Waffle Mania Jumps the Bay 

Plus, can Berkeley's Firehouse Art Collective become the heir to San Francisco's Underground Market?

Oakland's Temescal neighborhood could get its very own Liege-style waffle shop by the end of the year. Owner Peter Fikaris received the last batch of permits to finish his gut rehab of the long-vacant shotgun space at 4140 Telegraph Avenue, which he'll call Waffle Boss.

Don't know the Liege waffle? It's a street snack born in Belgium, buttery dough shot through with coarse sugar that half melts during baking, caramelizing along its outer surfaces. It's on the brink of achieving cult status west of the Bay Bridge, via SOMA cafe Star Stream, Bloem 'n Sugar in the Westfield San Francisco Centre mall, and the monthly Belgian waffle brunch at Bar Jules in Hayes Valley. With Waffle Boss, looks like Belgium is set to sprout in Oakland.

Fikaris currently works as a counter guy at Berkeley's Sweet Adeline Bakeshop while he does his shop's build-out. He's finished the recipe-testing phase, for which Sweet Adeline's Jennifer Millar helped. He'll make his own pearl sugar — the white, seedlike bits essential to true Liege-style waffles — embedded in a dough rich with butter, leavened with fresh (not dried) yeast, and cooked in a Belgian-made cast-iron machine.

Fikaris plans to offer flavored waffles (chocolate chip, blueberry), as well as adaptations like cinnamon-pecan waffle rolls, ice cream sandwiches, and shortcake-style fruit constructions with lemon curd and whipped cream, even cookies baked on the waffle iron. Also: savory interpretations, things like grilled cheese waffle sandwiches, plus a vegan waffle, though it'll contain regular (i.e., bone char-processed) sugar.

Nailing together the outlines of a menu has been the easy part. It's transforming the narrow, 1,000-square-foot space that's taken longer than Fikaris hoped it would.

Fikaris thinks the space was an Italian restaurant back in the Fifties. Far as he can tell, it may have been some sort of annex for the storefront next door — now the East Bay Church of Religious Science — when it was a lesbian bar in the 1970s. He gutted it of water-damaged lath-and-plaster walls, then — partly because he couldn't afford a Dumpster to heave it all into — sanded the strips of lath to use for the counter and partition wall. Fikaris scored other materials from Urban Ore. "It's eclectic," he said of the emerging design.

Besides Sweet Adeline, help and support have come from other local businesses, including Remedy and Bakesale Betty, where Fikaris once worked. That's partly why Fikaris is hoping he can do a sort of soft opening for the neighborhood sometime late this year. "I just want to make it feel like a good neighborhood bakery," Fikaris said. "Like an old Belgian waffle bakery."

Underground East

Berkeley's Firehouse Art Collective is trying to rally food vendors for an East Bay spinoff of San Francisco's Underground Market, which lurched to an abrupt halt in June, when public health authorities slapped organizer Iso Rabins with a cease-and-desist order.

As the 2011 Berkeley Juneteenth Festival unfolded down a five-block stretch of Adeline Street last month, Firehouse Art Collective directors Tom Franco and Julia Lazar premiered the bazaar, something they hope will be a weekly gathering of food, art, jewelry, and crafts vendors in a barnlike space at 3192 Adeline. On the last Sunday in June, 28 vendors (half of them hawking food) set up tables in the high-roofed former metal workshop: Frozen Kuhsterd, Boffo Cart, Oaktown Jerk, Morph, Berlyn's Eatery, A Humble Plate, and 23 Monkey Tree, Lazar and Franco's kombucha business.

Lazar and Franco also own the Firehouse North gallery in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto, and the Firehouse East studios on Harmon Street in South Berkeley.

Lazar described the bazaar as a reaction to the despair of the mostly unlicensed, home-based food vendors after the Underground Market's suspension — despair, and just maybe a whiff of opportunity. She and Franco reached out to the market's Google Group to find food sellers for the Berkeley bazaar, slated for Saturdays in July and both weekend days in August, noon to 6 p.m.

"We thought, we'll just use this space for now," Lazar said of the Collective's newly acquired venue on Adeline, "so members who are community-based have a place to bring their food to the community." That's a lot of community, though unfortunately, not much of it showed up for the bazaar's debut — Lazar thinks the Juneteenth festivities proved too much of a distraction. Meanwhile, as they sought to line up vendors for future markets, Lazar and Franco dropped the cost of a booth to $37.50.

As for the little problem of city and county permits, the issue that got the Underground Market in trouble? Lazar was vague. "I have to look at that again," she said. "We have a resale permit [for the bazaar], and each vendor has to have their own permit." But, she said, the Firehouse Art Collective is trying to find ways to help vendors get their permits, and it has access to a commercial kitchen in Emeryville that could serve as a commissary for bazaar vendors.

"That's our plan," Lazar said. "God willing and the creek don't rise."


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