Any loyal Patch reader knows that I rarely make my own coffee. (I make notoriously awful coffee. Even starting with quality grounds, I somehow manage to brew undrinkable coffee.)
So, most weekday mornings, I occupy a table at on Encinal Avenue, but on weekends I get downright adventurous and wander the island like a crusader on a holy caffeine quest.
My favorite non-Jay’s Saturday haunts are , , and . market is often my Sunday spot because I can get through the thicker Chronicle without overstaying my welcome.
I never know where I’m headed when I leave Bay Street; I just start driving and decide on the way.
A few weeks ago, I drove toward Park Street on Encinal and caught sight of colorful flower boxes and café tables on the sidewalk in front of , next door to the now-vacant , which moved to the location formerly known as Aroma down by the Park Street Bridge. It looked inviting, so I decided to park and check out their menu.
The door was open and a sign in the window said they would be closed for a couple of days the following week due to family bereavement. My heart pulled me through the door.
The menu looked good, fresh and local. Some of their produce comes from and they serve baked goods from and .
’s coffee is “pour over” like trendy Blue Bottle. It takes awhile to drip so you have to be patient, but it’s good and strong. While I waited my server, Derek, gave me a tutorial about the importance of grinding beans fresh. (Thanks for the sound advice, Derek, but it won’t help me make good coffee. I am cursed.)
I ordered an “Egg in a Nest” - something my mother always called a surprise egg, where you cut a circle in the slice of bread and fry the egg in the hole. Owner Minh Nguyen brought it to my table. I complimented the sidewalk streetscape and she credited Sue Russell and the Alameda Economic Development Department.
I took a bite of my surprise egg. The yolk was a rich dark yellow, the bread soaked in butter, and it was delicious. Thu-Hong said they get fresh eggs from – green, blue, and brown – just like the ones my daughter, Sarah, brings me from . Fresh eggs spoil you for all others.
I introduced myself and mentioned my column, saying maybe I would write something about her café. She said, “Yes! Yes! I read Patch! I’ve read your columns! You’re really funny.” (What a sweetheart! I knew I liked her.)
Then she added, “ I always wondered if what you write is true.” Just like Ripley’s, Thu-Huong, believe it or not.
Thu-Huong and her brother, co-owner Minh Nguyen, have lived in Alameda for 37 years. They are Alameda High School graduates, as are their children, and they fundraise for the Alameda Education Foundation. She said that in 1975 they were the first Vietnamese students enrolled at AHS. She was 15 years old. (I did the mental math. That makes her the exact same age as me… With her smooth skin and dimples, she looks at least ten years younger. As God is my witness, I won’t let that tarnish my opinion of her. Really I won’t.)
I asked what it was like for her to move to Alameda as an immigrant teenager. She said it was hard, because everyone had established cliques. I empathized. I was the new kid in tenth grade, in a school where most everyone else grew up together. But at least I spoke the language and hadn’t just landed in a new country.
Still curious about the bereavement sign in the window, I gave Thu-Huong my condolences. She said their 47-year-old brother, “the wanderer” (who wandered as far as Fremont,) passed away two weeks previously from a stroke, leaving a 17-year-old son.
I am so sorry for that boy, to lose his father at such a young age. The Nguyen family has my heartfelt sympathy as well as my appreciation for their support of Alameda schools. I will make a point to add Café Q to my weekend caffeine destination list.