Day 2: Oakland and Berkeley
F@*# Wheaties. [ed - the F bomb has been censored to appease members of my family, who are not New Yorkers like me and don't appreciate its many uses as a verb, noun, or warm greeting]. Fried dough is the breakfast of champions. And take note: if you can't find a doughnut shop, ask a cop for directions. Cliche or not, he helped us find it. So what's a beignet? Famous in New Orleans, these square pillows of puffy yeasted dough are hollow, and therefore lighter than a doughnut. I grew up with the fried doughballs called zeppoles at Italian street fairs of New York. Zeppoles aren't hollow, and heavy in comparison. Zeppoles have enough mass to huck a hundred feet and nail someone good with hot grease and powdered sugar. Beignets are the southern gentleman of fried dough. Zeppoles are blue collar knuckleheads.When they're fresh out of the fryer, there's nothing better than a good beignet. Made me completely forget about the French dips we ate for breakfast the day before. Crisp on the outside, tender and toothy inside, and dusted with enough powdered sugar to look like breakfast for Scarface, the beignets at this shop are better than the ones at New Orleans' Cafe du Monde. Sure, Cafe du Monde has plenty going for it, like the street scene and the chickory coffee. But the beignets are better at Powderface, and no pesky hurricanes to spoil one's day.
Powderface Coffee House
3411 E. 12th St Suite 134
100 meters from the Fruitvale BART station)
Oakland, CA 510-536-3223
Cooking our beignets
Beignets on display
Over in Berkeley, Cafe Fanny also has beignets on display. Theirs look greasy, sad, and way past their prime, like a pop starlet whose 15 minutes have long since passed. So instead, we got sandwiches. I ordered the daily special: a morbier cheese panino grilled wtih heirloom tomatoes and arugula on thinly sliced pain de mie. Katy's sourdough baguette came with grilled eggplant and jack cheese with a schmear of roasted red peppers.
1603 San Pablo Ave
Any sandwich for me is all about the bread, and these babies were built on the bread baked next door at Acme Bread, one of the finest artisanal bakeries in the country. The rustic sour baguette had a thick, chewy crust with sharp "ears" formed where slashes had been cut into the crust. Thousands of tiny bubbles blistering the surface indicated the dough had risen slowly at cool temperatures, which improves the flavor of the dough. The inside had fully gelatinized into a moist, elastic, chewy crumb marked with lots of uneven holes; another mark of excellent dough technique.
1601 San Pablo Ave
One rack of several at Acme
We prearranged a tour at a small boutique chocolate company called Scharffenberger, housed in a 1906 brick building on the West side of town. Walking into the factory gift shop, we were assaulted with the smell of dark, dank chocolate, hanging thick in the air. If only they sold air freshener this strong. They started the tour with free tastings of four different chocolates and roasted cacao nibs while our guide gave a brief company history and an explanation of the machinery about to be shown to us. If you go, visit on a weekday while the machines are operating.
914 Heinz Ave
Where chocolate comes from
Puttering around the UC Berkeley campus and shopping on Shattuck Ave put us in range of the Gourmet Ghetto on the North side of town. The original plan entailed stopping at the Cheeseboard Collective for a slice of pizza to warm up, then going over to Cafe Rouge for dinner. We ended up ordering an entire pizza, and it became both dinner and the next day's breakfast. Cheeseboard has two storefronts. The cheese shop closed while were standing in line for pizza, so we missed seeing that, sadly. They bake a pizza du jour, and too bad if you want something else.
For me, pizza is all about its crust. I generally prefer a thin, crisp crusted NY style which will snap when folded in half. Cheeseboard is bready and thicker than that. I didn't travel to Berkeley expecting NY pizza, so I wasn't disappointed with Cheeseboard's. It's a very satisfying pizza made with great ingredients, available only there.
1512 Shattuck Ave
The food day ended at a supermarket called Berkeley Bowl. Here, wandering through the massive produce section, we came across at least a dozen varieties of grapes. We bought the large, black cultivar called Kyoho. Thick skinned, but sweet and so flavorful I think they must be artificially enhanced by flavor chemists in New Jersey. It tastes like the grape flavor in Asian juices and candies. My new favorite grape.
In the tropical fruit section, they have a citron called Buddha's Hand, which looks like a demon fruit. Don't know what to do with something like this, but it sure looks cool.
Berkeley BowlFruit from hellTalk to the hand
2020 Oregon St