By Vickie Lewis
Are you hankering for a hearty breakfast to start your day? Are you seeking a comfortable and friendly atmosphere where you can enjoy a good cup of coffee, watch the morning news, and maybe check your e-mails before heading off to work? Look no farther than Tina’s Place, a quaint, homestyle restaurant, prominently located on the corner of Tennant and San Pablo Avenue in Old Town Pinole.
Many of our readers are no doubt familiar with Tina’s Place, which opened at its current location in Pinole in April 2011. But owner, Chef Tina Holtzclaw, has been serving local residents dating back to 1995 when she first became established as Tina’s Creekside Café, then located on San Pablo Dam Road in El Sobrante. Previously known as El Sobrante #1, Tina had worked for the owners for years, and had become a business partner in 1994. When the owners decided to leave the business, Tina bought the restaurant and made it her own—thus beginning her aspiring career as a chef and professional restauranteur.
When the lease expired at the El Sobrante location, the business moved temporarily to Valley View Road where it was co-located with the Lion’s Den Cocktail Lounge and was renamed “Tina’s Place.” During Tina’s search for a new permanent location, the current space in Pinole became available, and she immediately knew that this was the new permanent home for her restaurant. Significant renovation was required to transform the location into a restaurant, but the work was completed within a few short months, and Tina’s Place reopened on April 29, 2011 to the delight of loyal patrons throughout the community.
Initially open only for breakfast and lunch, Tina’s became famous for the extensive menus featuring a delicious variety of omelet and egg breakfasts, and excellent pancake and Belgian waffle entrees. Many of the current offerings at Tina’s Place have been on her menu since the early days in El Sobrante, including a variety of delectable sandwiches, salads, burgers, and wraps. Within a couple of years after Tina’s Place opened in Pinole, the restaurant opened for dinner several days a week, due to popular demand from customers. The initial dinner menu was somewhat limited and incorporated some of the lunch selections; however, over the years, the menu has expanded to include more and different selections, including a featured nightly special. Whether dining at Tina’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, generous portions and beautiful presentation are the norm; and in my personal experience, there has never been a meal from Tina’s Place that I haven’t enjoyed.
Breakfast at Tina’s is a real treat and its popularity is evidenced by the fact that wait times can be long, especially on weekends. In spite of being fully staffed and the availability of additional seating that recently became available at the adjacent “Tina’s Too” location, customers may still experience a wait, especially between the hours of 10 AM to 1 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. But the wait is well worth the time if you want to experience a delightful start to your day. In fact, Tina’s Place was the 2017 Winner of the Bay Area A-List for Best Breakfast—one of many recognitions and accolades bestowed on Tina’s Place over the years.
On our recent Sunday morning visit to Tina’s Place, a hostess greeted us upon entry and added our names to the waitlist and informed us that our wait time would be 5 to 15 minutes. We were seated with menus within 10 minutes and our dining experience began. The morning menu lists both breakfast and lunch selections as well as available non-alcoholic beverages. A separate menu lists the available Eggs Benedict selections, which are among the most popular breakfast entrees offered at Tina’s Place. Tabletop menus list alcoholic beverages available from the bustling full-service bar located in the dining room. Many customers were partaking of the ever-popular breakfast mimosas or Bloody Mary’s, while others were enjoying the strong, rich coffee for which Tina’s is also well-known. The breakfast menu includes Egg Breakfasts with your choice of meat; Egg White Breakfasts; Country Breakfasts, including Biscuits and Gravy; and Tina’s Specialties, including Belgian Waffle, French Toast, and Pancakes. Additional selections include oatmeal, grits, a breakfast wrap, fresh fruit, and home-made bread pudding. There are seven Eggs Benedict selections, each created by and named after customers, the most popular of which are the Eggs Joel (made with Canadian Bacon & Avocado); Eggs Andrew (made with Canadian Bacon and Bacon); and the Eggs Valerie (made with turkey, bacon, tomato and avocado.) Specialty salmon or crab benedicts are alternately available and are very popular with the regulars. Chef Tina personally makes the Hollandaise sauces for the restaurant using the traditional French method. In addition to the traditional sauce, she also makes jalapeno, chipotle, and Mediterranean infused Hollandaise sauces.
Having eaten breakfast at Tina’s Place numerous times over the years, my usual go-to favorites are the omelets. My favorites are the Italian omelet (made with Italian sausage, mushrooms, black olives, and green onions); or the Spanish omelet (made with chicken, green chilies, corn salsa, and cheese, topped with guacamole and sour cream.) My daughter loves the Blackbean omelet (made with black bean salsa, green onions, chicken, avocado, sour cream and jack.) The omelets are consistently large and fluffy, chock full of ingredients, and quite delicious, and are served with your choice of hash browns or home fried potatoes and choice of buttered toast. Fruit may be substituted for potatoes for a $2.00 upcharge. In spite of my fondness for the omelets, during this visit, I decided to try one of the Eggs Benedict selections, and ultimately chose the Eggs Valerie. My guest ordered the Two Egg Breakfast with ham, home fried potatoes and sour dough toast. At my suggestion, my guest and I opted to share one of Tina’s famous Belgian Waffles, since he had never tried one before. It is so hard to pass up a Tina’s waffle—they are simply divine, and I knew my guest would enjoy it.
As we waited for our food to arrive, I sipped coffee and glanced around at the restaurant filled with diners, and a team of servers busily bustling among the tables, tending to customers’ needs. Hungry customers continued to queue up at the door, and some sat on outside benches, waiting for their tables to become available. As tables became vacant, the employees quickly bussed and cleaned the table, and the next group or diners was promptly seated. As a result, the ebb and flow of the wait queue moved along at a decent pace. Only one of the four televisions positioned in the dining room was turned on that morning, airing sports programs. The bartenders busily poured morning cocktails and served those seated at the bar, and diners throughout the room laughed and conversed, creating a casual and comfortable dining atmosphere.
The waffle was the first plate to arrive at our table, and we eagerly grabbed our forks and began eating. The fluffy waffle was a light golden brown, and the middle was garnished with fresh strawberry slices. The waffle was accompanied by small containers of warm syrup and melted butter. Just one bite in, my guest was already raving over the waffle. Its slightly sweet flavor (attributed to the addition of malt powder to the batter) and light, airy texture caused each bite to almost melt in our mouths. In no time, the waffle had disappeared, and my guest declared that he would be ordering a waffle on all subsequent breakfast visits to Tina’s Place.
Our breakfast entrees arrived soon after, plates brimming with our egg orders and plentiful home fried red potatoes mixed onions and bell peppers. My guest’s eggs were cooked as requested, and three very generous slices of ham were layered across the mound of fried potatoes. My Eggs Valerie was beautifully presented, the medium-cooked poached eggs served atop an English muffin, piled high with fresh slices of turkey, bacon, and slices of tomato and avocado, topped with a light yellow Hollandaise sauce and garnished with a sprinkle of green onions. My guest thoroughly his breakfast, although he almost couldn’t finish his meal since we’d already eaten the waffle. He mentioned that he’d prefer fewer onions and bell peppers in the in the fried potatoes, and said he’d likely order hash browns in the future. My first experience with Eggs Benedict proved to be quite interesting! Although I tried to cut through the savory tower in an attempt to eat bites of all ingredients at once, I wasn’t very successful. The stacked concoction kept toppling over and I ended eating some of the ingredients separately. When only the eggs, sauce and English muffin remained, it was a bit more manageable for me to eat. The Hollandaise sauce was rich, creamy and delicious, and was quite enjoyable. With so many different choices and the quality of the sauce, it’s easy to understand why Tina’s Place is well-known for Eggs Benedicts.
Customers enjoy breakfasts at Tina’s Place so much that Tina received repeated requests to add breakfast items to the dinner menu. So, beginning in July 2017, guests were delighted to see that a full page of selected popular breakfast entrees had been added to the dinner menu, including several egg breakfasts, two omelets, Belgian waffles breakfasts, and Shrimp and Cheesy Grits. Our evening interview with Tina provided another opportunity to try a different breakfast entrée, only this time it was for dinner! I selected the Pork Chop and Egg breakfast, which is served with a choice of one or two large, bone-in pork chops, two eggs, hash browns or country fried potatoes, and toast. The pork chops were perfectly grilled, were tender, and had good flavor, although I may have enjoyed a bit more seasoning. This entrée is large, and if ordered with two chops, easily provides a second meal for the next day. My guest ordered the Turkey Deluxe sandwich for dinner, which is made with chipotle mayonnaise, Swiss cheese, turkey, bacon, tomato, avocado, grilled onions and grilled mushrooms, and is served with choice of side. Need I mention that my guest also ordered another of Tina’s famous Belgian waffles? No meal is complete without one! The dessert menu at Tina’s Place now includes waffle desserts, so I ordered the waffle topped with bananas and vanilla ice cream and topped with caramel drizzle—it was pure ecstasy! The dessert was deliciously rich and sweet but is definitely large and perfect for sharing.
A visit to Tina’s Place will allow you to enjoy large portions of delicious food in a pleasant and relaxing, family-style atmosphere, while experiencing friendly and efficient customer service. The interior of the restaurant includes has a modern look and feel, that still evokes an “old town” feeling. The dining room accommodates 72 seated guests at wooden tables (built and finished by Tina’s employees), flanked by large cushioned chairs and bench seating designed for comfortability. Last year, Tina acquired the storefront adjacent to Tina’s Place, formerly occupied (and vacated) by a number of other restaurants. Named “Tina’s Too,” this space provides seating for 28 additional guests, which helps to alleviate longer wait times during busy periods. Tina’s Too is intended to accommodate private parties and special events catered by Tina and her staff.
Chef Tina didn’t originally aspire to become an executive chef and restaurant owner. In fact, while working at El Sobrante #1, she attended college to become a Registered Dental Assistant—a job she never performed. Although she is largely self-taught as both a cook and business owner, she graduated in 2016 from The Culinary School of Escoffier, in which she enrolled to refine and perfect her skills. While in culinary school, she had amazing opportunities to learn and work in the kitchens of some top chefs, such as Gary Danko and Thomas Keller, through which she learned important tricks of the trade. Her self-improvement efforts are not only revealed through the success of Tina’s Place, but also through the success of her expansive catering business, “Catering by Tina.” All-inclusive catering options are available starting at $37 per person, and Tina employs experienced teams of catering staff that tend to every detail of special events. Contact Tina at 510-691-9570 to discuss options and set up a tasting appointment. Informationally, Tina recently assumed responsibility for the culinary division of Restaurant 1890 located inside the Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda, a member only full-service restaurant. Catering by Tina has exclusive catering rights for all public and private events held at this venue.
Chef Tina clearly loves her work and confesses that she is somewhat overwhelmed at her success. Her passion for her customers and her staff are clearly evident. Many of her staff have loyally worked with her for many years. Tina’s sister, Stacey Robertson, is the General Manager of Tina’s Place, and together with Chef Tina and business partner, Dale Moore, work hard to ensure that Tina’s Place continues to provide the quality cuisine and service that customers have come to expect. Tina often cooks alongside the Tina’s Place chefs, and she’d love to cook you a hearty breakfast. Whether you visit in the morning, for lunch, or dinner, prepare for an excellent meal and a pleasurable dining experience.
2300 San Pablo Avenue, Pinole | (510) 964-7546 | (Catering): 510-691-9316 | tinasplace2.com
Breakfast & Lunch: Mon to Sun: 7:00 AM – 2:00 PM | Dinner: Wed to Sat: 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM