While most of us head to San Francisco for our foodie fix, did you know that Oakland recently made USA Today’s 10 Best Local Food Scenes? San Francisco chefs have headed across the bridge to test their culinary chops and as a result, Oakland has seen a huge surge of fantastic eateries.
Oakland’s other food claims to fame: the popsicle, fortune cookie and rocky road ice cream were all invented here.
Over my three-day visit to Oakland, I had the chance to sample from a few good discoveries.
Drake’s Dealership is located in Oakland’s former Auto Row on Broadway. The combination restaurant/brewpub contains lots of furniture from reclaimed wood. Entering the beer garden is festive, with a great selection of tunes, fire pits going, strings of party lights and lots of seating surrounded by trees.
The former Dodge dealership-turned-resto’s been open for nearly two years, located in the hip Hive multi-use space. Here you’ll find local arts and non-profit folks dining on Executive Chef Taylor Smith’s yummy wood-fired pizzas and salads.
Here’s where the San Leandro-based brewery (open since 1989) showcases their selection of 32 craft beers on tap. I sampled two dry-hopped pale ales (1500, Wandering Possum), the brewery’s flagship IPA and to pair things up, Get Stupid IPA.
The list goes on and on to include several more IPA’s, brown ales, stouts, porters, ESB, Hefeweizen and pilsners. You can’t go wrong with a pint (or sampler) alongside some hearty comfort food. Drake’s is located at 2325 Broadway.
This lovely space with a prime view of Lake Merritt has a fully loaded menu for seafood and grill lovers. Here I enjoyed a plate of spinach ricotta gnocchi served up with glazed market veggies, sweet butter and grana padano together with an organic greens salad.
While service is haphazard (I was there for a late lunch outside rush hour), this place does have its charm, especially once the weather warms up again – lots of patio seating. Gaze across the lake and relax over good food and drink. Find Lake Chalet at 1520 Lakeside Drive.
Penrose doesn’t like to label itself however if you want to try, the best description would be California cuisine inspired by Andalusia, Sicily and North Africa. Seasonal produce and available proteins dictate what gets served here each day. Chef Julya Shin together with Charlie Hallowell aim for a sustainable, organic menu.
The Penrose name is an ode to Charlie’s great-great-great grandfather, a “Fighting Quaker who led the first all-black regiment against the Confederates in the American Civil War”.
Looking around, I noticed lots of exposed brick, concrete floors, wood tables (including communal seating) and a side bar that was constantly occupied with a Friday post-work crowd. The busy open kitchen – the restaurant’s centerpiece – is capped with a French-inspired awning.
Strings of lights add to the merriment, as do large glass lamps and a unique wood and glass entrance. There’s an eclectic collection of art scattered around the walls too.
I started with a half dozen Hog Island sweet water oysters from Tamales Bay. They’re small, briny and full of flavour. My favourite dish of the night was a delightful plate with Bellwether Farms ricotta, roasted brussels sprouts, kabocha squash, jamón serrano and hazelnuts.
Dishes are brought out in the order they’re prepared, meant for sharing. The majority of the restaurant team come from Berkeley’s world-renowned Chez Panisse and mirror its high standards.
This lively space fits nicely within the Grand Street vibe, with sister restaurant Boot and Shoe Service directly across the street (a third restaurant, Pizzaiolo, is on Telegraph in Berkeley).
Find Penrose at 3311 Grand Street.
Aunt Mary’s Cafe
Open for eight years in Oakland’s trendy Temescal neighbourhood, Aunt Mary’s Cafe is a cute, family-friendly café serving up Southern-influenced dishes.
Its roomy interior contains benches and tables in the back with a counter and a few smaller tables up front. By 9 am on a Saturday, the line-up was well underway.
What’s on the menu? Southern Bubble and Squeak – potato-southern greens cakes, two eggs any style, ‘pot likker’ gravy, biscuit and braised collard and mustard greens. Another popular item is the cafe’s grits waffle with fried chicken, part of the weekend brunch service (8 am to 3 pm).
The biscuits are tasty, but I was sad to discover the skillet cornbread on the dry side (I ordered the basic eggs with two sides).
I’d like to return to try the pumpkin pie pancakes topped with maple and cranberry compote! Get your fix at 4640 Telegraph Avenue. And while you’re out this way, don’t miss cute little shopping gem Temescal Alley off Telegraph Avenue and 49th (less than five minutes away on foot).
Pacific Coast Brewing Company
At Pacific Coast Brewing Company, the motto is “Drink, Eat, Repeat”. PCB’s been a historic Oakland fixture going on 28 years. Their flagship beer, Gray Whale Ale’s also been brewed as long. The restaurant houses a seven-barrel system downstairs and at the bar, there’s between six and 10 house taps going on a regular basis.
After a hearty lunch that started with an Edamame hummus plate and ended with a Thai to Die For Chicken Wrap, a seven-glass (5 oz. each) sampler was prepped and brought to my table.
The lightest of the bunch, Harvester’s Cuvee, is a hyper-carbonated pour that’s fermented with 100 lbs. of organic California black grapes, styled after a Belgian table beer.
Moby Dick White IPA is brewed in the witbier style. Gray Whale is the brewery’s flagship, an English-style California pale ale that goes down nicely. Mermaid’s Revenge is created in the traditional Belgian trippel style, smooth and well-balanced.
PCB’s Holiday Ale is actually a double IPA, double wet-hopped then dry-hopped to create a triple-hopped, double-malt beer sensation, strong yet approachable. Neptune’s Nemesis is a creamy, complex stout with dark chocolate undertones and a slight sourness. To round out the experience, Leviathan is a dark, decadent imperial stout that’s always on tap.
The beer menu continues with several more guest taps, from Elysian’s Avatar to Bear Republic’s Racer 5. You can’t go wrong with a great pint of craft beer and comfort food. Pacific Coast Brewing Company is located at 906 Washington Street.
Limewood Bar and Restaurant
Located inside the Claremont Club and Spa, Limewood is a stunning eatery. Wooden tables and leather banquettes are nicely spaced out around the room; a communal table allows a front-and-center view of the open kitchen with chefs in action. And if you’re lucky enough to get a window view, you’ll be treated to a dreamy view of the San Francisco Bay at night.
Well-stocked in the wine department, the restaurant carries numerous California and international reds, whites, varietals, roses and champagnes. House wine is available on tap. Local craft beer and about a dozen cocktails round out the libations menu.
I sipped at a light, fruity Splash Berries cocktail to start the evening, containing Tito’s vodka, raspberry, thyme, lime and Elderflower liquor.
The menu is divided into canapés (3 for $18; $7 each), appetizers and entrees. Hog Island oysters are available three ways: fried, on the half shell and roasted. A bowl of artfully presented sunchoke soup is decorated with bits of toasted Brussels sprouts leaves and bits of Cipollini onions.
Pasture-raised chicken roasted in Mendocino seaweed butter, potato gnocchi, baby turnips and greens proves the perfect winter dish, even though winter here equates to much balmier temperatures than Canada’s. It’s well paired with a glass of Edna Valley’s Sawyer Lindquist Pinot Noir.
This dish showcases chicken three ways: roasted, livered on a crostini and wrapped sushi-style in turnip greens. I hope this one stays on the menu for life. I close off the evening with a decadent dark chocolate bourbon mousse tart with dulce de leche and buttermilk ice cream.
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