Oakland is a place of constant transformation. The landscape has been evolving into something different, something current, something well, happening, for quite some time now. Late night clubs, fabulous dining options, and delectable food truck offerings are appearing all over … Continue reading
SUMMER MEMORIES: of Rivers and water-skiing…
When I was a kid, I spent every Wednesday of every summer on the river. My father was an accomplished water skier, and a skilled navigator. I would watch him cover the dining room table of my grandfather’s home with maritime charts, tirelessly mapping out new routes to explore on another of our weekly adventures. He knew where every island and inlet was along the 1,100 or so square miles of the Sacramento River Delta.
Dad kept his boat moored at Frank’s Tract. As soon as we arrived at the slip, my sister and I would race each other to the boat and pace back and forth along the narrow wooden dock to wait for the men to remove the tarp. The moment the familiar yellow of the boat beneath was revealed, we would clamber aboard and be off. My father’s boat was a Donzi, a newer, smaller, more compact and most importantly, even faster version of his last boat, the Cigarette. That craft had been lost to a late evening mishap that had damaged the hull and stranded my father and a group of friends overnight on an island in the Delta, an adventure that my 10-year-old self imagined straight out of Robinson Crusoe.
The Donzi fairly flew, skimming along the surface of the water like a giant hummingbird. The wind would whip our hair against our faces, as we struggled to catch our breath, but we
never slowed, not until we reached a spot far out from the other boats, isolated and removed, where the waters were glassy and still. Perfect for water-skiing. Dad would slow to a stop and kill the engine. Jumping overboard, he’d gesture to his friend Carl for a ski. Moments later he was flying along behind us, riding in and out of the wake of the boat, the sunlight hitting the sheets of water that rose from the edge of his skis in giant plumes of white foam. My father was a magnificent looking man. Handsome and slim, his caramel-colored skin damp and glistening. Cradled in that halo of light and water, he appeared to me like a god possessed of magical powers, spinning and cavorting in the wake of the boat, his acrobatics mesmerizing as he moved on the water with the ease of an athlete.
After a morning of water-skiing, we would always find one of our favorite spots to eat. Moore’s Riverboat, with its toasted bread and butter-drenched abalone sandwiches, was a particular favorite. I will never forget those carefree days, nor the peaceful meals we shared together as we watched the water from our tables along the windows. Everything tastes better when one can smell the water while taking a bite. Magic.
THE RESTAURANT: Dining on the water…
These were the thoughts that filled my mind when I recently visited Brotzeit Lokal, a relatively newish addition to the Oakland dining scene that is nestled neatly beside the docks on the Oakland side of the Estuary, near the site of the new Brooklyn Basin. The views of the water are spectacular, and with my inbred love of aquatic-themed dining adventures, I found it reminiscent of my days on the Delta. The briny air, the cool breeze off the water, all these things whet my appetite for a cold beer and something fried and yummy.
Brotzeit Lokal did not disappoint. Most Fridays my office often holds an out-of-office lunch meeting to go over our week’s progress while breaking bread and loosening up a bit after a week of the regular grind. This place is tucked away nicely, and a bit hard to find, so keep an eye out for the cloth banner at the front of the Homewood Suites, so you don’t miss your turn into the driveway.
There are plenty of communal tables outside on a spacious patio, a few in the bar, and another set of tables in a lovely little enclave between the outdoor seating and the barroom. These are protected by the wind, but the windows open to allow the sea breeze to brush against your face, so we decided that enclave was the best of both worlds. Same view and no breeze to whip those paper napkins about.
We tried a number of Brotzeit’s German-themed dishes, among them Mussels in Beer Broth, Sausages of several varieties, and my favorite, a fantastic rendition of a German potato salad. Traditionally served hot, this dish was chilled, but on a steamy summer day one could easily forgive the decision to leave it chilled & refreshing. German potato salad, when done correctly, is nothing like the heavily-mayonnaised versions found in most American picnic baskets. The German version is lighter, more acidic and to my taste, infinitely more delicious. The lovely small red potatoes used at Brotzeit are also my personal favorite, their unique and buttery natural flavor lending a balance to the dish that we all found irresistible.
Brotzeit Lokal is a solid little pub, with a respectably varied menu. It’s a great place to gather on the waterfront to watch sporting events, or collect your thoughts and refuel after a day on the water. I will be back to enjoy a beer and a Bratwurst, and almost certainly remember once again my own days spent skimming the wet fantastic. There’s nothing quite like it. If you haven’t been lucky enough yourself to spend time aboard a vessel, head over to Brotzeit, grab a beer and watch the boats go by. Pleasant indeed. Check it out, make a memory of your own.
Oakland, CA 94606
I grew up in Oakland. I’ve seen a myriad of change, some good, some not. The streets of my childhood were constantly changing, adapting. To progress, to the passage of time, and even, on occasion, to the forces of nature beneath the earth’s crust. I mark many of these changes with the establishments that offered the foods I’ve loved and lost. The incomparable Lakeshore Deli, where I would accompany my grandfather for snacks of sliced prosciutto and fresh-baked foccacia. Grand Avenue was home to Mitch and Jim’s, a steak joint awash in red leather upholstery and dark-paneled interior. It was classically Mad Men, the atmosphere so thick with the testosterone of the sixties that it wrapped around you like the ribbons of smoke that curled dreamily from my Grandfather’s cigars at the end of a meal. Mitch’s served this fantastic salad of beefsteak tomatoes, purple onions and anchovies. I savor it still in my memory. As time passed, new places replaced the old. The Pewter House, the old Victoria Station on the Estuary. Each held some special dish that I would return to experience again and again. All are long gone.
If Oakland wasn’t currently alive with new culinary adventures, I might have time or inclination to mourn them. But I don’t. In my hometown these days, the options for dining are myriad and delightful.
These “ghosts of restaurants past” have made way for a new kind of progress. Penrose, the embodiment of the modern restaurant, is located on Grand Avenue. It is next door to The Alley, one of the last icons of Oakland’s vaguely dusty past. Unlike its antiquated neighbor, the decor at Penrose is open and airy, the delicately vaulted ceilings suggesting more the interior of a Tahoe ski lodge, than the occluded and secretive trysting dens of the fifties that lingered well into the disco era. The only smoke in the air at Penrose is the delicate scent of wood burning slowly, in the cavernous ovens in which they prepare, well, just about everything, except maybe the ice cream.
The food was remarkable. I’m getting used to that, in this age of fresh and local and carefully crafted bites. Our meal was simple, and perfect in its simplicity. There were no complex flavors murking up the flavor profiles, the ingredients were in the forefront of each bite.
We were starving, so we ordered the flatbread and dips to get things started. The bread was remarkable. Simple, the heat from the oven still kissing its surface, the streaked brown crust bubbling with the delicate flavor of the smoky oven. It reminded me of the food to be had at a campfire, all that much better for having been prepared over an open flame. The trio of sauces were solid, consisting of a delicate harissa, a spicy charmoula & a creamy tahini yogurt. We promptly ordered a second go round of that fantastic bread with which to consume them, and with the bread arrived a lovely helping of house made ricotta, which is a bit like a slightly dense buratta in texture, as well as taste. We followed the bread with a plate of the panko-crusted pork strips. Those puffy golden fingers of air were hot enough to make one take notice. There is something about food that’s piping hot, cooled only enough not to burn the soft palate, that carries the flavors to the tastebuds in a palpable way, a way a lukewarm bite cannot.
The options on the menu at Penrose are graduated, going from share-sized portions, to heartier options, meant to be enough for an individual main. The Ahi Tartare my son-in-law ordered was a light, delicate serving of beautiful fish, the consistency of not quite room-temperature butter and just a hint of citrus to round things out.
My daughter ordered the game hen, which had been boned and roasted to perfection. I had the quail, which was moist, with a beautifully roasted, golden crust of a skin. Hubs had the salmon, which was likewise buttery and moist. Every dish had a thread of simplicity running through its preparation. We all hear about “local, fresh ingredients” making the difference. How many talking heads at the Food Network have repeated the meme that we must let the flavors of the foods speak for themselves. Having tasted the theory in its best practice, I finally understand the idea on a primal level. The fowl tasted like fowl in its best iteration, an exterior crisp from the grill, the meat still juicy and moist. The vegetables tasted like the colors in the rainbow, a green that resonated with spring, the yellows sweet and sunny with flavor. I found myself marveling all the way through dinner at how the chef had captured their essence and left it on the plate. That’s not to say I don’t like complicated food, but simple food is spectacular when done correctly. Sublime, even.
Given that we were celebrating, we ordered several desserts. They did not disappoint. A glorious buttery pound cake with fresh glazed strawberries, a magnificent citrus granita, a bread pudding that was a cross between french toast and pudding, and a light crispy meringue floating atop a creamy pudding. Every one of them was just sweet enough without being so saccharine as to grate on the teeth after our savory courses.
By the time we finished we were blissed out, which is the way one should always leave a restaurant. Stepping out into the familiar street, I was reminded again of the evolution of Oakland into a real contender in the food scene. We’ve gone straight from the familiar comforts of the past, into the surprising and artistic entertainment that is our culinary present. Perhaps the restaurants that went before were meant to set the stage for what we have become. Perhaps they were the best we could do at the time, given how small the repertoire was for a local chef before the food of the world’s cuisines began to bleed together into something unique and completely now. Either way, Penrose is a must-visit stop in Oakland’s ever growing list of places to break bread. So check it out, make a lasting memory of your own. Bon Appetito!
3311 Grand Ave
Oakland , CA