"What didn't you like about that?" David Crombie asks. He's spotted my empty plate, the one that had a meatball sandwich and a demitasse cup of gingery carrot soup minutes before, and deploys a time-honored bit of server banter. Crombie's co-owner (with Megan Burke) of Local Cafe, which opened two weeks ago on Piedmont Avenue, same block as Adesso and the subject of my food review this week, B-Dama.
On a recent weekday at 12:45 p.m., the crowd here looks like bridge players in a Montclair tournament pausing for lunch: a lady in a cashmere turtleneck, a gentleman in a nicely pressed short-sleeve shirt, and more than one coiffures the work of a salon. Still, Local Cafe looks modern, handsome, with large-scale gray tiles on the back wall, warm woods, and Shinto-style counter stools.
The seating may make a gesture toward contemporary Japan, but Local's lunch menu is strictly Bay Area Cal-Med (until dinner starts in late September, it's strictly breakfast and lunch). Colin Etezadi, 28, who's worked at Camino, Pizzaiolo, and Boot & Shoe Service, is overseeing an opening menu that wouldn't feel out of scale at any of those places (that is, if they served sandwiches).
My meatball sandwich ($10) was pretty good — pale, tender, mildly porky, under an uncomplicated tomato sauce and a thick flurry of Parmesan shavings on top, in a toasted Acme torpedo roll. It came with a mini cup of carrot soup, which had a sort of elegantly gilt profile thanks to full-fisted seasoning with ginger and a surface pool of crème fraiche. Also, it wasn't too thick. Carrot soups almost always are. Really, there was nothing that I didn't like about that.
Back in May, What the Fork checked in with a preliminary report on The Local Butcher Shop, Aaron and Monica Rocchino's whole-beast meat shop that was, at that time, just starting its build-out in Berkeley. Open now, the Local is a lovely space that feels more Upper West Side than North Berkeley, all gleaming white tiles, soaring blackboards chalked handsomely, and a rambling case with squab, beef, chickens — all sorts of pristine-looking meats — overseen by butchers rocking neckties and crisp-looking aprons.
Local also does a sandwich of the day. The one I tried was chicken ($8) — chicken salad, actually, on an Acme Kaiser roll with greens and tomato, a rough dice of dark-meat flesh that seemed to be from the back, maybe the legs. It fit, philosophically, with Aaron Rocchino's approach, which is to focus on more than just beef filet and chicken breasts, but to find a customer (or a use) for damn near every part of a carcass.
Was it a revelatory chicken salad sandwich? Nah, but it was good enough, plus it gave me an excuse to eat something that was better: the Local's shop-made tallow chips ($2.25). They're skin-on potato chips, fried in a mixture of rendered beef fat and vegetable oil, thin, crisp, and un-greasy. They were good enough to schedule a stop in North Berkeley even on days I don't need pork chops.
Talking Street Food in Oakland
It was more than two years ago that the Oakland City Council asked a couple of municipal agencies to look at the city's 2001 mobile vending ordinance to recommend changes. And while there have been months of inquiries, commissions, studies, reports, and hearings, nothing has changed: except at special events like festivals and Art Murmur, mobile food vending is still illegal everywhere except along a narrow strip of real estate in East Oakland, mostly Fruitvale. Meanwhile, Oakland has watched as food trucks and other manifestations of street food have risen to rock-star status from Portland to New York City. And for many vendors whose businesses are based in Oakland, their only options for selling food legally are in San Francisco, Emeryville, and Berkeley.
Needless to say, proponents of legal street food in Oakland are a little, uh — frustrated.
Last week I sat in on a meeting of some players identified as the key stakeholders in mobile food vending here. The invite list included Karen Hester of Bites Off Broadway, Elizabeth August of the Oakland Mobile Food Group, Shelly Garza of Rising Sun Entrepreneurs, and Matt Cohen of Off the Grid, as well as reps from city agencies and some Business Improvement Districts, and a couple of actual food vendors.
Who left frustrated with the revisions currently on the table? Who was heartened? And will Oakland see legal organized food pods any time soon? Stay tuned — the answers might surprise you.