Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Vegan Mob Is an Overnight Hit in the Former Kwik-Way Building

Oakland's new vegan barbecue and soul food joint sold out on its first day in business.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Oct 15, 2019 at 6:13 PM

Last week, Oakland got a new destination for vegan barbecue and soul food — and it's proven to be an instant hit.

Vegan Mob opened for business in the former Kwik-Way building at 500 Lake Park Ave. on Oct.5. On its first day in business, the brand new restaurant fulfilled over 900 orders, selling out entirely.

Part of Vegan Mob's immediate popularity might be due to its friendly and charismatic owner and chef, Toriano Gordon. Born and raised in the Fillmore, Gordon started cooking at the age of 5 and grew up in a family of San Francisco restaurateurs.

But he's also equal parts chef and rapper. "I don't know what came first — rapping or cooking," he said. Prior to opening Vegan Mob, Gordon was in graduate school studying psychotherapy with a focus on hip-hop therapy. But some self-reflection led Gordon to leave graduate school and pursue a career in the restaurant industry instead.

"I was doing some soul searching, because in psychotherapy programs, they make you think and check in a lot," Gordon said. "I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to do that anymore. I wanted to do barbecue because my uncle, who passed away, always said ... San Francisco doesn't have real barbecue. He's from Houston. And so I said, you know what, I want to do some barbecue. But then I realized, I don't eat meat!" Gordon laughed.

That's how the concept for Vegan Mob was born. Gordon opened his first pop-up in April. Gordon himself is vegan for health reasons, and at Vegan Mob, he wants to promote healthy eating in his community and beyond.

"We grew up eating things that killed us," Gordon said. "I could bring the ... food [that] my people and other people are used to eating and just make it healthier, make it easier to transition to a better life."

Vegan Mob's most popular menu items include vegan gumbo made with vegan shrimp and sausage; combination plates with vegan brisket, ribs, or fried shrimp plus sides including vegan "smackaroni and cheese," collard greens, and slaw; and a fried shrimp po-boy. The menu also features a number of "fusion" items like the barbequito — a burrito stuffed with vegan brisket and smackaroni — and fried spring rolls stuffed with Impossible burger meat and vegan cheese.

Eventually, Gordon hopes that Vegan Mob will grow into an international chain, where he can spread not only his love for hip-hop and plant-based diets, but also a message of positivity and hope. Gordon has struggled with addiction in the past, and though he's no longer planning to pursue a career as a therapist, he still wants to help young people.

"I'm not just serving food, but I'm serving Oakland," Gordon said. "I want people to know that they can do this. I was an Uber driver six months ago, and I was not rich ... and I believed in myself and had faith — and guess what happened?"

"I want to not only spread around Vegan Mob, but the energy of Vegan Mob." 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Chef Tu David Phu’s New Pop-Up, BanhMi-Ni, Softly Opens in Oakland

At the lunchtime-only pop-up at Copper Spoon, the Oakland chef is breaking all the rules and putting his own spin on banh mi.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 4:00 AM

In case you weren't familiar, Vietnamese-American, Oakland-raised chef Tu David Phu is one of Oakland's culinary stars. His culinary career started out fairly traditional, attending culinary schools and working in renowned fine dining restaurants. Eventually, he left that world to start his own series of moderately-priced pop-up dinners called An, where he turned his focus toward Vietnamese tasting menus. From there, Phu began to gain all kinds of recognition and accolades, including being named one of the San Francisco Chronicle's Rising Star Chefs of 2017 and competing on Top Chef Season 15.

But as he reflected upon An, Phu realized he wanted to focus on offering food at a more affordable price. "I started doing more stuff in the nonprofit space, especially with inner city youth and incarcerated folks," he said. "Me being a native of Oakland, I wanted to do stuff where Oakland natives and Oakland folks can enjoy the food."

Last Thursday, Phu softly opened BanhMi-Ni, a weekday lunch-only banh mi pop-up at Copper Spoon. At BanhMi-Ni, Phu offers a creative menu of Vietnamese sandwiches with options like shoyu-poached chashu pork, pastrami, ginger-scallion turkey, and hoisin chicken. All come with housemade chicken paté and shredded carrot and daikon — the ingredients that Phu said are essential to a banh mi. For vegetarians, there's also a paté-less sandwich made with Beyond Meat and ginger-scallion sauce. The sandwiches clock in at $9.95 and come with a side of spicy cucumber slaw or banana blossom and cabbage salad. Housemade drinks like lemongrass, ginger, and mint-infused lemonade and Vietnamese cold brew are also available, plus desserts like banana bread pudding and coconut sticky rice.

Asked why he decided to focus on banh mi, Phu replied, "I'm a really big fan of street food. I really enjoy eating with my hands more than eating on a plate and silverware." Plus, Phu said, he identifies with banh mi on a personal level.

"I'm a third-culture baby — I'm a byproduct of being of two different worlds. Banh mi is definitely a reflection of me," he said. "Banh mi, like myself, is a third-culture product as well, too. You have the French and the Vietnamese, and that comes together and you get banh mi. Without either, you wouldn't have banh mi. I can fold other 'nontraditional, non-authentic' things into that."

One of the biggest departures Phu makes from so-called "traditional" banh mi is with the bread. Rather than using light, crusty banh mi bread, Phu uses a hero roll, which is similar to the bread you'd find on a Mexican torta. "I love banh mi, but I hate all the crumbs that it creates when you eat a banh mi. It kind of gets everywhere," he said.

The bread then gets pressed like a panini, and the sandwich is served warm. That's the origin of BanhMi-Ni's name, which is a portmanteau of banh mi and panini. Yes, it's a nonconventional banh mi — and that's exactly what Phu is aiming for.

"In this sandwich concept, I wanna throw [out] all the rules and just have a good time — as long as the cultural identity of banh mi is still there," Phu said.

BanhMi-Ni is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. (or sold out) at Copper Spoon at 4031 Broadway in Oakland. For more information, visit EatBanhMiNi.com.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Emeryville Public Market Welcomes Mama Lamees and Baby Café

The Palestinian and Hong Kong-style eateries opened this week.

by Katherine Hamilton
Wed, Oct 2, 2019 at 4:00 AM

In the last two weeks, the Emeryville Public Market welcomed two new eateries: Mama Lamees and Baby Café.

Mama Lamees, a Palestinian restaurant and caterer, is headed by Lamees Dahbour. Dahbour is an immigrant of Palestinian descent, a single mother of three, and a domestic violence survivor who worked for the United Nations helping refugees before entering the food business as a participant in La Cocina in 2015. Prior to opening at the Public Market, Dahbour ran a catering business and also popped up at events like Off the Grid. The Emeryville kiosk is her first brick-and-mortar restaurant.

As the Express reported back in May, Dahbour is especially passionate about serving Palestinian dishes not often found in Bay Area restaurants. Some of her signature appetizers include musakhan (baked pita bread topped with caramelized onions, roasted almonds, and sumac) and ejja (fritters made out of cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and onions). The menu also includes other appetizers like hummus, ful modamas (fava bean purée), and musakhan (also known as baba ghanoush) with pita. Entrée options include kebab platters and wraps stuffed with either falafel or chicken shawarma. There's also a rotating cast of weekly specials, plus desserts like knafeh, baklava, and qatayef biljouzz (sweet dumplings with walnuts in sugar syrup).

"I'm so happy to have such an opportunity in this community food hall," Dahbour said in a press release. "There are so many yummy Palestinian foods that are not available elsewhere in the Bay Area. Now, you can visit Mama Lamees in Emeryville and get your fill."

Baby Café, meanwhile, is a Hong Kong-style café. The Emeryville expansion is its sixth outpost, with other locations in Alameda, Oakland, Union City, Newark, and Hayward. The menu at the Emeryville location is much more scaled-down than the restaurant's other locations. Drinks are one of the biggest draws here — it's the only kiosk in the Public Market currently offering boba. You'll also find plenty of snacks to accompany your boba, like popcorn chicken and fried calamari. For entrées, choose from comfort food favorites like Hainan chicken rice, beef stew, black pepper beef, spaghetti with meat sauce and a fried egg, and curry fish fillet over spaghetti or rice.

The Emeryville Public Market is at 5959 Shellmound Street. To learn more about each restaurant, visit MamaLamees.com and BabyCafeRestaurants.com.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Malaya Tea Room Offers a New Getaway for Tea in Alameda

Serving both British and Malaya tea sets, it's a tribute to owner Leena Lim's childhood growing up in Malaysia.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Sep 24, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Think teatime is a thing of the past? Think again. At Malaya Tea Room, teatime is a tasteful, curated throwback to 1920s Malaya — but the experience feels modern, fresh, and relaxing.

Malaya Tea Room opened just over two weeks ago at 920 Central Ave. in Alameda. It's the product of four years of effort from owner Leena Lim, an Alameda resident who grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Lim has fond memories of her mother taking her out for high tea at the Shangri-La in Malaysia — but she also cherishes the more casual teatimes that she shared with her family at home. Teatime in Malaysia can be elegant or informal, Lim said, but without fail, 3:30 p.m. always means it's time for tea.

At Malaya Tea Room, Lim serves sandwiches, snacks, and teas that draw from British and Southeast Asian cultures. Lim said the menu is true to what you'd find at a tearoom in Malaysia. The British introduced the concept of afternoon tea to what was then known as Malaya — but even after Malaya became independent and was renamed Malaysia, the concept of afternoon tea stuck.

Accordingly, you'll find a British tea menu with a choice of two classic teatime sandwiches like smoked salmon and chive, cucumber, ham and brie, and chicken-apple salad. Salad, scones with clotted cream and lemon curd, and an assortment of sweet treats accompany the sandwiches.

Lim invited me to visit Malaya Tea Room to try the Malaya tea menu, which comes with a choice of two sandwiches including curry chicken, pork jerky, kaya (coconut jam) with butter, sardine with tomato sauce and cucumbers, and capelin roe and butter. I tried the curry chicken, which was a Southeast Asian-style curry flavored with curry leaves, lime leaves, and shredded coconut for a fragrant flavor with a touch of sweetness. I also went for the sardine with tomato sauce, which delivered an umami punch. Sweet treats included a light, chewy pandan macaron from local baker Macarons by Natalie, plus a mini fruit tart and pineapple tart baked in-house.

Those who can't decide between the British and Malaya tea sets can order a British-Malaya tea, which comes with three sandwiches; for those looking for a lighter snack, the afternoon tea includes one sandwich.

What's the tea, you might ask? Malaya Tea Room offers 18 varieties of brewed tea, ranging from the signature Golden Monkey (a straightforward, strong black tea), plus more unusual options like Earl Grey with vanilla cream and black tea with grapefruit and cocoa nibs. Herbal tea options include blue butterfly pea flower tea, while green tea options include flowering jasmine tea. But the most unusual — and my personal favorite — is the Malaysian-style pull tea, a street vendor drink made by "pulling" milk tea between two cups to create a frothy tea. Lim serves a basic pull tea option along with one made with fresh ginger, which was creamy, spicy, and subtly sweet.

The atmosphere is another part of what makes Malaya Tea Room special. Malaysian and American pop classics play softly over the speakers. Lim gradually culled decorations for the space over the course of two years from local antique shops, including Pauline's Antiques. Think palm fronds, wooden furniture, golden pineapples, and jaguar sculptures, plus personal touches like a photo of Lim's parents on a (chaperoned) date — after which they, of course, went out for tea.

Malaya Tea Room is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with two-hour seatings starting at 11 a.m., 1:15 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Prices range from $15 for a kids' tea set to $57 for a British-Malaya tea set. Reservations are strongly recommended, and are required on weekends. To learn more, visit MalayaTeaRoom.com.

Editor's note: The online version of this article has been updated to reflect Malaya Tea Room's new seating times.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Eat Real Festival Returns to Jack London Square for 11th Year

The event is all about celebrating good food that's local, sustainable, and organic.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Sep 17, 2019 at 3:15 PM

This weekend, the 11th annual Eat Real Festival is coming back to Jack London Square. Part food festival, part street fair, and part block party, the free-entry festival features affordably priced food from local vendors, free cooking demos, private ticketed culinary experiences, live music and DJs, and activities for kids. There'll also be over 30 craft beers, plus local wines, cocktails, and nonalcoholic beverages. The festival takes place Saturday, Sept. 21, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 22, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Each food vendor is committed to using a minimum of one to two local, sustainable, or organic ingredients. There'll be over 50 vendors in attendance. A few highlights include Aburaya (Oakland's own Japanese fried chicken), Get Low Dumplings (making creative California-inspired dumplings), Good to Eat Dumplings (Taiwanese-style dumplings), Jollof Kitchen (serving West African cuisine), Kolobok Russian Soul Food (one of the only Russian eateries in the East Bay), Koolfi Creamery (recently profiled in our Queer & Trans Issue for its Indian-inspired ice cream), Old Damascus Fare (specializing in Syrian food), Smokin' Woods (known for its giant beef ribs), and Tacos y Chelas (street tacos on handmade tortillas with house pickles and salsas).

Each day features a different lineup of music and cooking demos. Saturday's bill includes DJ sets from Push the Feelings, VAMP, and B-Side Brujas. Demos include Azalina Eusope of Mahila and Azalina's (two Malaysian eateries in San Francisco) at 1 p.m., Meg Ray of Miette Cakes at 1:30 p.m., Angelo D'Alo of Berkeley's Agrodolce at 2 p.m., a dumpling demo at 2:30 p.m. from Henry Hsu of Oramasama, and a demo at 3 p.m. from Preeti Mistry of Juhu Beach Club.

Sunday's lineup includes music from Push the Feelings, VAMP, and The Fishwives. Meanwhile, there'll be demos from Nite Yun of Nyum Bai at noon, Gerard's Paella at 1:30 p.m., and Los Cilantros at 3 p.m.

For those looking for a private, hands-on culinary experience, Eat Real is also offering a series of ticketed workshops. Options include a fall and winter edible gardening workshop with Ploughshares Nursery, cheese-making workshops with FARMcurious, quick pickling and canning with Happy Girl Kitchen, pickles and krauts with Preserved, and a seafood butchery class with Kirk Lombard the Sea Forager. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.

The mission of Eat Real Festival is "to help revitalize regional food systems, build public awareness and respect for the craft of making good food and encourage the growth of American food entrepreneurs." A portion of the proceeds from this year's event support Baykeeper, a nonprofit dedicated to stopping pollution in the Bay. For more information and a full list of vendors, visit EatRealFest.com.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Popoca, a New Salvadoran Pop-Up, Combines Traditional and Modern Cooking Techniques

It's the newest venture from chef Anthony Salguero, formerly of Bardo Lounge and Supper Club and Michel.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Sep 10, 2019 at 4:53 PM

There's a new pop-up in town when it comes to pupusas, yuca, and other Salvadoran fare you might not encounter anywhere else.

Meet Popoca, a thrice-weekly pop-up that started in Oakland in August. It's the brainchild of chef Anthony Salguero, a Bay Area-raised chef and Oakland resident who has years of fine dining experience at restaurants including Plumed Horse in Saratoga, Saison and Commonwealth in San Francisco, and Quattro in Palo Alto. In Oakland, he was the executive chef at Michel and co-chef at Bardo Lounge & Supper Club.

Salguero left Bardo to open Popoca, which he'd been dreaming about "forever." Salguero is Salvadoran and Puerto Rican and he grew up eating Salvadoran comfort food that his father made. But each time he visited El Salvador, his love and appreciation for the food grew deeper.

"There's so much depth to it that I think people don't know about," Salguero said. "It's not a cuisine that's out on the forefront. And I just want to show some other sides of Salvadoran food that people haven't really seen before."

In El Salvador, Salguero's favorite pupuseria cooked its pupusas over a wood fire, or comal. It's a practice that's becoming less common, almost forgotten in El Salvador. But Salguero believes it lends an extra layer of flavor to the pupusas. "The comal just sucks up that flavored smoke after a while," he said. Popoca means "emit smoke" in Nawat, the indigenous language spoken in El Salvador and parts of Mexico. It can refer to the smoke emitted when cooking over a wood fire, but it can also refer to the smoke emitted when lighting a fire as an offering. Since Popoca cooks most of its food over a wood fire — while also paying homage to Salvadoran food traditions — Salguero decided it was the perfect name for his pop-up.

Most of the pupuserias he encountered also ground their own hominy with a molino, or mill, and made their own masa. At Popoca, Salguero uses freshly ground corn for his corn-based pupusas, which gives them a toasty flavor and crunchy texture. He also makes them over a wood fire, which provides subtle smokiness. Other pupusas, like the shrimp and black bean pupusa, are made with rice flour.

While Salguero has a lot of reverence for traditional cooking techniques, he also incorporates "progressive" cooking techniques from his fine dining background. One of the most emblematic dishes is the SV Enchilada, a Salvadoran-style enchilada that's more like a tostada than the Mexican enchiladas most diners might be familiar with. Traditionally, it's topped with black beans, hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, and tomatoes. Salguero's version is topped with avocado, house-cured crispy anchovies, and egg yolks that are cured for seven days, then smoked and grated over the top of the enchilada.

Popoca currently has pop-ups three days a week: Classic Cars West on Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., The Double Standard on Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Ale Industries on Fridays from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eventually, Salguero hopes to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Fruitvale district.

Meanwhile, Popoca also has a bigger purpose: showcasing the beauty of El Salvador.

"I really love El Salvador, and it doesn't always get the best rep despite it being an amazing place with amazing people," Salguero said. "I'm just trying to bring a little of what I love about it here."

To learn more, follow Popoca on Instagram @popoca.oakland or visit PopocaOakland.com.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Wrecking Ball Coffee Expands to the East Bay

It's the second location of what co-owner Nick Cho hopes will be many more.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Sep 3, 2019 at 3:01 PM

Wrecking Ball Coffee might not be as big of a household name as Philz Coffee among Bay Area coffee drinkers. But those who are serious about coffee — especially industry professionals — recognize Wrecking Ball Coffee as one of the biggest names in the industry. The San Francisco coffee roaster opened its first East Bay outpost on Friday, Aug. 23, at 1600 Shattuck Ave. in North Berkeley, at the site of what used to be a Philz Coffee.

The downstairs level of the two-story cafe is full of light. Upstairs, there's a long communal table for studying, a couple of small tables, some armchairs, a couch, and a small outdoor area that'll be turned into a kids' play area. But the most striking feature is the mural by Korean artist Christian Chanyang Shim. The subject is the artist's friend, Maeva Deroche, a black woman of French-Caribbean origin who used to live in Seoul and is depicted dressed in traditional Korean clothing.

According to Nick Cho, who owns Wrecking Ball Coffee with his wife, Trish Rothgeb, the new Berkeley cafe is just the first step in Wrecking Ball's ambitious expansion plan. "Our plan is for later this year to do the Silicon Valley thing and raise a seed round of funding and try to open a bunch of cafes between the Bay Area and the Los Angeles, Southern California areas," Cho said.

But for now, Cho is focused on making his Berkeley cafe more than just a coffee shop. "We see an opportunity to take the neighborhood community cafe idea and let it be a vehicle for the sort of social change that we want to see in America, especially in American cities," Cho said.

"TV and movies have become more diverse and inclusive than ever before," he added. "[But] it's still the realm of fantasy. ... For us it's like could sort of a neighborhood community cafe setting be a good way ... to make that fantasy a reality?"

To that end, Cho said he's hired a diverse staff of baristas, managers, and trainers. He's also created a menu that he hopes will appeal to a broad audience beyond coffee drinkers. Unlike many coffee shops that'll pour customers a premade, packaged lemonade, Wrecking Ball's Berkeley location will offer a full, customizable menu of lemonades. There'll also be a bigger selection of hot chocolates.

As for the coffee, Cho said he plans to offer a more accessibly priced house blend as well as a single-origin variety every day. Light and medium roasts are available — no dark roast. Don't try to order a cold brew, though: Cho likens it to "old, expired sort of coffee," and instead uses a flash brewing method for the cafe's iced coffee.

Cho wants to try something a little different when it comes to food. When looking for a bakery that could supply pastries early in the morning, seven days a week, he found himself limited to the same two or three bakeries that supply dozens of other coffee shops in the area. So instead, he'll feature pastries from up-and-coming vendors who will each supply their wares to the cafe a couple times a week. Pop-ups are also a possibility. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Town Popup Moves Into the Former Temple Club

The new space will provide both short and long-term opportunities for local restaurateurs to showcase their creativity and culinary know-how.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Aug 27, 2019 at 4:06 PM

As any aspiring restaurateur knows, starting a brick-and-mortar restaurant can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. It's also a huge financial risk — especially if you're taking on an unusual concept.

That's why places like Town Popup, which opened a month ago, can be a boon for new food entrepreneurs. Town Popup opened at the site of the former Temple Club (2307 International Blvd., Oakland), the Vietnamese restaurant from chef Geoffrey Deetz. The space has room for five long-term pop-up "residencies" lasting two years each, and it'll also offer weekend-long pop-up opportunities.

The folks behind Town Popup are business partners William Bonhorst and Silvano Hernandez, who also own Cinco TacoBar, a fast-casual Mexican restaurant with locations in San Leandro and Livermore. But Hernandez is from Oakland, and wanted to "come back eventually and do something unique in Oakland — and also bring the community together," Bonhorst said. Bonhorst said the space will showcase exclusively local food entrepreneurs, and he's looking for vendors who can bring something creative to Town Popup.

"The end goal is to have multiple brands and allow people to come in and try different concepts," Bonhorst said. "And [to] help out the local community by giving a little bit of a storefront to their dreams in the culinary space."

Town PopUp is home to one resident pop-up, Man vs. Fries. Bonhorst and his fiancée, Ghazal Sharif, started Man vs. Fries about a year ago as a pop-up out of Cinco TacoBar's Livermore location. Bonhorst describes the pop-up as "a French-fry lover's dream." Start with the fries of your choice — including curly fries or waffle fries — then add your choice of meat and toppings. Customers can even get fries inside a burrito or quesadilla. Desserts are reminiscent of the sweets you'd find at a county fair: fried cheesecake, fried cookie dough, and the "OMG Oreo," a deep-fried Oreo.

Upcoming resident vendors will include Mac & Mischief, serving creative mac 'n' cheese, and StrEat Dog, which riffs on the concept of the Mexican hot dog. Additional resident vendors will be announced soon. Town Popup is also currently looking for vendors for its weekend-long pop-ups; interested food entrepreneurs can apply on Town Popup's website.

To learn more, visit Town Popup's website at TownPopUp.com or follow Town Popup on Instagram at @townpopup.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Chop Bar Moves Into New Digs

Donut Farm takes the old spot for vegan doughnuts and more.

by Jade Yamazaki Stewart
Tue, Aug 20, 2019 at 1:45 PM

The restaurant’s new location is much larger than its original home. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CHOP BAR
  • Photo courtesy of the Chop Bar
  • The restaurant’s new location is much larger than its original home.

Chop Bar, the decade-old Jack London Warehouse District comfort food staple, moved from 247 Fourth St. across the street to 190 Fourth St. on Aug. 9. The new restaurant has a bigger kitchen, allowing owner Chris Pastena and Executive Chef Lev Delaney to serve more food options. The restaurant's role as a welcoming neighborhood hangout will remain unchanged.

Pastena said that the small kitchen in the former space forced creativity. For example, he wanted to serve an oxtail dish but didn't have space for long lengths of tail.

"So we shredded the tails and put them on top of French fries," Pastena said. "That's how our signature oxtail poutine was born."

The old kitchen had limitations, including the fryer, a cast iron pot now displayed on a wooden shelf on the wall of the new restaurant, that could only do so much. With his new deep fryers, Pastena can now serve sides of fries and cook bigger steaks more often. At the old restaurant, fries were limited to poutine, and steak was reserved for Monday nights.

Pastena, who's lived in the neighborhood for almost 15 years, opened Chop Bar as a place where he and his neighbors could hang out.

"When I'd be in the elevator in my building, I'd try to start conversation." Pastena said. "That made people really uncomfortable." Now people recognize him from Chop Bar and start talking to him in the elevator.

Brenda Mercado and Frank Hernandez have beem regulars at Chop Bar for a decade since its opening. They sat at the new bar bantering with the staff and trying a new beer on tap, the Federation Brewing Atrás, a blonde beer mixed with pineapple tepache, a Mexican fermented beverage.

"The people who work here make coming to this restaurant so special," Mercado said.

And Chop Bar still serves a damn-good burger.

No burgers will be cooked at the restaurant's old location for the foreseeable future, however. There, grilled meats have been replaced by salads, tofu scrambles, and delicious vegan doughnuts.

It's home to the newest location of Donut Farm, which owner Josh Levine proudly said were the first vegan doughnuts in the Bay Area. He opened the new spot because he was outgrowing his North Oakland joint at 6037 San Pablo Ave., where he was frying doughnuts and serving vegan breakfasts. Like Pastena, Levine is taking advantage of his new space, now home to Eternal, his new restaurant that serves salads and vegan milkshakes that weren't available at the old Donut Farm space, and the new Donut Farm. Both opened Aug. 17. Dinner and a full bar are in the works for Eternal.

"We're going to have a similar dinner offering to what you'd get at Chop Bar," Levine said. "But it's going to be vegan."

Levine is happy to be working in the Jack London area, where there's more foot traffic than at his previous location. "Business is going to be way better here," he said.

Levine left town the day before the opening and was already enjoying his 15th year at Burning Man when his new restaurant opened, confident that it would all go smoothly. He left manager Kris Lee, a longtime friend, employee, and motorcycle-riding buddy, in charge.

Lee and Levine won't change much of the décor from the old Chop Bar. But they will add a personal touch: Levine's vintage 1962 Harley Panhead and a 1951 BSA will be placed in the dining room so that you can eat vegan doughnuts in style.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Crave BBQ Opens in Richmond

The barbecue brick-and-mortar restaurant from chef and recent 'Chopped' winner Rashad Armstead opened Thursday in the Shops at Hilltop.

by Katherine Hamilton
Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 3:43 PM

Rashad Armstead uses family recipes. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CRAVE BBQ
  • Photo courtesy of Crave BBQ
  • Rashad Armstead uses family recipes.

Barbecue lovers, take note: There's a new spot in Richmond to satisfy your barbecue cravings. Aptly named Crave BBQ, the nearly 5,000-square-foot restaurant opened last Thursday at 1207 Hilltop Mall Road.

Crave BBQ is the newest brick-and-mortar restaurant from chef Rashad Armstead. During the past few years, the Bay Area chef has made a name for himself starting with a catering company called Artistic Taste 7. In 2017, he started a Crave BBQ pop-up that took place at a former gas station in West Oakland. Crave BBQ was originally supposed to take up permanent residence at the historic California Hotel on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, but the financial costs to build out the space just weren't feasible. Undeterred, Armstead opened Grammie's Down Home Chicken & Seafood in May at 3817 Market St. in North Oakland, and the small takeout spot has already soared in popularity. And just a couple of weeks ago, Armstead gained nationwide attention after winning an episode of Chopped.

After the restaurant's first lunch service on Thursday, Armstead said the community has already come out to support the new restaurant.

"We got a lot of people who showed up who work at the mall and in the neighborhood," Armstead said. "They've been loving it."

Armstead describes his barbecue as "Southern style" — it draws from his family's roots in Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. He learned to barbecue from his father and great-uncle and uses a mixture of a spicy-sweet dry rub and a vinegar-based wet marinade on his meats. They're then slowly smoked over a wood fire: chicken for two to three hours, ribs for seven, and brisket for up to 17.

His side dishes are also based on family recipes. His potato salad is a variation on his great-grandmother Sarah Rawls' recipe. Rawls was a well-known Oakland restaurateur who also wrote four cookbooks and starred in her own cooking show; she's also the namesake of Grammie's Down Home Chicken & Seafood. According to Armstead, even Congresswoman Barbara Lee gave his potato salad — made with red potatoes, mustard, and sweet relish for a sweet-savory balance — a Texan stamp of approval. "She's like, 'Wow, this tastes just like I used to have back in Texas," Armstead said.

The opening day menu was short and sweet, limited to ribs, chicken, and hot links, plus baked beans and potato salad. Armstead plans to add brisket, collard greens, mac and cheese, and blue cornbread to the menu. For dessert, there'll be grilled peach cobbler, and to drink, there'll be berry lemonade and sweet tea. A beer and wine license is in the works. Armstead also likes to keep things interesting, so keep an eye out for more unusual items that'll be added to the menu in the future, like a hot link corn dog made with blue corn.

"I'm not afraid to take those same traditional flavors that we're used to, but just throw different things in there to kind of throw everybody off," he said.

But Crave BBQ is about more than just good food. At both of his restaurants, Armstead plans to employ young people so he can teach them the skills and work ethic required to work in a restaurant. At Crave, he hopes to partner with Making Waves Academy, a local charter school, and Beyond Emancipation, an Oakland organization that supports young people emancipating from foster care.

Armstead also wants to transform Crave BBQ into a go-to place for events in the area. Starting in September, the restaurant will regularly host blues and jazz bands, as well as comedy nights and open mics.

"We're gonna make it into something great, because that area needs it right now," Armstead said.

Crave BBQ, at 1207 Hilltop Mall Road, is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. To learn more, visit ICraveBBQ.com or follow crave_bbq on Instagram.

Photo courtesy Crave BBQ

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