A white rectangular marquee with blinking lights guides you to the door of a dark gray building. It announces you’ve arrived to “Arthur Mac’s Tap + Snack.” The sign, while a bit theatrical, is helpful, because the doorway to the new North Oakland pizza restaurant and beer garden might not be completely obvious to first-timers otherwise.
Located in the Longfellow neighborhood, in the shadow of the new, stark glass-and-steel MacArthur Annex shipping container complex, Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack is surrounded by a brightly colored fence on its 40th Street façade. Somehow, the massive shipping containers and the turquoise-and-green fence both attract and distract attention away from the restaurant itself, and makes passersby wonder just who and what is happening on the other side of that fence. But once you step foot inside the door, things suddenly make a lot more sense.
Even on my third visit, I couldn’t help but notice how gleaming white it is inside Arthur Mac’s, whose name, if you haven’t already gathered, is a play on “MacArthur,” the BART station located just steps away. Its white Fireclay tile floor is peppered with blue and red chevron-patterned tiles, acting as arrows to visually direct customers to the ordering counter. Computerized monitors above the counter display the food and drink offerings. Arthur Mac’s, opened in early April and as of now, its menu is made up of pizza (available in slices or whole pies), chicken wings, snacks (pickled and fried things), and salads. Its drink menu features an impressive list of 17 locally made craft beers and ciders that rotate daily (which explains why a computer screen menu is a smart idea), along with wine and non-alcoholic beverages.
The Farm League Restaurant Group, who is also responsible for Drake’s Dealership, Westbrae Biergarten and Tiger Lily, is behind Arthur Mac’s, which it calls a “fast-casual” restaurant. Fast and casual aside, Farm League tapped a chef with an impressive fine-dining resumé to create Arthur Mac’s menu and run the kitchen. Michael Williams has spent time in the kitchens of Rivoli, Corso and Gregoire.
Despite Williams’ pedigree, ultimately, Arthur Mac’s is a family-friendly, dog-friendly, pizza-by-the-slice and drink beer with your friends kind of place. After ordering, you could eat at a long wooden bar, dotted with fixed barstools along the right wall. But you don’t actually want to sit here – the place to be is outside in the beer garden with everyone else. Rows of wooden picnic tables are surrounded by wood-slat container booths, custom-built by Ben Frombgen of design firm Bcooperative and Eric Peterson of EP Building. There’s plenty of space for small and big groups to congregate and for kids to run around while parents socialize under the influence of craft beer. There’s even a dedicated sandbox and magnetic board for kids, although it’s out of sight from the dining area. Another thing to note, the ground is covered with tiny landscaping pebbles, which made me regret wearing sandals on one of the days I visited. I also witnessed a small child try to eat some of those pebbles.
But let’s talk pizza. Although discerning toddlers may disagree, I recommend forgoing the standards. The cheese ($3.25) and pepperoni slices ($3.75), while adequate to satisfy a hankering for a quick slice, weren’t particularly memorable. Instead, try the Veggie of the Day and Meat of the Day, which have more interesting (yet still accessible) toppings and better showcase Williams’ influence.
On my most recent visit, I enjoyed a vegetarian slice ($4) topped with mushrooms, goat cheese and fresh arugula leaves. Because it didn’t have a tomato sauce base, the tangy sharpness of the cheese, the bitter bite of the arugula and the subtle umami of the cooked mushrooms all harmonized perfectly. Even better, I liked the meat slice ($4), which did have tomato sauce, and was topped with marble-sized nuggets of Italian sausage, fennel, and thinly sliced red onion. The crust of both slices had a tender chew, yet was perfectly crispy, despite being thin and covered in oil. Yes, there will be oil. So, if you’re the kind of pizza eater who mops up your pizza with paper towels, you might want to grab a few sheets. Me, I’m OK with it, as long as it doesn’t sog up the crust or pool too much on top.
I also ordered chicken wings. The wings at Arthur Mac’s come in three varieties – Buffalo, Longfellow BBQ and naked with Deepak’s Tikka Masala – and are served with carrot and celery sticks and a serving of blue cheese or ranch dressing. I ordered 10 wings ($12), asking for half Longfellow BBQ and half naked with Tikka Masala. Something got lost in translation, and I ended up with Buffalo instead of Longfellow BBQ. After trying one Buffalo wing coated with vinegary hot sauce, I wasn’t upset about the mix-up. The chicken was perfectly cooked – well-done, but still succulent. This is not always an easy feat when frying small drumettes and wings, which can get dry and stringy. The naked wings were similarly cooked well, but because they were sans sauce, the skin had a satisfying crispness. Apologies to its namesake, Deepak, but I found the Tikka Masala sauce a little too heavy on the cream for my taste. I think it could’ve done with a kick of acid, maybe a squeeze of fresh lemon or a hit of tangy hot sauce to cut the richness. Still, it was well seasoned and if you like creamy Tikka Masala, you might enjoy this preparation more than me.
Not as successful are Arthur Mac’s salads. On my first visit, I tried the Little Gem Caesar ($10), which differentiates itself from standard versions by including Little Gem lettuce, radish slices, and puffed quinoa. I enjoyed the fresh crunch of the lettuce and radish, especially in contrast to the creamy dressing and parmesan shavings, but I was less impressed with the quinoa, which while nutty in flavor, had the off-putting texture of uncooked quinoa.
On my second visit, I tried the Caprese Salad ($6.50), which is a small bowl of sun gold tomatoes, torn pieces of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, topped with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Although the tomatoes were fresh and sweet, the balsamic vinegar was too sparingly applied and the overall serving too small for the price.
And finally, on my last visit, I tried the White Bean Salad ($6.50), which also comes as a small serving. I was expecting a white bean like cannellini, but the salad was made with garbanzo beans, which were under seasoned and a tad too mushy. The beans were flecked with cut chives and finely diced onions, sprinkled with fresh arugula and dressed with a very light lemon vinaigrette. Perhaps, too light of a vinaigrette, which once again lacked that acidic punch I was craving. Still, I appreciated the offering of a variety of fresh salads, something which is often lacking at pizza-by-the-slice restaurants.
To wash all this food down, I chose Alameda Point’s craft cola ($3) to quench my thirst. Call me juvenile, but I prefer my pizza with soda, just like I did growing up. But unlike the cola of my youth, Alameda Point’s soda is made with pure cane sugar. My friend played the adult and had a pint of Field Work’s Terrace IPA ($7). I took a sip and enjoyed its citrus undertones and bitter hoppiness, but not as much as I enjoyed my cola. Or the root beer – that’s good too. Rumor has it that Arthur Mac’s will eventually be serving soft serve.
Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack feels very new. During my last visit, workers were installing a new monitor above the counter, which was cleared of all the display pizzas, so the woman taking my order struggled to remember the toppings offered for the day. Plants were being rearranged and the space still felt a little like a work-in-progress. But personally, I didn’t mind any of this. Nor did it seem like the rest of the diners who were there on my three visits. We were all too busy enjoying ourselves, our company, and eating and drinking outside on a beautiful sunny afternoon in Oakland.
I’ll be back to try those Longfellow BBQ wings, and hopefully, soft serve!