Monday, June 23, 2014

Now Open in Berkeley (and Serving Monday Brunch): Handlebar

By Luke Tsai
Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Burger enthusiasts, beer lovers, and connoisseurs of whimsical facial hair have a new go-to spot in West Berkeley: Handlebar (984 University Ave.), a new restaurant and bar from the Fivetenburger food-truck entrepreneur (and noted mustache wearer) Roland Robles, quietly opened for business last week, as first reported by Berkeleyside Nosh.

The project is a collaboration between Robles and Jennifer Seidman, who owns nearby Acme Bar (2115 San Pablo Ave.). The concept, simply put, is tasty American comfort food, nothing too elaborate or fancy — just good food to snack on while you’re watching the World Cup, Robles said by phone this morning.

The bar (via Facebook)
  • The bar (via Facebook)
“This is not a gastropub,” Robles said. “I’m not trying to make anything new; I’m not trying to shake anything up.”

The menu is a work in progress, but includes many of the dishes that Robles mentioned when we spoke earlier this spring about his transition back to a restaurant kitchen. He stressed that Handlebar is a brand new restaurant, not simply a brick-and-mortar facsimile of his Fivetenburger trucks (which will continue to operate, in case you were worried). So while there is a burger on the menu (for $14, with a side of tater tots), Robles said it’s completely different from the one he serves on his trucks — different bun, different grind, different meat supplier.

The brunch menu (via Facebook)
  • The brunch menu (via Facebook)
Other current menu items include a made-to-order stovetop mac ’n’ cheese, beef cheek tacos, and a mixed-greens salad with strawberries. Handlebar is also placing a big emphasis on brunch, which will be served not only on weekends but also all day on Monday, for what Robles calls an “industry brunch” — for line cooks and other people in the food-and-wine business, who don’t normally ever get to go out for brunch because they’re working all weekend. (Regular folks are, of course, welcome to come on Mondays as well.)

The restaurant’s signature brunch dish is a cross between pigs-in-a-blanket (the popular diner standard) and a corn dog. Robles explained that he takes a full-link-size breakfast sausage, dips it in pancake batter, deep-fries it until it’s crispy, and then serves it with a side of maple butter.

Meanwhile, Seidman’s bar program is, in Robles’ words, all about “sessionable” drinking — lots of low-alcohol cocktails and punches and light beers. The idea is that customers who would like to throw back several drinks can do so without getting unmanageably drunk.

Most of the seating at Handlebar consists of small communal tables (seating five to six diners each) that line one wall, plus room for about twelve to fifteen customers at the bar. “It’s not a sit-down place, exactly,” Robles said.

Current hours are Saturday to Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., for brunch, and Tuesday to Friday, 5 to 10 p.m., for dinner. Robles said he hopes to hire enough staff to be able to do dinner on Saturdays and Sundays as well, perhaps starting as soon as this weekend.

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