Rogue Café: Weekend pop-up serves a mellow brunch

Located in a residential backyard in south Berkeley, Rogue Café is only open on weekends. Photo: Rogue Café

[See update to this article at the foot of the story.]

Eric Thoreson, a perfectionist in the kitchen, has spent many months trying to make the ideal waffle. This breakfast treat is one of his favorite foods, but he thinks most restaurants don’t get it quite right.

After researching recipes in countless cookbooks, Thoreson decided that natural leavening just might be the key. He made hundreds of waffles before settling on one that is just to his liking: half way between bread and a traditional waffle, he calls it a “Southern Belgian Waffle.” Thoreson rolls the treat in sugar before cooking it for sugary caramelization, and this waffle, the perfect mix of sweet and sour, is a favorite among customers at his outdoor, weekend pop-up brunch restaurant Rogue Café.

Located in a residential backyard in south Berkeley, Rogue serves gourmet, homemade treats and freshly brewed coffee.

Rogue offers the perfect setting to meet new people and strike up conversations

Thoreson and Ciara Sanker started the weekend-only café together last year. The pair met while working at Pizzaiolo in Oakland. Thoreson says that “food is all I’ve ever done,” and his enthusiasm and expertise are reflected in Rogue’s carefully planned and ever-growing menu.

Along with waffles, they serve eggs and house-made pork sausage; everything is accompanied by seasonal, local produce. Healthy homemade granola with home-cultured yogurt is a tasty vegetarian option. With each addition to the menu, Thoreson and Sanker have been challenged to find new and efficient methods to cook in the sparse, outdoor kitchen.

“At first,” Thoreson explains, “We didn’t even have any burners. We started out grilling our sausages on an outdoor barbeque.” Soon, they were forced to purchase a set of cast-iron pans, but without a refrigerator Thoreson still hauls pounds of ice to the yard each morning. Salad, meanwhile, was an obvious addition to the menu because it requires no additional cooking utensils.

Waffles, eggs, and much more are on Rogue Cafe’s brunch menu. Photo: Rogue Café

Compared to the traditional restaurant job, running an outdoor pop-up café also presents a few unique organizational challenges. With anywhere from 30 to 60 customers a day, it’s hard for Thoreson to predict how much food he’ll need. Additionally, he says, “We only have three burners, so it’s hard to make more than three or four plates at a time. When groups of eight people show up, we want to get all their food out together, but this can be logistically difficult.”

Despite the challenges, however, Thoreson describes the adventure as both fun and rewarding. “I love being outside, and Rogue has a really mellow and friendly atmosphere,” he says. With customers lounging on chairs and benches throughout the yard, Rogue also offers the perfect setting to meet new people and strike up an interesting conversation.

Thoreson and Sanker hope to eventually move to a more permanent location, but do not want to lose this intimate outdoor atmosphere.

For now, you can find Rogue Café at 3204 Ellis Street from 10-1 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Update, 12:48pm: Our story rapidly prompted many questions from readers in the Comments section (see below). Berkeleyside contacted Rogue Café co-owner Eric Thoresen this morning, who kindly provided this response, which has been condensed and edited:

We do have a business license.

We do pay taxes.

We do not have a permit.

If Rogue were to be completely legal, we would have to either build a mobile commercial kitchen and have it inspected and permitted each year (read “invest tens of thousands of dollars”), or apply for a singl- use event permit for each and every day we are in business, making our revenue stream negative.

I don’t think the readers are concerned with our profitability, but Rogue is barely profitable. We shop at the Farmer’s Market. We use organic pork and organic, cage and hormone free eggs. And we don’t charge $4 for coffee either. Our coffee has always been $2.

The health department does not inspect facilities unless they are attempting to receive, renew or maintain a permit, and so they wouldn’t be coming out to Rogue unless they wanted to shut us down.

In our defense, I have worked in restaurants (mostly in the kitchen) for the majority of the past 18 years. I have taken the California Food Handlers Exam, and retain a food handlers card. The food at Rogue is out of the refrigerator for no more than four hours, during which time it is on ice.

On the question about eggs: Salmonella does not grow in eggs. The only chance of contracting salmonella from an egg is from afterbirth on the shell. And trichinosis? Our sausage is cooked well done, and even if it weren’t, we use very high-grade pork. The chances of contracting trichinosis in the USA are about the same as getting struck by lightning.

As was mentioned in the East Bay Express article, the extension cord is used for the waffle iron and coffee grinder. Extension cords are not a fire hazard if you have studied physics in college, or simply read the warning label on the package when making the purchase. All other power comes from propane, and we do have a fire extinguisher on site.

Washing hands is by far the largest concern the health department would have if they made it out to our site. Even if we didn’t serve any food, we would have to wash our hands constantly. That is why we keep a fresh pot of water at 120 degrees with soap and towels on site. I must wash my hands 50 times a day. It’s an obsession.

Related:
Local 123 finds its feet in west Berkeley and beyond [07.20.12]
Cool Berkeley coffee joints to get your caffeine on
 [07.16.12]
Babette’s feast: Finding fine fare at the Berkeley Art Museum [07.06.12]
Bartavelle owner: What’s cooking for ex-Café Fanny space [05.25.12]
Pop-up restaurants are popping up around town [04.29.11]
In West Berkeley, a café opens, a community blossoms [07.16.10]

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  • PragmaticProgressive

    Thanks for explaining.  To be clear, I’m not really outraged (though others might be).  Concerned, yes, but I’ll reserve outrage for when there’s actual harm that could have been averted.

  • Mbfarrel

    There are also pop-ups that use an existing restaurant and facilities. The permit doesn’t determine who can cook or what cuisine needs to be served. But I’m sure someone will propose a quota for that.
    Starting with Thai?

  • Paparayno

    fyi, Birdland has moved to Manila and Bangkok where they have continued the Birdland Jazzista Social Club movement. Here’s the proof in the pudding in the video’s of their opening in Manila last month and soon to open at the end of the year in Bangkok. Everyone is loving the concept started in Berkeley. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150872357736116 http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150861858766116

  • Heidi

    sorry, wrong Heidi!!!  I did enjoy my brunch at the Rogue, but I live on the other side of town!

  • bgal4

    Exactly, just dialog about the logical consequences when these events become weekly, and are in residential areas.

    The Monthly article linked in Sarah April story about pop-ups discussing the culture of these events.

    http://www.themonthly.com/feature-03-08-1.html

    Shantzis says, “This concept of underground
    dining is only unique to countries where there is such a strong concentration on profit.” Her ongoing inspiration, in fact, remains the communal dinners she attended in Tuscany years prior to attending her first Ghetto Gourmet event. She is not, however, so earnest about social statements of art, food and community that she can’t have a little fun mixing them up in her particular style. She recalls with a certain fondness “the Sexy Strut dinner when guests ate appetizers off of live models wearing very little but Saran Wrap.” Health ordinances be damned because, really, given the choice, who’d lick the salsa off a plate when one might enjoy it on a performance artist instead?

    .

  • Guest

    According to some people posting on here we’d better hurry up & shut down all the music teachers seeing students in their homes, inspect all “work-from-home” offices to make sure they are properly permitted, check the papers & business licenses of gardeners, & house cleaners, and shut down any lemonade stands preparing goods outside of a commercial kitchen. You’re being ridiculous! COB will be involved, they don’t live in a bubble, & many employees probably read Berkeleyside. Make your complaints, but be happy they’re not throwing loud raucous parties into the wee morning hours, and that they are doing something as innocent as serving food & not drugs. I have seen catering events & restaurant kitchens pull out the old extension cord to run an appliance, sometimes even outside, yikes!! Hope some of you never see a bug on your lettuce leaf!

  • 4Eenie

    Nope, I think this is just according to you.

  • The Sharkey

    Groovy. I still question the legality of a landlord running an unpermitted “private club” out of his garage.

  • Paparayno

    exactly. a few waffles, a couple of eggs, a sausage, and a cup of coffee served in a backyard. Bring that to my backyard please.

  • Tim

    It is not free. This is a business. 

    Not everyone has disposable income for a $5 or $10 breakfast.

  • Tim

    I am happy for you. Some people have children that need to sleep at night and don’t wanna live above a club.

    Do you have any children? Or just tons of money and free time and a bachelor lifestyle?

  • Paparayno

    i was mainly referring to the predicament of Rogue since they only operate during brunch for a few hours. Birdland in Manila is more warehouse loft style different than the Berkeley one which all my adjacent neighbors attended.. Yes I have two children(in Asia) that love jazz music.

  • Chrisjuricich

    Yes, and for what it’s worth, I’ve been to Birdland at least a couple of times with my wife (Filipina) and it was very nice.

    With regards to Rogue Cafe and other small businesses, pseudo or otherwise, trying to do a minimalist thing without permits, I sympathize with their plight here in Berkeley. I certainly appreciate the rationale for health codes and protections, even as I realize that it’s all pretty heavy handed in application. Let’s face it–opening a business in Berkeley is, by all accounts, barely worth the effort due to the constraints, required mandate of social conscience (new multiple-unit housing requisites for low-income units, etc), and the like.

    My wife and I plan to retire to the Philippines where we plan to build our home in the hills above the sea, grow our own vegetables and raise small domestic critters, and where we will NOT need to submit our building plans to local jurisdictions for approvals and changes. As with any enterprise in such relatively ‘lawless’ or less law heavy areas, recourse for redress is perhaps less, but not so much that it would be a deal breaker.

    I enjoy life in Berkeley but ultimately living in this country as a retiree is simply not in the cards–at least with regards to the life I want to lead. Too many rules, too much flaming ‘no you can’t’ and not enough common sense. Also too much fear and litigiousness.

  • Tim

    I meant did you children live at the same residence during the birdland parties?

    I only mean to infer that perhaps someone with children who for example have a track meet the next morning would not appreciate a night club into the night hours?

    Maybe that is why we have commercial districts?

  • Mousepad

     why don’t you actually go speak to your neighbor?

  • spragger@me.com

    Boo Berkeley! I’ve lived here my entire life and enjoyed the free spirit this community is supposed to nourish and encourage. The only thing that completely sucks about our great city is the attitude of people like the ones commenting on this article; entitled, stuffy, stifling to creativity and true community based projects like Rogue.

    Berkeley will soon become a place where artists and other creative types avoid, rather than migrate to.

    So disappointed in you Berkeley.

  • The Sharkey

    If you think the currently established laws are too stifling for artists and new businesses, you should work to get the laws changed for everyone rather than supporting people who cut corners, break the law, and provide unfair competition to businesses that actually take the time and effort to navigate the legislative minefield in Berkeley to open up a legal business.