Not every business lunch calls for the classic steak and Martinis, and not all of us can return to work after that sort of thing. Choosing where to break bread and make deals can be high pressure. Don't sweat it — you'll ruin your suit. (Kidding, Humboldt. Work hoodie.)
Duck, Duck, Bacon
The duck B.L.T.A. at Plaza Grill (780 Seventh St., Arcata) says, "I'm refined but down-to-earth," and, "I'm not broke/desperate, but I won't spend your money like a Kardashian with a Champagne buzz, either" ($13). It's not duck bacon exactly, but smoked duck in thick, hammy slices on soft, toasty sourdough with avocado, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions and garlic aioli. It's smoky and not a bit dry — everything you love about an old-fashioned BLT plus the luxurious gaminess of duck, which is kind of having a moment right now. And if your lunch partner wisely swaps in the sweet potato fries, keep it professional and don't pick off his or her plate.
Bavarians at the Gate
Ever sit at your desk with a rumbling stomach, wishing your office had sandwich delivery like in old movies? Or that some kind of lunch fairy would bring you food? Turns out that is a thing that can happen, but with a twist. Well, a lot of twists. As in pretzels. No, not the gangly ropes of dry bread you gnaw at a ballgame. These are plump knots of soft, warm dough that stretch apart in a way that reminds you why you haven't given up gluten. Get an order of 10 or so together and Royal Bavarian Brezen (476-3920) will show up in the form of Alexandra Hierhager, the lederhosen-clad, basket-wielding woman who wakes at 4 a.m. to bake her mother's recipe from (surprise) Bavaria — a magical land of mellifluous German and bountiful pastries.
The basic salt pretzel ($3.50) satisfies like a bagel, but the varieties are legion. The basket overflows (that woman is stronger than she looks) with savory and sweet options from jalapeño to chocolate and peanut butter ($4.50 or three for $10). Both the tomato, mozzarella and basil pretzel and the spinach, feta and Monterey jack one are generously topped and as satisfying as sandwiches. The apple strudel pretzel is full of cinnamon and fruit, but with a bagel's chewiness and vanilla frosting. Eating a pretzel lunch is the team-building exercise your office has been waiting for.
The walk from the front door to the Ingomar Club's restaurant (143 M St., Eureka) is a crash course in Victorian architecture with its alabaster fireplaces and dizzying woodwork. "At one time, they say every important decision was made around the table," says club member Doug Durham, gesturing toward the card room on the second floor of the Carson Mansion. These days, if you want to dine with the power elite, you'll need to throw down a couple thousand to join the club and pay monthly dues, or get a member to bring you along.
Down in the club's restaurant, Durham pulls out a red velvet chair and recommends the crab sandwich ($22). Take his advice because the man is class — where others might keep a flask, he carries a tiny pepper grinder filled with his particular blend. The sandwich is a hefty scoop of creamy crab salad on sourdough with a side of hand-cut fries. The crab is sweet and fresh with just a little pepper. Of course, everything tastes better with a panoramic view of the bay and those peasants at the marina who are forced to eat, well, crab sandwiches and fries. Whatever. There are roses on the table and a subtly flavored port wine ice cream for dessert ($5). The pale, dusky scoop shows up at exactly the right temperature — on the cusp of melting — so you can fully taste the hint of sweet port and the heavy cream, which has never made you feel so 1 percent.
You Wearing a Wire?
Is your business completely legal? Just asking. Because if you would feel more comfortable having your working lunch somewhere outdoors and, ahem, bug-free, a truck might be the way to go.
Pull up to the Speedy Taco truck in the parking lot of Sport and Cycle (1621 Broadway, Eureka) and line up with the construction workers and cubicle slaves for a couple of the asada tacos ($1.65 each). They're saucy little numbers with chunks of grilled steak, smooth red salsa, green onions and cilantro with lime wedges on the side. You could go with one of the enormous super burritos, but this is a bright, savory, tangy meal that won't slow you down if you have to make a run for it. And at least when those guys in the electrical van snap their photos, you'll be smiling.