Many places come and go on this mile-long thoroughfare that is Solano Avenue, but one place that has survived the many iterations of restaurants around it and has hardly changed is Britt-Marie’s. A black and white picture of Mother Jones hangs prominently in the front section of the dining room, where it has hung for decades. I’m pretty sure I had topinka there in 1985, not long after I moved to the Bay Area, fresh out of college. And when I ate there a few days ago, it was the same delicious topinka I remembered.
Britt-Marie’s comes with an interesting history that you won’t find on any website. Apparently, before it was a restaurant, it was a lesbian bar that was painted all black and red. At one time, it was run by a married couple, but when the wife caught the husband with one of the waitresses, Britt-Marie’s got sold as part of the divorce settlement.
Unpretentious but comfortable, Britt-Marie’s is the perfect spot to meet a friend for a quiet lunch. It has a relaxed atmosphere where you don’t have to talk over loud music and you feel okay lingering over a glass of wine. Paper flowers adorned our table, and I noticed an interesting assortment of framed photos, including one of a modern metal chair sitting among some large rocks outside.
Even though it was lunch, we all decided to go for alcoholic libations. George ordered a Husch pinot noir that he already knew and loved. Dave surprised me by ordering a Mill Creek sauvignon blanc, which he liked. (He always orders red!) I went for the Pilsner Urquell on tap, which was just what I was in the mood for. We thought about trying something new, but why try something else when you know there are things on the menu that you know are delicious? We ordered two of our favorite starters—the baked goat cheese salad (with a raspberry vinaigrette, grapes, and glazed pecans-yum!) and the topinka. (Even though it’s not officially on the lunch menu, the chef made it for us anyway.) What is topinka, you ask? It’s bread with toasted emmenthaler cheese, garlic, and olive oil. And I’m pretty sure it’s lo-cal…
My gyros was pretty good and so was Dave’s chicken. George was a tad disappointed with the dab of chipotle aioli that was barely on his burger, but eventually our waitperson brought out some more. This same waitperson did not notice my empty water glass, so I had to flag him down. Suffice it to say that the service this time around did not get high marks. (But I’ve been there before when the service was great, so it could have been an off day.)
Of course Britt-Marie’s holds a special place in my heart because we hosted our wedding reception there. (This was our second wedding, the one we had after much of Dave’s family couldn’t make it to our first one, which was a surprise backyard wedding. But that’s a story for another time…)
Britt-Marie’s Café & Wine Bar is at 1369 Solano Avenue, Albany, CA. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30am – 2:00pm & 5:00pm – 10:00pm, and on Sunday from 5:30pm – 11:00pm.