Simple Pleasures at Lafayette's Sideboard Neighborhood Kitchen and Coffee Bar
Lafayette welcomes the sister location of Danville’s wildly popular Sideboard Neighborhood Kitchen and Coffee Bar.
When Ford and Erin Andrews opened Sideboard Neighborhood Kitchen and Coffee Bar in Danville in 2008, it was the realization of a dream come true. “We had a vision of an ultracasual, superorganic restaurant,” says Erin, who trained at La Varenne in Paris and worked under Alison Negrin—the founding chef at Bridges Restaurant and Bar, and an alum of Chez Panisse.
Erin and Ford, who handles the financials, decided to sacrifice table service to offer a more casual atmosphere and the best ingredients at a good value—a timely concept for the unfolding recession.
The formula thrived in flush times as well. When forced to relocate in Danville in 2014, the Andrews found larger digs just a short walk away, and their business, Ford says, doubled overnight. And when the couple debuted Sideboard in Lafayette, where the Andrews have lived for 25 years, it immediately became a neighborhood favorite.
A lush park that separates Sideboard from busy Mt. Diablo Boulevard helped sell them on the location.
“We saw the park and looked at each other and said ‘picnic,’ ” recalls Erin. The Lafayette restaurant serves fried-to-order chicken, sold by the bucket—plus blankets and shade umbrellas—and the staff will bring your order to the park in an old-fashioned picnic basket.
I’d dined anonymously (and with relish) at Sideboard in Lafayette three times and another half-dozen times in Danville, before meeting and sitting down with the Andrews. The staff that afternoon wore sturdy flowery aprons that Erin picked up at the Way Side Inn Thrift Shop down the street. The restaurant itself is more homey than fashionable. The tables and chairs are “100 percent random,” and mismatched silverware, creamers, cruets, and condiments cover the antique sideboard. Old-fashioned milk bottles are filled with Sideboard’s ice water infused with mint and seasonal fruit. “[Erin] hasn’t passed up a thrift store or garage sale in 33 years,” says Ford.
The Andrews have been in the food business since they were 14 years old. Ford, who evinces a boyish enthusiasm when helping out on the floor, says he realized restaurants were his destiny after a night of bussing tables and washing dishes. Erin got her start at a burger joint in Montclair and was practically running the place in a matter of months. She met Ford at her next job, when she was just 16, at a funky restaurant in Glen Ellen, called Sophie’s.
Sideboard’s name and its come-and-gather dining culture are inspired by Erin’s grandma—who deliberately did not set the table for company so that they would mingle at the sideboard. Erin says this is the same “four-foot, 10 1/2–inch powerhouse” grandma with whom she made soap bubble pies when she was three.
The house-made pastries in the display case are extraordinary. Snag an extra oversized English muffin to take home if Sideboard hasn’t sold out yet (it will) and a piece of killer carrot cake—you’d never guess it was gluten-free.
As for the dishes on the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus (the kitchen is open from morning to night), I have yet to be disappointed. Erin has achieved success by keeping classic dishes simple, using the best ingredients, and honing proven techniques.
In Sideboard’s BLTA, for instance, the smoked bacon is crispy and meaty; the (heirloom) tomato slice is thick and aromatic; and the bread is Acme. (The A is a perfectly ripe avocado.) The same marvelous bacon—which comes in generous portions—is key to Sideboard’s signature grilled chicken breast salad with Point Reyes blue cheese and its seasonal fried soft-shell crab sandwich.
One night, I happened to show up wearing my Praise the Lard T-shirt, only to have two staff members separately point out that it was a garment from Prather Ranch (I’d never noticed), which provides the smoked maple ham for Sideboard’s popular eggs benedict. (Prather Ranch beef goes into Sideboard’s ever-popular burgers as well.)
But all told, Sideboard is more healthful than high-calorie. Our grilled asparagus was divine; the heirloom and beet salads were vibrant; and an icy watermelon-and-mint beverage was the most beautiful and refreshing picnic drink you can imagine.
That Sideboard is a neighborhood success is made plain by the cohesive and genuinely friendly culture of its fresh workforce—much of it family and friends—and the ever-increasing number of community-style tables at each location.
In short, it’s been a joy to dine at Sideboard. This is a welcoming spot with satisfying dishes, such as the juicy skirt steak sandwich inspired by the one Erin’s grandma taught her to make when she was 17. That’s the same cut of beef Erin used for the first meal she cooked for Ford, and apparently, much like the restaurant, it was a success.
Contact: 3535 Plaza Way, Lafayette, (925) 310-4773, itsonthesideboard.com. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.