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Monday, May 23, 2011

Our May, East Bay, Berkeley and Oakland Food Adventure

Fantastic food and friendly people are what my fun loving foodie friend Carl Minding and I discovered when we headed east to tantalize our taste buds and fill our stomachs at 5 stops in Oakland and Berkeley for our May food adventure.

There were a number of places we'd been wanting to visit beginning with Aunt Mary's Cafe, which Carl had seen on a Food Network tv show. I'd been wanting to go to Bakesale Betty for about a year and I also wanted to visit Gather, a restaurant recommended by a friend. Carl and I both wanted to visit the Chez Panisse Cafe so we headed out at 9:30 AM Friday morning for a 5.5 hour, self guided, food tour.


A photo montage of what I ate.


If you want to replicate this adventure CLICK HERE for the map we used to make all of our stops.


Because Carl had been wanting to try out the "Southern Bubble and Squeak" breakfast at Aunt Mary's Cafe we made it our first stop that morning. Aunt Mary's Cafe is located on the Northwest corner of 43rd and Telegraph.


It was a bustling place but at 10:30 AM on a Friday morning we didn't have to wait for a table which was nice.


So this was it, the "Southern Bubble and Squeak" designer egg breakfast ($10.50). An interesting combination of a freshly baked biscuit, two mashed potato pancakes called potato-southern green cakes, topped with two poached eggs (you can choose another style of eggs or tofu to make the dish vegetarian), drenched in a you'd-never-know-it-was-vegetarian pot licker gravy, and spicy collard greens.


It was so good. Really good. Worth the drive to Oakland good.


We also ordered a side of Cheddar Cheese Grits ($5.00) with roasted tomatoes, chilies and onion ($1.50). It complemented the Bubble and Squeak perfectly. You can also add Benton's Smoky Bacon ($2.00) or an egg ($1.50) or two ($2.50) to turn the grits into a hearty meal. The portion was huge. We were shocked. It came in a large soup bowl, not a small side dish bowl.


The neat thing for me was that I don't think I've ever had collard greens or grits before and I had both in one meal and really liked both.

Next we headed over to Bakesale Betty. Owned by Allison Barakat (a Women's Initiative Graduate) and her husband Michael Camp. Way back in 2001 I met Michael when he and Allison were dating. She had worked for several years at Chez Panisse Cafe before going solo with her own company and Michael was working in theater prop design and for Beckman Bread Company. They met when they were both working at the Danville Farmers' Market, he for Beckman's and Allison for herself donning an electric blue wig and going by the name Bakesale Betty.

Years passed and I hadn't seen Michael for a long time when one night I was websurfing and discovered not only had he and Allison gotten married, they had opened their first Bakesale Betty retail outlet. Of course I wanted to go!


LOL there is no BAKESALE BETTY sign out front at the intersection of Telegraph and 51st. In fact, the only sign at their Temescal location in Oakland was this smallish, hand written one on their front door, and yet there were throngs of fans waiting in the fast moving line.

We took a peek inside, I spotted Micahel and he spotted me! Carl and I went back out to get in line and Michael came out to say hello. He is seriously one of the nicest people I've ever met and was the best market barker ever. I remember in 2003 he once brought me one of Allison's sticky date puddings with a little container of caramel sauce to heat and pour over it. From that moment on I knew that he was one lucky fella to be dating a girl who could bake something so scrumptious. And it's no surprise they've achieved the success they have, with great food and two nice, caring and sociable owners it was a recipe for success.


Once inside you first walk past the dessert cases filled with cookies, cake slices and scones.


The wait wasn't long at all and while we were waiting we chatted up our line mates. People in Oakland are so friendly! When I asked him, Phillip (a really nice guy who was right behind us) explained that Temescal is the neighborhood of Oakland that the bakery is located in. He also recommended the Pecan Shortbread Cookies when I asked him what his favorite baked item was.

There were also strawberry shortcakes and frozen lemonades ready to go :)


But I think a major reason the line was so long, dozens of people long, is because of the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwiches. As far as we could tell it was basically the only sandwich option that day. Well it and a vegetarian version.


We placed our order, received it in moments, and grabbed a seat at an outdoor ironing board table. So cute right? There are rows of them with the short black stools all along the sidewalk out front.


Yum! Not only is there buttermilk fried chicken for meat eaters, for vegetarians there's a similar tofu patty set atop a mound of their super crisp and fresh slaw with cabbage, thinly sliced, mild, fresh jalapenos (it wasn't at all spicy), thinly sliced red onion and chopped parsley atop a soft roll.


Inside view. This was delicious! I can't wait to go back and have another one.


And here were the Pecan Shortbread cookies Phillip recommended. OMC (Oh My Cookies) they were awesome! So buttery, crisp and light they almost melt in your mouth as you eat them.


Our next stop was Gather known for their meat and vegetarian menu. Gather was recommended to me by my friend Elisa Camahort and I've mentioned it once before here on The Flirty Blog in the What is a Charcuterie? post.

Located directly across the street from the main entrance to U.C. Berkeley, the restaurant is located in the greenest built building in the East Bay. The interior of Gather was crafted with reclaimed wood and natural materials which creates a very pleasing and warm ambiance even during daylight hours.

We chose this salad because the couple in front of us in line at Bakesale Betty recommended the Kale Cesar. So we did.


It was both different and good. Surprisingly the kale was cooked, not raw. There were heirloom carrots in three colors and instead of big classic croutons, Gather uses the neatest bread crumb and sesame topping, almond “parmesan,” tiny bits of nori seaweed and crispy capers ($8.00).


The dressing was tangy with a tiny bite of (I think) mustard. I'd definitely order this again and think it would be excellent tucked between two pieces of bread as a sandwich.

What was super cool was the couple who were seated beside us shortly after our salad arrived were also fun and friendly. We ended up chatting with John and Muriel pretty much through the rest of lunch once they joined us. It was great! They even shared some suggestions of places they thought we should include on future food adventures.

I think it was Muriel who asked what happens when we order something bad? Do we write abut it in our blogs? Fortunately that's never happened because we tend to order the house speciality, read online reviews, and ask for recommendations.


Carl also wanted to try this open faced sandwich on a slice of toasted bread and topped with a spicy chickpea mixture, sauteed hen of the woods mushrooms and melted cheese. I scooted the mushrooms over and had the toast with chick pea mixture. In fact I had it again the next day. There was so much I brought some home with me, reheated it and topped it with an over easy fried egg for breakfast. It was delicious!


And then we headed over to Alice Waters' iconic Chez Panisse on Shattuck Avenue for dessert at their Cafe. I've driven by Chez Panisse for years, decades really, and never felt worthy enough to make a reservation and go. Silly me! I'm telling you, don't be intimidated to go to the Cafe which has a moderately priced, à la carte menu that changes daily.


So many dessert choices but here's what I chose. . .


The Crimson Rhubarb Tart with Ginger Ice Cream ($10.00). It was AMAZING! Call me an idiot because I don't think I've ever had rhubarb before even though my mom baked fresh from-our-backyard rhubarb pies every summer and because I love tart flavored desserts like lemony things and key lime pie. LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it!

And look at how thin the crust was on the bottom. It was paper thin. Like a sixteenth of an inch thin, but was somehow crisp, not soggy!

The Rhubarb Tart was like an out of body experience except it was as if my entire being had migrated to my taste buds which were jumping up and down and screaming "YAY" really loud in my mouth. Fortunately the volume of screaming taste buds isn't loud because they have no vocal cords and they also have no legs or feet so their jumping is also imperceptible :)

*Sigh* Just thinking about it is making my mouth water. I want it again so baaaaaad. I'll have to make another trip up soon while rhubarb is still in season. Maybe I'll have the Rhubarb Tart as an appetizer, order an entree, then have another Rhubarb Tart for dessert. Yeah, that's what I'll do :P


I was enjoying my dessert so much Carl even being there with me is just a blur. He was wearing green and eating some kind of cake but that's all I recall. LOL. When the last bite of rhubarb had been eaten and the final notes of the ginger ice cream had dissipated I rejoined Carl back in the real world and we moved on to a third dessert.


The Stracciatella Vanilla Ice Cream with chocolate streaks, caramel sauce and candied pecans ($9.00). Of course it was also amazing. The crunchy candied pecans in particular really contrasted with the smoothness of the ice cream and created a rich and decadently sweet treat.

After we were done eating, our fantastic waitress Colleen (she was so friendly and an absolute pleasure to chat with) took us on a brief tour of the restaurant.


The Chez Panisse Cafe's upstairs, open kitchen.


Plated lunches ready to be served at the Cafe, an outdoor produce storage locker and the dinner menu being prepared in the downstairs restaurant kitchen.

Each day at the downstairs Chez Panisse Restaurant there is a set fixed menu that consists of three to four courses. The menu is seasonal, sustainable and organic. Reservations are required and are made available a month ahead. Which means you probably won't know what dinner is being served when you make your reservations. Vegetarians are accommodated as the chef will prepare a non-meat option for you and I read online in a Yelp review that vegans are accommodated as well.


The downstairs, restaurant kitchen is also where the chefs were making more of the Rhubarb Tarts. *DROOL* When I spotted the baked, finished tart to the left I felt an overwhelming urge to grab it and make a run for it :D


And I had to bring Carl to the mecca of all produce departments at the legendary Berkeley Bowl grocery store. It's pretty famous in these parts. Their produce selection is immense. I counted 12 kinds of eggplants while we there. They had the usual globe and Japanese eggplants and yes, 10 other kinds. Which is funny because I don'e even like eggplant but I couldn't stop marveling at their selection.

I did make an unusual purchase thanks to a nice man who noticed how intrigued I was by a spiny chayote squash. I thought it would be fuzzy at first glance but when I picked it up I discovered it has stickers like a cactus. *OUCH* it poked through my skin when I touched it. He said buy it, cut it up and put it in soup because it's delicious. I bought one of each, the smooth and spiny varieties, I'll let you know how it goes after I cook them :)


I hope after reading this post you'll feel brave and daring and will head out to try some new restaurants and foods where you live. The whole idea behind our food adventures is to inspire you to try something new too. So grab a foodie friend and head out for restaurants you've only ever heard of. And if you're in the Bay Area try one (or all) of these:

Aunt Mary's Cafe
4307 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

Bakesale Betty
At Telegraph and 51st
5098 Telegraph Ave, Oakland 94609

2200 Oxford Street
Berkeley, CA 94704

Chez Panisse Cafe
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94709
Café Reservations: (510) 548-5049
Restaurant Reservations: (510) 548-5525

Berkeley Bowl
2020 Oregon Street
Berkeley, CA 94703

920 Heinz Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94710

And for weekly fun and great mobile food in the East Bay there's a Bites on Broadway event every Friday night www.bitesonbroadway.com

If you enjoyed this post you'll probably like these too:

Carl's Review over on his blog: May Food Excursion: Best of the East Bay – Volume 1

Meet the Kids on The Harley Farms Goat Dairy Tour
Beyond Sushi: A South Bay Japanese Food Adventure
• Beyond the Beach: A Santa Cruz Food Adventure
Gourmet Meat Street Food & Vegetarian Food Truck Favorites

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