Easy. It's all done by word of mouth, an approach that has worked well for the Tougas family, the joint's owners 1975.
If The Boardwalk — with its dark interior, stained glass, eccentric wire sculptures, big wooden booths and burgers sizzling on the grill — is reminiscent of The Oasis in Menlo Park or The Garret in Campbell, that's because the Tougas family owns them, too. They know a good thing when they see one.
And the best thing about The Boardwalk is its utter lack of pretense. For example, it has no wait staff; you fetch your own napkins, silverware and bottle of ketchup. Tables remain un-bussed a bit longer than you might expect. And yet every employee was exceptionally friendly and seemed genuinely happy. So we cued up next to the long wooden bar and squinted at the hand-painted menu hovering over the open kitchen across the room, waiting for our turn to order.
We started with the escargot bourguignon and fois gras — oops, wrong restaurant review! Instead we dove into a super-sized basket of onion rings ($2.46) brimming with real hand-battered golden O's. Warm to the touch but not lip-scorchingly so, ours offered the sugary zing of pungent sweet onion slices quick-fried in crispy corn batter. Accompanied by cooling ranch dressing, they were delicately oily and biting without being overcooked.
In an effort to offset the guilt we'd feel after devouring the fatty food yet to come, we tried a Caesar salad ($4.25), and found no surprises: chopped lettuce, croutons, slivered parmesan cheese and a dressing that gladly didn't skimp on anchovies. Next time, though, I'll ask them to go lighter on the dressing, as our lettuce was drenched.
I'll also steer clear of the soup of the day if it happens to be French onion ($2.85 cup/$4.25 bowl). It had much going for it — thick with sweet, translucent onion slices in a dark beefy broth — but neither croutons nor gruyere melted on top, and was so salty I couldn't finish it. In fact, almost every dish we tried was very salty. Low-sodium dieters pay heed.
Hamburger fans should consider Boardwalk's burger of the month. We took the plunge with the jalapeno burger ($7.25), a generously sized homemade patty on a bun dressed with an onion slice and lettuce (you finish off the fixin's at the condiment bar in the middle of the dining room, but don't expect much more than ketchup and a couple different kinds of mustard). However, the magic was in the meat, which was juicy, medium done and riddled with chopped jalapenos that enlivened every bite.
I've long said that I've never had a cheese steak on the West Coast that can match those served within Philadelphia city limits. And after trying The Boardwalk's version ($7.75), I still haven't — but it was darned close. Their chef overstuffs a soft French roll with juicy, finely diced beef, provolone cheese and caramelized sliced onions that were tumbled on the grill into a delicious goop. It was simple and irresistible.
The Boardwalk scored even bigger points with its small pizza with pepperoni and black olives ($12.95). Again, while they didn't reinvent the wheel here, they did assemble a fine pie with a medium-thick crust that was crunchy instead of chewy, piled with melted cheese oozing over veggies and meat, and a yummy spicy-sweet tomato sauce that elicited a slight pucker. Even better, it still tasted great reheated the next day — the true test.
The place was packed last Saturday, hosting an all-girls water polo team and their parents. The party faced their chairs toward the Giants game screaming from wide-screen TVs behind the bar. Hollers went up whenever a runner scored or batter struck out. The kids were having a ball as the parents unwound.
And then it hit me: The Boardwalk isn't a restaurant. It's a community dining room where you can let your hair down at the end (or the middle) of the day. You feel like you're at home with family, and for that alone, it's a treasure.
4940 El Camino Real, Los Altos
9 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Saturdays-Thursdays
9 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays
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