At Matty’s Old Fashioned, meat’s at the forefront of Chef Matt Horn’s mind. After mastering the art of cooking brisket, spare ribs and pulled pork at Horn Barbecue, his first Bay Area restaurant, Horn’s latest venture doesn’t forsake meat. But Horn’s celebrated approach to making barbecue—and fried chicken sandwiches at Kowbird—isn’t the focus at Matty’s, which is essentially an upscale diner.
The menus are straightforward, printed without adornments—centered black type on 8 ½ x 11 pieces of paper. It’s the only aspect of Matty’s overall design scheme that isn’t branded. The lunch menu is divided into three sections: salads, entrées and add-ons. Chili cheese fries are listed under the “salad” heading, thereby expanding the definition of what qualifies as salad. Most of the afternoon entrées are sandwiches: a fried bologna sandwich ($21); a fish sandwich, with no indication as to whether it’s grilled or fried ($21); and a grilled hot dog ($13).
When Kevin Schantz, Horn’s culinary director, made his rounds in the dining room, we asked him if they served dessert. Schantz was happy to talk—expansively—about the vanilla, chocolate and strawberry shakes. And he went on to explain that, after Matty’s liquor license is approved, there will be boozy, liquor-filled shakes as well. Schantz added that they also bake their own homemade cheesecakes.
At the start of our meal, we ordered the Cobb salad ($19). A healthy ration of bacon lardons filled up the entire bowl. If portioned out correctly, a diner could pair a bite of bacon with every lettuce leaf and still have many lardons left over. They tasted heavily smoked but not oversalted. Still, they were the dominant flavor in an otherwise pleasant and familiar Cobb.
Matty’s underwritten menu, though, routinely omits ingredients that appear on the plate. If I took the menu at face value, the only items I would have expected to find in the salad would have been a house ranch dressing, bleu cheese, the bacon lardons and a sieved egg. There was no mention of the type of lettuce or the inclusion of halved cherry tomatoes, onions pickled to a sweet and vinegary magenta, and avocado cubes.
Even though it wasn’t actually a salad, the description of the chili cheese fries ($9) did turn out to be spot on: a mound of french fries, smothered in brisket chili, minced onion and shredded cheddar. As expected, the pieces of brisket exemplified Horn’s way of pairing sauces that bring out the best in particular cuts of meat. If I were to order the dish again, I’d ask for half the amount of cheese. The cheddar competed with, and sometimes overwhelmed, the flavor of the brisket, which felt contrary to the chef’s general approach of honoring different cuts of meat.
At $21, the burger was slathered in Matty’s sauce, melted American cheese, charred onions, pickles and french fries—many more fries than two hungry people could finish. The bun was dotted with black sesame seeds. Again, the menu didn’t specify what kind of bun—milk, brioche, potato?—or whether it was baked in-house. Nor did it mention the presence or color of the sesame seeds. Regardless, it was a good burger. If the price sounds high, Lana’s, a fast-casual restaurant down the street from Matty’s, serves a deluxe cheeseburger for $11.75, plus $4.50 for fries. That extra $5 goes toward the ambiance and service of a sit-down meal.
Fish and chips ($23) turned out to be the most elegant dish I tried. The coating on two pieces of beer-battered cod was golden, delicate and thin; but the crust held together. The fish itself hadn’t dried out in the fryer. It was served with half of a charred lemon, tartar sauce and so many french fries, and topped with sprigs of fried green parsley. It was a nice surprise to find out that a chef, famous for his beef and pork dishes, also made such a thoughtfully composed plate of fish.
The name of the restaurant, Matty’s Old Fashioned, conjures up the idea of a diner—hence the milkshakes, burgers and fries—but the restaurant’s décor resembles a supper club. The walls were faintly patterned on a dark-blue background. A wooden bar stretched across the length of the entire restaurant, lined with stools. Matty’s Old Fashioned aspires to be a nighttime hub, a place to gather for drinks or a late meal after an evening out at a club or concert. But during the day the space felt sleepy, as if it was waiting for dusk to arrive.
Matty’s Old Fashioned, 464 Eighth St., Oakland. Open Mon, noon to 3pm; Tue-Fri, noon to 3pm and 4-11pm; Sat, 10am to 3pm and 5-11pm. 510.698.5144. instagram.com/mattyburgers/.