By Vickie Lewis
Definition of “assemble”—1) To bring people or things together for a common purpose; 2) To fit together the separate component parts of a machine or other object. The former Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant on the Richmond Waterfront, where automobiles were assembled from 1931 until 1953 when the last car rolled off the assembly line, is now home to the trendy “Assemble” restaurant, where people assemble for good food and drink in a untraditional, yet ambient, setting. Assemble restaurant occupies the former boiler room used to power the Ford assembly lines when the plant was operational, and is adjacent to the spectacular Craneway Pavilion, which hosts approximately 75 to 100 cultural and entertainment events a year. The restaurant and pavilion sit directly on the Richmond waterfront, offering stunning views of the East Bay and the San Francisco skyline.
Assemble offers a variety of traditional and new American foods, as well as beer, wine, hand-crafted cocktails, mocktails and other non-alcoholic beverages. It is open weekdays for breakfast and lunch, and for brunch on weekends. Assemble used to offer dinner service; however, it was suspended because there was insufficient business in the evenings. There are plans to offer Happy Hour again later this year, and dinner service may be re-introduced when Richmond Ferry service to San Francisco becomes available, which is anticipated as early as 2017.
The restaurant has a very industrial feel to it–high ceilings, steel framework, two original boilers, pipes, pulleys, equipment, brick walls, and lots of windows to look out at the Bay. There is seating inside for 110 guests at a combination of short and tall tables, bench seating, and bar seating. There is also outside patio seating which provides the best direct view of the bay. There is a large full bar, and parts of the kitchen and food preparation areas are visible from the dining room. A large lighted square sign that says “Assemble” is mounted high in the center of the room. From our table next to the bar, my guest and I had a great view of nearly the entire interior of the restaurant. When we arrived for lunch just after 11:00 AM on a Friday morning, only two tables were occupied. But it wasn’t long before every table was filled and the wait staff and food runners were bustling around at full speed, eager to provide their tables with excellent customer service.
Considering its remote location, I was surprised to see how busy the restaurant was. To get to Assemble, drivers must proceed nearly all the way to the end of South Harbor Way in Richmond, but must turn left into the driveway where there is a guard shack. From there, one must drive past the building, make a right turn and head toward the southern end of the plant to find Assemble. It’s definitely not a venue that you would just happen upon without knowing it existed. There is generous parking available; however, the lot was rather full when we arrived as there are a number of other business tenants that occupy space in the former Ford plant which also share the parking lot. Some of the employees of these businesses are among the regular breakfast and/or lunch diners of Assemble. Others include walkers, joggers, and bikers who use the Bay Trail that runs alongside the restaurant, and residents of nearby Marina Bay, Point Richmond, and Marin County. Visitors to the Richmond Waterfront and the Rosie the Riveter Museum, which is just across the street from the restaurant, often enjoy lunch here following their visit. We were told that Assemble has a full lunch crowd nearly every day of the week.
Soon after we were seated, our waiter, Eric, greeted us and asked for our drink order. I chose a mocktail named Kaleigh’s Creamsicle, which Eric explained is a cream soda mixed with orange juice. My guest opted for a Hank’s Black Cherry Soda, and both drinks were delivered to our table by the bartender. There are many choices of drinks available which are listed on the reverse of the single page food menu. Noteworthy is that the bar is always open when Assemble is open, even during breakfast hours. We looked over the menu as we enjoyed our drinks, noting that several of the selections were named after local history; for example, the Buffalo Riveter Sandwich, the Victory Salad, and the Craneway Turkey Club. The weekday lunch menu includes starters, salads, sides, sandwiches/entrees, burgers, and flat bread pizza. The weekday breakfast menu is geared toward “grab and go” patrons, who want something quick to take with them to work or other destination. Offerings include house made Danish pastries and cinnamon buns; bagels, toast and English muffins; yogurt parfaits; and seasonal fresh fruit bowls. Hot oatmeal, as well as limited hot cook-to-order breakfast selections, are also available such as a veggie scramble, a breakfast B.L.T., and a breakfast burrito.
My guest and I started our meal by ordering two starters: Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts with garlic parsley oil, and Frito Pie. We were surprised when the Frito Pie arrived at our table, prepared and served in an individual portion bag of Fritos corn chips! The bag was split open on a plate, and the pork and beef chili was poured over the Fritos, and topped with cheddar and jack cheeses, onion, jalapenos, and sour cream—all neatly contained inside the bag. Although the portion appeared somewhat small for the price ($11), it was very filling such that we couldn’t even finish it all. The Brussels sprouts were cooked to a perfect tenderness and had a delicious, garlicky flavor.
We chose two lunch entrees to share, selecting those recommended by our waiter—The Grilled Salmon with Beurre Blanc Sauce, and the Buffalo Riveter Sandwich. Our food was delivered to our table very quickly by a courteous and friendly food runner named Adriana. Both dishes boasted nice presentation, especially the salmon entrée. The salmon was seared on the outside and was served on top of a bed of roasted vegetables with the sauce drizzled over the top. The vegetables were also arranged around the outside of the dish, encircling the salmon, and included baby potatoes, asparagus, zucchini, and tomatoes. The salmon was delicate and flaky and had an excellent flavor, and the vegetables were tender and delicious. The sandwich consisted of a generous crisply fried chicken breast covered with red hot sauce, served on a long bun dressed with jalapeno aioli and creamy coleslaw. We initially thought it odd for the coleslaw to be a dressing on the sandwich, but it actually tasted very good, as the thin layer of slaw did not overpower the flavor of the sandwich. The sandwich was a bit messy to eat, as the dressing and hot sauce oozed each time a bite was taken from the sandwich, but overall, this item was a hit. The hot sauce was not too spicy and the crispiness of the chicken was perfect. The french fries were similar to shoestring potatoes, were delightfully crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and were sprinkled with parsley—no added salt or seasoning required!
We hadn’t noticed desserts listed on the menu, but when Eric brought us a separate dessert menu of House Made Desserts, we knew we had to try something. Per Eric’s recommendation, we ordered a slice of Key Lime Pie, as well as an amazing warmed apple crisp with oatmeal topping and a scoop of vanilla gelato. The pie was light and refreshing, with a not-too-tart flavor, with a thin layer of cheesecake on top. The apple crisp was delightful and not-too-sweet. The oatmeal topping was different than traditional apple crisp, but was enjoyable. Other desserts featured include carrot cake, a mocha chocolate cake, and a brownie sundae, each priced from $8 – $9.
Assemble has a great ambience, and I couldn’t help looking around and imagining the factory workers from past decades building cars, and even war-time tanks, jeeps, and other military vehicles, in the exact location where we were dining. The transformation of the plant by the owner, Orton Development, for dining, entertainment, and business purposes, is a great way to preserve this part of Richmond’s history. Ajit Dhillon is the General Manager of both Assemble and Craneway Pavilion, and shared that Assemble caters many of the events held at Craneway. They can provide seated dining for up to approximately 250 guests and concession-style service for up to 5,000. All cooking and baking is done on-sight, and most items used for food preparation are locally sourced. Assemble also provides catering for events at other venues, and Ajit and Assistant General Manager Janet Silva, will work with customers to create customized menus, if desired.
Treat yourself to a day at the Richmond waterfront and stop in for breakfast, lunch, or brunch at Assemble. We thoroughly enjoyed our food selections, and received excellent customer service. The lunch menu prices were a bit high for a standard weekday meal (avg. $10 – $18), but the experience, views, and variety of menu selections make it worth the trip. Once you try it, you and your family and friends will want to “re-Assemble” there often!
1414 Harbour Way South, in Richmond | 510-215-6025
Open Mon. through Sun.: Weekday hours: Breakfast M–F 8:00–10:30 | Lunch M–F 11:30–2:30 | Sat. & Sun. Brunch: 11:30–2:30
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