BROTZEIT LOKAL Oakland- Breadtime Stories on the Water

My chariot to heaven

My chariot to heaven

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

Sausage and Pickled sides

Sausage and Pickled sides

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…

Brotzeit.Lokal (17)

German Potato Salad

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.

Brotzeit Lokal
1000 Embarcadero,
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 645-1905

JUHU BEACH CLUB: Bollywood Bliss in Oakland’s Temescal District

Delectably spice Tomato Shorba

Delectably spice Tomato Shorba

When I was a kid, my babysitter, Carol Neill, would tell us that if we behaved all morning, we would get a special treat. We all knew what that meant, a trip to Lake Temescal. Once there, we knew we would spend that summer day in a delirium of fun as we swam and cavorted on it’s tiny beach, burning off that youthful energy that children seem to amass in droves, with hours and hours of waterplay. In my young mind, it was a far off destination, and these outings an incomparable adventure. We would wade in with her three children, our steadfast playmates, and challenge the beckoning waters that lapped at the edge of its beachfront. I haven’t been back there in years, and imagine it would seem very small now indeed to my grownup self. But when I was a child, this was our private retreat, an oasis nestled in the heart of Oakland. It was indeed a magical place. Beaches hold a beckoning sort of vastness at their edges, the shore is a promise of explorations to be, and as children the thrill of picturing the imaginary creatures who might populate the waters off the shore never grew old.

Naming an urban restaurant after a beach resort, then, is high promise indeed, conjuring up the images of abandon and pleasure that one might expect from a seaside escape. Fortunately for her patrons, Priti Mistri’s Juhu Beach Club delivers on that promise. On a recent visit to Juhu Beach Club, itself perched unassumingly in a tiny strip mall, rather than on an oceanfront pier, we embarked on a journey of exploration of our own. We arrived on a particularly chill and rainy day, so one of the first dishes that caught our eye was the Bombay Sandwich, a lovely medley of pressed cheese, cilantro chutney, and beets played against a spicy chaat masala. The optional cup of Tomato Shorba seemed a must in the gloomy weather, and the warm tomato-ey spices were just the ticket. We ended up using it as a “dip” for almost all the other goodies that we sampled.
We’d have ordered more, but it’s only available separately as a dinner menu item. Definitely an incentive to return for dinner.

There were many appealing choices, so we were forced to “man up” and attempted to do our best at sampling as many variations as we could

master in one sitting. The sandwich choices allow for mixing and matching in reasonably priced combos, so we got two sets of three sandwiches to be split among the four of us, in addition to the Bombay. They are a nice sized sandwich here, just a bit bigger than a slider, but with that lovely polished finish one expects from this modern “bite on a bun.” This presentation is almost a “hamburger tapas” and it makes me happy. Like mini cupcakes, they are small enough to allow the diner to really get in there and try a variety of flavors, yet large enough to fill one up if you only want one or two.

Trio of Indian Goodness on a bun!

Trio of Indian Goodness on a bun!

The promised heat of the Vaga Pav appealed, with its potato and ghost pepper blend. We found it enjoyable, but not particularly spicy, which was a surprise. It had a kick, but nothing jarring, as my non-spice-eating spouse was able to enjoy it with us. I’m not sure this is typical, as I didn’t get a chance to chat with the chef to ask about the intended heat levels. The Chowpatty Chicken with its blend of green chillies, chicken and tangy slaw was a refreshing bite. We also tried the Holy Cow, which features the lovely melted beef of a brisket-texture to its meat, the fat of the toothsome beef offset well by the nicely acidic cucumber raita. My favorite sandwich bite may have been the Pork Vindaloo, an Indian take on pulled pork, gently slathered in a vindaloo barbeque sauce and finished with a nice yoghurt sauce.

Each sandwich was sufficiently different that we were continually bouncing between the flavors. I’ve never had anything but the classic Indian fare found in hot buttery naam or a nice bowl of tikka masala, so I really loved experiencing a lighter hand and more subtle take on all the flavors of South Asian cuisine offered here. The dishes were solid, and even though sampling so many in one sitting was a whirlwind, it was a dining experience we thoroughly enjoyed. The was indeed an adventure, and one I intend to repeat, and soon.

If you’d like to try something out of the box, but with all the love and attention of simple street food, with a touch of culinary genius, then Juhu Beach Club would be a great option to try in your own very near future.

Go on. Check it out for yourself, and make some new memories of your own. You know you want to.

Bonus dish of popcorn munchies, Indian-style

Bonus dish of popcorn munchies, Indian-style

Juhu Beach Club
5179 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
b/t Claremont Ave & 52nd St in Rockridge, North Oakland
(510) 652-7350

FOOD TRUCK MAFIA (NEWARK) – The Dog (and Burger) Days of Summer…


The end of summer.  Though in California September usually brings the beginning of the hottest season of the year, it officially marks the end of our balmy, beachy out-of-school days.  The hours of daylight grow shorter as the bright blue-gold sunlight turns to amber, as though to coordinate with the papery leaves that will soon flutter down from the trees.  When I was a kid, summer meant lazy days spent boating, waterskiing the many canals and throughways of the Sacramento River Delta.

My childhood memories of summer are vivid.  The smell off the water, vaguely fishy and tinged with mud, everywhere it ran brown and murky and deep. The yellow speedboat that carried us was fast, so fast everything around was a blur, a rush of reeds, gold and green, like living sunlight as we thumped hard against the river delta.  The waves splashing up over the bow left a soft mist on my face that the sunlight and the wind would whip away as soon as it was deposited.  Those glorious trips across the open water were something splendid.  There was little speaking, just the roar of the engine churning the water, the air rushing against my ears and the constant sun on my skin.  And that glorious smell of the rich delta mud.

Hot, Crunchy Outside –
Creamy Inside –
Shrimp & Cheese Empanadas

Our final trip was always in late September or early October.  Those last days of summer carried their own kind of magic. My father called them Indian Summer, and they signaled not just a return to school from a time of what seemed like endless freedom, but a kind of communal closure as we all moved into fall together.  The drive home on our last outing always seemed to  bear a harvest moon.  It hung in the sky, large and luminous over the Delta, visible out the back window of my father’s car as we drove home for the final time.  That moon in my long-ago childhood memory still lingers in the sky, a perfect orb of yellow gold.

September begins our journey into fall, and Labor Day weekend signals the dog days are upon us.  A uniquely American holiday, this three-day weekend is more than back-to-school specials and furniture sales. It is a shared kiss goodbye to our collective summer vacation. Everyone, everywhere has fired up their backyard grill one last time.  Goodbyes are often bittersweet.

Crazy Fries.  Crazy, man.

This past weekend, the question arose in our household of how to mark this auspicious occasion and give sweet summer a proper sendoff?  An effective scout, the BH often discovers foodie-related tidbits while reading his morning paper.  Openings, events and happenings.  He happened to run across an event that sounded perfect: a gathering of the Food Truck Mafia, culinary gypsies who travel from one location to another to bring their individual brands of tasty treats to the hungry.  The Food Truck Mafia was scheduled to be at Newpark Mall on Monday.  Being Labor Day itself, this event seemed the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer.  After quickly double-checking the schedule we planned our final day off around it.

Grillstars manage a crowd of The Hungry!

The trucks set up and begin serving at 4:30, running until 9:00 pm.  We got there at five, and were immediately greeted by strains of Michael Jackson at a high volume, a heavy-set DJ playing boisterous dance tunes for the crowd.  The afternoon weather was gorgeous, more like mid-summer than September, and the crowds were diverse.  A collection of every age and color, all gathered under the Blue Top for some grub.   It felt like an oversized block party.  They had provided several tables to make eating some of the more challenging carry away cuisines easier.  Children ran from one truck to another, squealing out their choices for dinner to parents who could barely hear over the booming music.  Everywhere a variety of locals and shoppers who had wandered out of the mall to see what was going on were chowing down on a plethora of cuisines. The colorful trucks formed a big “U”, not unlike chuck-wagons circled to feed the field hands after a six-month tour on the cattle trails.  Yet there were no marauding Indians in sight.  The mood was festive and the smells welcoming.

In an attempt to be scientific in our ordering, and to make sure we sampled as much as was possible on a first visit, we walked by each of the trucks to absorb their menus before ordering.   It rapidly became clear we wouldn’t be able to sample anything close to everything, even one item per truck was overly ambitious.  We soldiered on, narrowing our choices to four savory and two sweet dishes.

Butterfly Shrimp

We began with a threesome of Shrimp & Cheese Empanadas, mini hot pockets of spicy goodness, served hot out of the fryer (and I mean hot) offered up by the first truck whose wares we sampled, Marisco’s El Malecon. We found a couple of seats at a communal table and enjoyed a few bites of our empanadas.  Since it was their party, we were in agreement that we had to sample something from Grillstars and I’d selected (and ordered) a side-dish they were offering titled  “Crazy Fries”.  After placing that order, I imagined I would be handed a basket of fries and go off to sit with BH until we polished them off.  Best laid plans and all, the wait turned out to be over twenty minutes.  (Tho well worth it taste-wise, the standing around was not particularly pleasurable.  I wonder if there might be a better way to call out orders to keep people from having to stand while they wait for their meals to come up.)  Making the best of the wait, I observed a little of the food truck culture firsthand.  The salesgirl from El Malecon came over to order a burger, and Grillstars’ chef insisted that her money was no good there.  It would appear to be the custom that food trucks feed one another’s staff for free.  Like family. Classy.

 After my twenty minutes of running over to our table for a bite of empanada and running back to the Grillstars’ truck to wait on my order, I was at last presented with a gimongous order of hot-out-of-the-fryer french fries, beautifully cradled in piles of smoky grilled beef, creamy nacho cheese, crumbled bacon and a lovely little dollop of fresh sour cream.  Every bite was covered with toppings, and every mouthful of the crumbled burger meat carried the lovely smoky flavor of freshly-grilled beef.  Absolutely worth the long wait. The cheese was a nice gooey consistency, sticking to the fries without being gummy, the bacon bits and sour cream coming together nicely, adding their own tasty music to the mix.  It was the best plate of “topping” fries I’ve ever had.  All for around four bucks.

Twisted Chill serves up organic
Soft Serve

Next up was the Butterfly Shrimp & Dipping Sauces from Bigg Shrimp’n.  These kids know their shrimp— we were served large, beautifully butterflied, whole prawns fried up in a light golden almost tempura-style batter that was almost effervescent.  Closer to cotton-candy than dough.  The sauces were fresh, made in-house, and just delicious.  We tried the Sweet & Sour (reminiscent of a Thai tomato-garlic sauce, it bore no relation to the thick red sauce of my takeout-Chinese childhood) and a Seafood Cocktail Sauce.  Bigg Shrimp’n’s Cocktail mixture was mildly spicy, with fresh horseradish being beautifully blended with fresh, ripe tomatoes.  Right then I was diggin’ the fresh trend in food prep.

Next I tried the Lamb Curry offered up by Munch India.  The meat was tender and fluffy and the curry mild yet packed with flavor.  The basmati rice was aromatic and light, and served as a perfect foil to carry the thick sauce over the lamb.

Creamy Soft Serve covered
in yummy strawberries,
toasted coconut & chips

By the time we’d finished off our four savory treats we were ready to move to dessert.  We went first to the colorful blue truck with the pretty girl on the side (fun design).  Twisted Chill is run by Jesse Soares & Michael Moules and the duo serves up a non-dairy soft serve.  Now ordinarily I’m a fan of “real deal” foods, but their organic take on this American favorite was no joke.  The creamy delicious red velvet version was sweet without being overly so, the flavor unique and craveable and the mouthfeel was creamier than a teenager’s pillow.  The guys offer up all manner of fresh fruit from within the truck and an assortment of dry organic cereals, chips, sprinkles and other treats in the self serve compartment outside the truck.  In addition to serving up great desserts, the guys are affable and informative.  I think they will do very well at this.

Our last stop was at That’s Sweet! Desserts, a cupcake and assorted baked goods truck whose list of wonderful flavor combos taunted us with it’s variety.  We settled on a Coconut Chocolate, Chocolate Orange, Sea Salt and Caramel and a mini Peach Pie.  The BH and I have at this point consumed every last bite, but I was in love with my first mouthful of the Chocolate Orange.  Moist, kissed with citrus and just sweet enough, this gal can bake.  Lucky us.  We had the Sea Salt later that night and the hint of salt and finish of toasted caramel, still linger on my palate urging me to return for more.

Sea Salt & Caramel Cupcake

The experience was a delight.  I’m a fan of fine dining, but who’s the rule guy who says a great food experience can’t be found on a truck in paper containers?  Not I.  These gatherings are a perfect time to gather with friends and family, enjoy the fading sunlight as the days grow shorter until the damp months are upon us and we are forced to retreat back into our homes to shelter in place until the sun, and the trucks return.

Their schedule can be found on Facebook at the Food Truck Mafia page. Check it out.  Make a memory of your own.  Have the crazy fries, I dare you!

Among the Participants:

Phil Woodman & Patrick Clarke’s GrillStars
Food Truck Mafia – Facebook
@Grillstars – Twitter

Bigg Shrimp’n – Facebook
@BiggShrimpn – Twitter

Jose Hernandez Marisco’s El Malecon
Facebook under Food Truck Mafia

Chef Diana Afroza’s Munch India
Munch India – Facebook
@munchindia – Twitter

Jess Soares & Michael Moules’ Twisted Chill
Twisted Chill – Facebook
@chilltruck – Twitter

That’s Sweet! Desserts
That’s Sweet! Dessert Truck – Facebook
@thatssweettruck – Twitter