Farley's keeps a low profile. Despite a claim to the best parklet in the East Bay, a reputable coffee program, and a golden-hearted philanthropic emphasis, the spot doesn't make a lot of fuss. But that's the charm of it. As the third wave continues to rip its way around town, sprouting new, shiny shops with Bible-sized tasting notes, twee wall décor, and custom-Ferrari equivalents of espresso machines, Farley's is the comfortable, honest, everyman's coffee parlor. With an enticing food program to boot.
The menu is, by and large, a simple one. Think bagels, turkey and cheddar paninis, mixed greens and goat cheese. It would be standard café fare if it weren't for the sly creative riffing that pops up on a closer look. For example, last week's panini of ham, jack cheese, and massaged collards hides a hefty smear of toasty black-eyed pea purée. It's the perfect, soft wintery balance to the richness of cheesy meat. The turkey panini turns up another surprise with harissa aioli, a ballsy way to jumpstart a sandwich. They are little twists, the kind that give you hope that here, with spots like Plum Bar sitting heavy around the corner, there will always be a place to find yourself a good, no-bullshit sandwich and someone willing to share their table.
Farley's resurrects the old idea of the coffee shop, and gives you a dozen reasons to be there. Not least of those is the newstand, a two-wall display of journals, magazines, periodicals, and all kinds of things to skim with your morning coffee. You can get your New Yorker fix, some time with Vogue or Mother Jones, or leaf through Africa Watch, if that's your jam.
Every month, a different neighborhood nonprofit occupies the front window, benefiting from a monthly “happy hour day” from which the café donates 20 percent of its profits. The coffee on deck is De La Paz, a brand recently reinvented after folks from Four Barrel acquired it. The reinvention means a few new approachable blends, and some quaint and pretty packaging.
The stalwart favorite in the mornings is Farley's two daily frittatas, one meat and one vegetarian. They tend to disappear by 11, though, a deadline we've missed to oversleeping too many times. On sunny days, it's the best café in Oakland, thanks to a turfed, picnic-y setup of a parklet outside.
While this particular strip of Grand Avenue has been a mostly arid one for years, a few new restaurant openings have started to gather more foot traffic. But still, Farley's never seems to change. The brand has been holding strong for 20 years, after getting a start on Potrero Hill and evolving into its Emeryville and Oakland locations, each with built-out kitchens. We'd rather keep quiet about it, but that would be unfair. So, if you do decide to flood the place, at least leave us some Nutella toast.