The first time I set foot in Orinda I was the guest of my roommate who happened to be a student in a private alternative school there. He invited me to come along since I and our other roommate published zines and we were there to teach the students how to start their own. After a few hours of "school", we ditched class and he took me to a private orange orchard where we stole a few oranges from the rich to give to the poor. Not finding any poor in Orinda, we decided to keep them for ourselves, since we were the closest poor we knew.
Orinda is well-known in the Bay Area for being a small enclave of the super-rich, super-white, and super-Republican. The town promotes itself as being a "family-oriented community" despite the fact that 56 percent of Orinda's 17,000 residents live in households of only 1 to 2 people. The median family income ranges between $120,000 and $130,000 with the average home price well over 1 million dollars, which means if you think it's hard raising a family with San Francisco's cost of living, imagine what it's like for an average middle class or working class family in Orinda.
However, if there is at least one place in this "family-oriented", albeit sometimes deadly, community that actually is family-oriented (and inclusive of those who don't live in mansions) it is the Europa Hofbrau.
The Europa Hofbrau is a family-run restaurant that is the most kid-friendly hofbrau I've been to so far. So much so that they actually have a kid's "play station" and a back room with those old things that existed before the X-Box called "video games".
Before I set foot in Europa, I noticed from the outside that the windows were frosted and I couldn't see in. It didn't strike me at first why this was, but as soon as I stepped through the door, my glasses fogged up as if I had just walked into a steam room.
Boy, was it hot in that place!
After my glasses adjusted and I could see again, I sat down my coat and umbrella at a table in a secluded part of the restaurant and proceeded to order at the steam table. The restaurant is pretty large and for the most part is one large open room filled with tables and chair (no booths). The décor is average, plain – ok, it's boring.
It's pretty hard to say if this place has been here 30 years or if it just opened yesterday. There is a bar, but it's pretty non-descript and seemingly misplaced near the back center of the room. There are televisions for when there's a game on and the Orinda Lions Club meets there once a week, keeping in the tradition of a hofbrau as a meeting place.
As far as the food goes, the usual standards were present but there didn't seem to be a wide variety of sides. This time I went with a roasted turkey leg, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans (the overcooked, mushy, salty, dead green kind).
The gravy on the potatoes was exceptionally good and perhaps the best I've had so far, while the green beans were as bad as they looked. That's too bad since green beans aren't that hard to cook and keep warm without overcooking.
You know, it's not that hofbrau food is all bad, some of it is actually simple and healthy (so long as you're not overeating, which is quiet hard to do in a hofbrau), but the cooking techniques are often stuck in the same time the hofbraus were when they first opened.
The turkey leg, for instance, was good; the meat dark and, because it was dark meat, not terribly dry. I only found that out, however, once I got to the meat through the leather-like skin. No kidding, that skin was so tough I couldn't even pull it apart with my bare hands. And frankly, you're looking at a skin eater. Crispy chicken skin, turkey skin, duck skin...it all makes me drool. Maybe I should've taken the skin with me and chewed on it like beef jerky?
While it's great that the Europa hofbrau can still eek out an existence in Orinda and remain a low-priced solution for many people with children and senior citizens, I won't be taking the BART back out there in any foreseeable future. It's just not a special destination place for me, even with the temptation of picking some more oranges.
However, I wish them all the best.
PS Guess what?! Up until now there was no entry for "hofbrau" on Wikipedia, but someone was a little busy bee this past weekend and so I present you with this! Of course, it is Wikipedia, so make the necessary additions/corrections as you see fit. If any of you know how to make it that the title page, "hofbrau", can be distinguished not as a German restaurant but as a California-specific eatery, please do so!