location for a decadent celebration, a trendy date night, or even a work function for a small team. The food is wide-ranging in styles and elegantly presented, yet grounded in its origins on Hunt’s family farm, and by the use of simple, wholesome ingredients like eggs and sourdough bread. Its island location also sets it apart from the eateries of Oakland or downtown SF, providing a reason to venture just a bit beyond the ordinary in search of a unique dinner or brunch.

Whether you choose to follow your brunch with some historical enlightenment at the Hornet museum or a vodka tasting (or three) at the island’s Spirits Alley? Well, that part’s on you.

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Award-winning entrepreneur, and the co-founder and CEO of Gado Images. Thomas writes, speaks and consults about artificial intelligence, privacy, food, photography, tech, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As a professional photographer, Thomas' photographic work regularly appears in publications worldwide. Pitches/news tips:

Lafayette, CA

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