Foraging on Alameda Island usually starts at the Feel Good Bakery. Once inside the Marketplace on Park Street, I order a loaf of sourdough bread or a baguette, pork chops from Barons Meats or, on a lazy Sunday, a roast chicken from Greens & Grains. If it’s first thing in the morning, I’ll cross the street to Crispian Bakery—sandwiched between Thai Noodle House and a branch of Monkey King—for a slice of the best banana bread in the entire San Francisco Bay Area (at least it’s the best to me).
Closer to Webster Street, there’s a fine brunch to be had at Neptune’s and obscenely long lines for Smish Smash burgers (a pop-up, also at Neptune’s). Star Pizza sometimes beckons, as do the tacos at Cholita Linda. Fine dining during Pandemic 2020 didn’t make it onto my list of must-eats. Alley & Vine, which opened in December, hopes to draw casual grazers like me to its expanded patio.
The three owners—Francisco Bazo, Casey Hunt and Jason Ryczek—met while working at Waterbar in San Francisco. Ryczek went on to become the executive chef at Farallon. But by the end of 2019, Hunt says they’d started talking about doing something together. Bazo was already an Alameda resident and, after brainstorming, Hunt and Ryczek decided they liked the area and the community, too. All three of them now live on the island.
“We found the old C’era Una Volta space,” Hunt says. “It’s a really versatile building.” With a full bar and a loft, they look forward to holding events there when gatherings begin again. At the end of the year, the restaurant could only serve food to go—even though that wasn’t part of the initial plan. “Obviously, that became the only way people were surviving,” she says. “We tailored the opening menu to make sure the food would travel well, but within the vein of what we wanted to do from a business standpoint.”
“Originally, we had wanted to do a steak on the menu,” Hunt says. “But steaks don’t travel all that well as far as temperatures go.” For example, if someone asks for it medium, it might arrive medium well. Ryczek decided to do a braised short rib instead, because it holds together well and arrives hot. “A braised short rib isn’t something that would have been on the menu before,” she says. “It’s just a different approach.”
Ryczek writes the menus, with feedback from his partners. Hunt describes his approach to the cuisine as Californian with French influences. “We really love restaurants like Nopa, Rich Table, The Progress and State Bird in the city,” she says. “Restaurants with really great food but not super stuffy, more of a casual environment.” Essentially, they wanted to bring a restaurant from the city over to Alameda.
“Park Street has many different kinds of restaurants,” Hunt says. “Both in terms of cuisine and casual versus fine dining.” Alley & Vine fills a niche between the two. They’ve ditched the tablecloths and formal attire in favor of “casual fine dining.” “We felt like we would fit into the restaurant community here with what we were wanting to do,” she says.
Bazo, the third member of the triumvirate, is a certified sommelier. Before Alley & Vine, he was the bar manager at One Market Restaurant and the beverage director at Waterbar. “Francisco developed the cocktail and the entire beverage menus,” Hunt says. Bazo and the head bartender make all of the shrubs and syrups in house. For a tequila cocktail called the “Solstice Bloom,” there’s a “housemade” hibiscus grenadine mixed in with habanero bitters.
The three owners have served meals seven days a week since Alley & Vine opened. Hunt says they’ve been excited about the process rather than exhausted. “Many of us had been out of work,” she says. “For us to have something that’s our own—and even people who are working with us who aren’t owners—we all care about this place.”